The Major League Baseball season is once again upon us, and teams across the country are reopening their ballparks for legions of fans. As fans brush up on the usual baseball stats, they should take a look at a different trend: the complex relationships between wealth, poverty and America’s pastime. The ability for underprivileged youth to engage with the sport has become increasingly limited in recent years, despite the innumerable efforts by the MLB and other organizations to do more outreach work with those communities.
For young players looking to start early on their paths to the major leagues, economic factors heavily influence their ability to compete and progress. The cost of youth sports in particular is skyrocketing far beyond what was necessary to participate in the past. On average, parents are shelling out $671 dollars a year to cover the basic necessities for team sports, and one in five parents end up spending $1000 per child per year. These prices only go up if a child ends up playing for a travel team, a higher level of the sport that promises more exposure to college and professional recruiters, more time with coaches and faster development of players. Baseball in particular requires a heavy and expensive equipment load: fielding glove, batting gloves, helmet, spikes, bat, etc. That much money could probably cover the cost of a month or two of rent in many cities around the country.
Youth sports culture often encourages the presence and involvement of parents, but for adults working minimum wage jobs most days out of the week, that ideal becomes an impossibility. The commodification of baseball has even made the act of watching the home team play a game at the local ballpark an expense. Average ticket prices have been increasing steadily year after year, with the cost of attendance varying by region. Trying to watch baseball on TV incurs a cost, too — many teams have exclusive cable TV deals with a major carrier, requiring a subscription to watch most regular season games. College sports fans can relate to the frustration of dealing with MLB.TV, the league’s official streaming service with prices that renew every season. As with everything, it’s possible to watch games illegally, but that’s only making the best of a broken system.
The fact of the matter is, baseball at every level is first and foremost a business. But fans still see in baseball the potential for public good. Sports offer a unique opportunity to bond with one’s community, to unite people from every corner in cheering on a home team — that is why it is important that it remains accessible to everyone, not just those who can afford it.
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