MAHONING VALLEY, Ohio (WKBN) — Baseball has been called called America’s pastime and is normally associated with warmer weather and sunny days.
But the number of kids playing baseball and softball is down here in the Valley. Indoor practices are becoming more common, and not just because of the Northeast Ohio winter.
For many, the days of playing the sport three or four months out of the year are gone.
“At least a minimum of nine months out of the year, we are training and/or playing,” said Chaney Nezbeth, whose five children all play sports.
“Fall League, you do spring leagues, summer league, winter league and extra practices throughout the year. I know I never took more than two or three weeks off at a time,” softball player Charley Troggio said. “You can see which girls travel and which girls do not, just because travel girls have the mentality of being at practice on time, staying late if something is wrong, going to extra lessons outside of practice.”
Travel teams consist of some of the best players in the area. It’s an extra commitment for young athletes and that commitment comes at a cost.
From paying team fees, to hotels and equipment, the expenses add up.
“You are going to spend $2,000 to $3,000 in the off-season to pay for facilities. You are going to spend for private catching coaches and hitting coaches and pitching coaches,” Nezbeth said.
“All the costs of hotels, batting fees, catching fees, equipment, because I have new equipment every year, bats, everything,” she said.
But cost is not the only reason why less kids are coming out to play.
“He actually said ‘this is going to be one of the hardest things you will ever have to do. You will have to stop playing all other outside sports.’ From that point on, it was all softball all the time,” Troggio said.
That advice came from Troggio’s travel softball coach when she was just 11 years old. It is a decision that is becoming more and more common for young athletes.
“Your football coach wants you in the weight room and working out with football all year. And your basketball coach wants you in the gym all year. And your baseball coach wants you hitting and throwing all year,” said travel baseball coach Randy Dominguez.
Several varsity softball coaches we spoke to off-camera said they have seen some of the lowest participation levels ever. In fact, some area schools like Springfield and Liberty had to cut their junior varsity teams because they don’t have enough players.
In addition to pressuring kids to choose a sport, the shift is also putting pressure on families.
“It’s like another job being able to travel with your team,” Nezbeth said.
Nezbeth has five children, all of whom play sports. She said although the balancing act can be difficult, it is worth it.
As for Troggio, she has traveled across the country playing softball and has even been to the Netherlands to play. All the hard work earned her a scholarship to play softball at West Liberty College in West Virginia.
She said if she had to go back and do it all over again, she would.
“Not even a question. In a heartbeat I would do it all over again and probably put more work into it,” Troggio said.