It’s said that Mickey Mantle was born with a baseball in one hand and a Yankees cap in the other. Conjuring the image doesn’t take too much imagination. The fact that the greatest switch hitter of all time came out better prepared than most to ascend the hall of fame ranks of America’s game should come as no real surprise. But at the beginning of it all, even The Mighty Mick need someone there to teach him the difference between a split finger and a curve.
Baseball is an especially great sport for young kids, meaning it is never too early to start teaching them about the game. The key is finding a way to make it interesting, since baseball can be a slower moving sport. From heading to the stadium to cranking up the speed at the local batting cages, there are plenty of ways to develop your kid’s skills while keeping it fun. Here are three steps to ensure success on the diamond for many years to come.
1) Take Them to a Game
If you could pick any stadium environment to be suitable for kids, baseball would be it. The massive chorus of profanities from fans who spent too much time at the tailgate, the need to see over the taller heads in front of you whenever the crowd stands for an exciting play—these elements that make some sporting events so un-kid-friendly are virtually non-existing in baseball. In their place you get an experience that seems custom tailored for family fun. There’s the seventh inning stretch. There are the cheer squads launching goodies into the stands. At places like PETCO Park in San Diego, there’s even a miniature baseball diamond in the outfield where kids can play their own pick-up games for fun. Whether or not the young ones watch every pitch is not the important part. The key is creating positive memories around the game and the rest will follow. Just be sure to bring gloves to the stadium and prepare for the golden moment: catching a foul ball.
2) Develop Their Hand-Eye Coordination
A quintessential childhood game, playing catch is the number one way to develop the hand-eye coordination needed for baseball and other sports. From toddlers to teens, no one is ever too old or young to get in on the fun, and all it takes to make the game safe is the right style of ball. While toddlers will need a soft, squishy ball and both hands instead of a glove, young kids five and up can start enjoying the comfort of a leather mitt as well as a baseball with a real cover and seams. A ball like the Rawlings T-ball sports a soft sponge core so the kids can get a feel for the real deal without having to be afraid of the ball, and with all of the gloves on the market, there is a perfect shape and size mitt out there for everyone.
3) Get Out to the Batting Cages and Take Hacks
When all is said and done, it’s not fielding ground balls or catching pop flies that drive most kids to the game. The sweet metallic crack of the bat, the feel of pulling a line drive deep into left-center—it is at the plate that most kids first have their fun and there is no better place to prepare them than at the batting cages. Sure you can grab a bucket of balls and head to the local diamond to throw some soft toss, and early on when they can hardly muscle a ball out of the infield this might be the best approach. But when they’ve grown into taking some heavier hacks, you’ll spend hours chasing down the balls it would take the pitching machine two minutes to collect. Head to the cages and make a day out of it by allowing the kids to try different pitch speeds and different size bats. They will have a ball taking some swings and it will help you see what kind of gear they need to take their game to the next level.
Don’t Forget: It’s About Quality Time Together
Baseball is fun as a group activity. That means taking a parent/kid trip to local baseball events and bringing friends, too. Whether it’s signing up to play in the neighborhood little league or attending games at the park to root for a friend’s team, kids like to participate and feel part of the group. That goes for choosing their gear, too. Sport Chalet is always throwing in-store events for athletes both big and small. Learn about baseball and more at a Sport Chalet event in your area.
Have you made baseball a family affair? What’s your earliest memory of the game? We want to hear your tips and stories.