Youth baseball has gotten too expensive

Associated Press

This is a must-click link from friend-of-HBT Graham Womack, who writes for The Sacramento News Review. His subject today is one well-known to HBT readers: the relative dearth of U.S.-born black baseball players. His story is not from the macro view, however, it’s on the micro level. He writes from the ballfields of Sacramento, once a hotbed of young black baseball talent, and shows us how that talent well has dried up.

The athletes aren’t gone, of course. They’re just playing different sports. Not because they’re flashier or hipper or any of the usual things people say when talking about what is supposed to attract youth and minority culture. Rather, it’s because of the cost:

John F. Kennedy High School product Greg Vaughn became one of MLB’s most feared sluggers in the 1990s. Leon Lee’s son Derrek went from attending Baker’s local youth baseball camps to playing for him on the Chicago Cubs.

But while Derrek was coming of age in the late 1980s, something else was starting to emerge that’s changed baseball dramatically: travel ball. Now, parents spend thousands to register their teens in travel tournaments in hopes of catching a scout’s eye.

That’s fine for parents who can afford it. “They’ll mortgage their houses to send their kids to a tournament,” Leon Lee said.

Yet it also speaks to a broader theme pushing African-Americans out of baseball: The sport’s gotten too expensive.

“If my mom had to pay $250, $300 for me and my brother and sister to play, being a single parent, it wouldn’t have happened,” Vaughn told this writer last year in an interview for “The bats are $400. The shoes, the spikes, the travel—it’s just really an expensive sport.”

Major League Baseball is making efforts to promote and, increasingly, underwrite, youth baseball. But there is still a tremendous gulf between the leagues of elite, well-heeled kids and the less-expensive Little League and school programs. The talent is developed and elevated at the former location and a pipeline to the big leagues has been created. An expensive pipeline which is closed to a great many people who, at one time, were finding their way to Major League Baseball.

Cards’ Pujols hits 700th career home run, 4th to reach mark

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES – St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols hit his 700th career home run on Friday night, connecting for his second drive of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers and becoming the fourth player to reach the milestone in major league history.

The 42-year-old Pujols hit No. 699 in the third inning, then launched No. 700 in the fourth at Dodger Stadium.

With the drive in the final days of his last big league season, Pujols joined Barry Bonds (762 homers), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) in one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs.

It’s been a remarkable run for Pujols. This was his 14th home run since the start of August for the NL Central-leading Cardinals, and his 21st of the season.

Pujols’ historic homer was a three-run shot against Dodgers reliever Phil Bickford. The ball landed in the first few rows of the left-field pavilion, the same location his two-run shot touched down the previous inning off left-hander Andrew Heaney.

Pujols received a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd – he finished out last season while playing for the Dodgers. He took a curtain call, raising his cap in acknowledgment.

The fans chanted “Pujols! Pujols!” They finally sat down after being on their feet in anticipation of seeing history.

Pujols snapped a tie with Alex Rodriguez for fourth on the list when he hit career homer No. 697 against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11.

Reaching 700 homers seemed like a long shot for Pujols when he was batting .189 on July 4. But the three-time NL MVP started to find his stroke in August, swatting seven homers in one 10-game stretch that helped St. Louis pull away in the division race.

“I know that early in the year … I obviously wanted better results,” Pujols said after he homered in a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 22. “But I felt like I was hitting the ball hard. Sometimes this game is going to take more away from you than the game (is) giving you back.

“So I think at the end of the day you have to be positive and just stay focused and trust your work. That’s something that I’ve done all the time.”

Pujols has enjoyed a resurgent season after returning to St. Louis in March for a $2.5 million, one-year contract. It’s his highest total since he hit 23 homers for the Angels in 2019.

He plans to retire when the season ends.

Pujols also began his career in St. Louis. He was selected by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 amateur draft and won the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year award.

The Dominican Republic native hit at least .300 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first 10 seasons. He helped the Cardinals to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.

He set a career high with 49 homers in 2006 – one of seven seasons with at least 40 homers. He led the majors with 47 homers in 2009 and topped the NL with 42 in 2010.

Pujols left St. Louis in free agency in December 2011, signing a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Angels. He was waived by the Angels in May 2021, and then joined the Dodgers and hit 12 homers and drove in 38 runs in 85 games.