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Sports Column | Les Winkeler: Bring the fun back to baseball

Sports Column | Les Winkeler: Bring the fun back to baseball

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Maybe we, everyone who loves the games of baseball, need to step back and take a deep breath.

We need, desperately, in my opinion, to remember baseball is just a game. A game … something people, primarily kids, play to have fun.

When I was a kid, baseball was my life.

Since my family lived on a farm and there were no neighbors nearby, I spent nearly every spring, summer and fall day devising baseball “games” that could be played solo.

Sometimes that meant hitting hollow plastic balls onto the roof, then grabbing my glove and attempting to catch the ball before it hit the ground. Sometimes that meant pretending to be a pitcher and throwing a “spongeball” against the house and catching the tricky hops that came off the uneven grass in our yard.

And, the thought of playing in a sandlot game with other kids … a day just didn’t get any better than that. I almost always hated to see the school year come to an end in May because that meant the daily lunch hour baseball games were put on a three-month hiatus.

When I wasn’t playing baseball, I was absorbing information from the back of my baseball cards. I was/am convinced baseball is one of man’s greatest creations.

Admittedly, baseball is not for everyone.

Although never a great athlete, I was blessed with decent hand-eye coordination that allowed me to be a good fielder. Hitting? That takes a whole other level of talent. Yet, my ability to catch the ball made virtually every moment I spent on a baseball/softball field a source of unbridled joy.

With that in mind, why did my generation work so hard to take the joy out of the game?

True, we made sure kids had nice fields to play on and they had nice uniforms to wear, but we sucked every ounce of fun out of the game.

Kids of my generation would play all day … without keeping score. Although, that doesn’t mean we didn’t know who was winning.

We played an indeterminate amount of innings. Games lasted from lunch to dinner. We didn’t know how many runs we scored. We only knew we were three up or two down. Sometimes we took a break to grab a soda, but we’d quickly get back to the game.

There was a playful joy in those games that couldn’t be duplicated. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, but about 15 regulars from those childhood games played softball together at a pretty competitive level for a dozen years … because it was fun.

This past weekend scrolling through Twitter I saw a picture of someone monitoring pitch speed at a 9-U game. I saw a site that gave a scouting report on a pitcher from the Class of 2026.

Have we lost our collective minds?

You want better baseball? Create an environment where kids are laughing and joking while they play. No, we didn’t have any formal coaching in those marathon summer afternoon games, but we got thousands of repetitions. The older kids in the group taught the younger kids the proper way to do things.

What’s more, those countless games gave us an intuitive feel for the game. It doesn’t matter if you believe in batting averages or OPS, whether you’re fascinated by exit velocity or launch angle, there is an inherent knowledge gained by playing for the sole purpose of having fun.

I miss that.

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