Here’s why fewer black kids are playing baseball

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Tim Keown of ESPN.com tells that committee that MLB has set up to investigate the decline of U.S.-born blacks in baseball what’s really going on. It’s not about baseball not being cool or flashy or whatever. It’s about the money. It’s always about the money:

The committee members need to see the industry of youth baseball for what it has become: A business enterprise designed to exclude those without the means and mobility to participate. Over the past 15 to 20 years, the proliferation of pay-for-play teams in youth baseball — and the parallel proliferation of parents willing to pay for them and coaches willing to cash their checks — has had more of an impact on African-American participation than anything another sport has to offer.

As the father of a son living in an affluent and mostly white suburb I’ve seen this first hand. It happens in baseball. Soccer too. The local league set up by the parks and rec department is for those who aren’t serious. Anyone with some amount of talent — identified as young as age six, I’ve observed — is steered toward more intense leagues, which tend to be pay-to-play and which involve a lot of travel.

When you look at the schedules involved — games 20 miles away at 4pm, games 30 miles away under lights at 7pm — I have no idea how any kid can meet the obligations of these leagues without having at least one full-time stay-at-home parent who will pick the kid up at school and schlep them out to wherever. Run those obligations against whatever socio-economic demographic numbers you can find and you’ll see why these sports select for well-off white kids.

(thanks to Ethan for the heads up)

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.