Don’t overlook the benefits of baseball

IN the professional world, it’s one of the four major sports, but in the high school realm, baseball seems to be further back on the list — for whatever reason.

Blame Mother Nature. Blame the slow pace that seems to irk some people, or maybe blame the fact that a lot of times, people don’t know exactly where games are played. Either way, baseball gets the cold shoulder, undeservedly so.

The Mahoning Valley certainly churns out some great players. Just in the last few years, we’ve had several former high school stars earn Division I scholarships. There was even talk that former Champion pitcher Drake Batcho might get drafted last year. While that didn’t happen, the big lefty did earn a scholarship to the University of Cincinnati.

Just to stick with Champion for a minute, they also had 2017 graduates Michael Turner (now at Kent State) and Lucas Nasonti (at Youngstown State) move on to D-I schools, and senior Andrew Russell will soon be headed to Ohio University.

Niles’ Marco DeFalco is a starting pitcher at YSU as a true freshman, and he has plenty of teammates from the Valley — Joel Hake (Ursuline), Aaron Williams (Champion), Blake Benyo (Austintown/IMG Academy), just to name a few. Poland standout Braeden O’Shaugnessy will soon be joining them once his senior year is over.

The list goes on (the softball list is probably even longer), but it seems like area fans don’t realize it. The 2017 Champion baseball team that won the first baseball state title by a Trumbull County team in 73 years opened a few eyes to a sport that I still see as America’s pastime, but the lack of notoriety is troubling — both locally and nationally. Well, I’m here to tell you there is a ton of talent coming through these days, and hopefully it’s sign of more to come.

The popularity of baseball has fallen steadily over the past 15 to 20 years, for a number of reasons, and it’s sad to see because it’s a sport that always seems to bring family and friends together. For a lot of kids, there’s not much that beats playing catch with dad or grandpa, creating a moment that erases an age gap that can be exposed more so nowadays because of technology. For people in their 20s all the way to their 60s, getting together on a weekly basis for a game of slow-pitch softball leads to memories that last a lifetime.

Even just taking the family to an Indians or Scrappers game is less expensive than other pro sports and can leave a lasting impression. There aren’t many sports where you can catch a memento that your favorite player was just using during the game.

Yes, baseball was stained in the late 1990s and early 2000s by “juiced up” fools who looked more like bodybuilders than baseball players. And some people don’t seem to enjoy the slow pace (personally, I like being able to make a sandwich and grab a cold beverage in between innings and not miss much), but don’t let any of that scare you away from one of the greatest sports there is to play.

It’s not just about the good times it brings, but as mentioned, there could be a future in it for you (or your children). You don’t have to be 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds of pure muscle to succeed. Heck, Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros is 5-6, 165 pounds and had to earn his way on to the Astros at a tryout camp, but he became one of the game’s greatest players (a five-time MLB All-Star and winner of the 2017 AL MVP award).

Altuve is a great example of how the game teaches kids to overcome adversity as well. In baseball, if you succeed one out of three times as a hitter, you’re probably one of the better players on the team. The point being: Most people are going to fail at first, but if they don’t quit and keep working, better days will come. It’s a lesson most parents want their sons or daughters to learn, and why not have some fun while watching it happen?

Ever see a kid pick daisies (or his nose) in the outfield when he’s supposed to be waiting for a fly ball? Or how about when a child runs the wrong direction after he hits the ball? It’s funny stuff, and it’s all part of what makes baseball such a great game.

Don’t overlook the benefits of one of America’s oldest sports. If you’re not paying attention to them, you’ll never catch that foul ball (or the hot dog launched out of a cannon).

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