Report: Kids still flocking to baseball, softball diamonds
Danniella Lee has grown up watching her parents play softball. Now, at age 12, she is playing year-round and is on travel teams that compete throughout the region.
She loves the game, the physical activity and the interaction with her dad, David Lee, who has coached her for years.
The young Santa Rosa athlete is part of a surprising trend of increased participation in baseball and softball in the U.S., according to a new report.
For the past several years, the drumbeat has been that participation in baseball and football are declining while more kids are playing soccer or not participating in sports at all.
But a report released Thursday at Major League Baseball’s quarterly owners meetings in New York said baseball and softball had nearly 25 million combined participants last year, more than any team sport in the country.
The findings, in an annual report produced by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, show an increase of 7.7 in participation in competitive youth baseball and 8.1 percent in softball last year.
In addition, casual participation, not in competitive leagues, in baseball rose by 18.1 percent in 2016 and slow-pitch softball increased by 12.4 percent. Overall in the past five years, casual participation in baseball and slow-pitch softball is up 34 percent, the report found.
Casual participation in both baseball and slow-pitch softball showed the highest growth of any sport, the report found.
Danniella, a sixth-grader at Santa Rosa Charter School for the Arts, started playing softball six years ago, at age 6. She’d been playing soccer for two years already.
“She loves both,” said her mother, Aurora Loya-Lee, who also plays softball and soccer. “Soccer was easy to get her into when she was young. When she was old enough, she started playing softball. She always saw us play.”
The report showed, importantly from professional baseball’s point of view, that growth in both casual and competitive play in one-, three- and five-year periods comes at a time when trends in other team sports are less positive, said Tom Cove, president and CEO of SFIA, which compiled the report.
Casa Grande boys baseball coach Paul Maytorena said over his 23 years coaching, he’s seen participation ebb and flow.
But, “Petaluma is a baseball town,” he said.
There were a couple of years recently when lacrosse was becoming more popular that baseball numbers went down, he said. But nearly three dozen boys tried out for the freshman team alone this year. That’s about 10 more than last season.
Casa is one of 10 schools in the North Bay League and Sonoma County League that has varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams. The five Santa Rosa schools carry two teams only.
Sonoma Academy baseball coach Dave Cox said he’s had trouble getting enough kids to field varsity and JV teams, as have some other, larger schools.
He suspects part of that is the relatively new interest in lacrosse, which has becoming an official sport at some schools.
The report, only available for purchase online, showed a mix of growth and decline among the 120 sports it examined.
Sports including baseball, cheerleading, indoor soccer and team swimming and fitness activities including cross training, aquatic exercise, rowing and stair climbing all experienced significant growth, the research found.