Essay Commercialization Sports

Fees and travel costs are pricing out lower-income families.Some kids who don’t show talent at a young age are discouraged from ever participating in organized sports.The softball rankings begin with teams age 6 and under. Entering June, Joey Erace’s Dallas-area team, the Texas Bombers, was third in the USSSA’s 10-and-under baseball power ranking. His family lives in a well-appointed mobile home in south San Antonio. Luke’s dad Jerry is a logistics coordinator at a printer and copier company.

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A sponsor paid the teen’s $25,000 private-school tuition. To help pay for their fees, Sanchez’s husband Carlos, a gas-station attendant, will spend 12 hours on a Saturday carting supplies at tournaments. You do anything for them.” A range of private businesses are mining this deep, do-anything parental love. Major media and retail companies are investing in technology that manages peewee schedules.

Practice and tournaments overtake nights and weekends like kudzu–Sanchez says they often have to skip family weddings and kids’ birthday parties. And municipalities that once vied for minor-league teams are now banking on youth sports to boost local economies, issuing bonds for lavish complexes that they hope will lure glove-toting tykes and their families. Some kids thrive off intense competition, and the best players receive an unprecedented level of coaching and training.

But Joey has talents that scouts covet, including lightning quickness with a rare knack for making slight adjustments at the plate–lowering a shoulder angle, turning a hip–to drive the ball.

“He has a real swagger,” says Joey’s hitting coach, Dan Hennigan, a former minor leaguer.

He’s accustomed to such focused instruction: the evening batting practice followed a one-on-one fielding lesson in Philadelphia earlier in the day, which cost another $100.

Relentless training is essential for a top player who suits up for nationally ranked teams based in Texas and California, thousands of miles from home.

Whatever the answer is, the transition has been seismic, with implications for small towns, big businesses and millions of families.

“I love working hard,” says Joey Erace, 10, who lives in southern New Jersey but has suited up for baseball teams based in California and Texas.

The travel circuit can also bring people of different backgrounds together in a way that local leagues by definition do not.

But as community-based teams give way to a more mercenary approach, it’s worth asking what’s lost in the process. A growing body of research shows that intense early specialization in a single sport increases the risk of injury, burnout and depression.

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