I was very dismayed this year to learn that we have to buy my daughter a new bat for softball. This is not because we can’t afford it, or because I mind that she might have outgrown the last one, or because I don’t believe that softball is a worthwhile pursuit.
She has been playing softball for 4 years already. She is 8. They start them young here in the South, where softball is one of the biggest sports for young women. She plays in a city league in our town, which has a population around 70,000 people.
The league is a pretty big deal. Girls sign up, go to softball clinics, and are drafted onto teams, of which there are about 6 per age group. The coaches look out at the clinics and tryouts to try to get the best players for their teams.
My daughter is a very good player. This is my unbiased opinion, based on the fact that my husband, who is a very good athlete, says so, and on the fact that my daughter plays pitcher or first base because of her speed and catching abilities, which are well beyond most of those in her age bracket. She is also one hell of a batter, and hit a good number of home runs last year, once two in a row. In fact, she was the most valuable player on her team last year, and she had just moved up to a new bracket and was the youngest on her team. I know that she was important, because on the rare occasion that we had to inform her team that she would be absent a game, people would begin to groan and roll their eyes and say things like, “Well, there goes THAT game”.
But this year after signups, my husband came home and announced that we would have to buy her a new bat. “Well,” I said, “She has grown a good bit since last year, so I guess that makes sense.”
“The bat is not too small for her,” my husband said. “It’s still the right size.”
“Then why do we have to buy a new bat?”
“They have tightened up the regulations this year,” my husband informed me. “Apparently there were some problems last year.”
“Oh,” I said. “I guess they want to standardize the type of bat.”
“Well, sort of,” he said. “There were multiple infractions last year involving bat tampering, and many of the parents complained. These new bats are tamper-proof, and everyone will be required to have one.”
I pondered this. Bat tampering? “Isn’t that what they do in the major leagues to add weight to the bats to give the batters more hitting strength? I know that’s a big infraction.”
“Yes,” said my husband. “That is what was happening.”
“My daughter is EIGHT,” I told my husband. “Eight. Who the hell tampers with an 8 year-old’s bat? This is a damn city league. They start them out at 4 years old. Do people tamper with their bats too?”
“Possibly,” my husband said.
“Oh,” I said, mustering my best sarcasm, “I suppose the pro scouts are at those games already.”
“As a matter of fact,” my husband said, “They are. This league goes up to 12 years old and by that time, the college scouts are out there.”
You have got to be FRICKING kidding me. College scouts? At a small town city league tournament? Weighting bats of prepubescent children? Tweens with tampered bats, on the off chance that a scout might spy them?
And that doesn’t begin to touch what this is doing to these kids. Never even mind the fact that this game is supposed to be fun for the kids, to learn team play and fairness. When a child is told, “Just a minute, before you go start this game, your Uncle Bubba has to fix your bat so you’ll hit harder and win,” they are being told, no this is NOT for fun. Nothing is for fun. Everything is soooo important. Everything you do. And we grownups are relying on you, you’re our sweet little cash cow. You’re gonna pay for college and make us money and fame, and keep us comfortable in our old age. The kid learns to cheat, scheme, feel that they are outside the rules, which are just made for breaking. And they learn young that they are being used, as an asset, rather than being treated to a fun game. That kid’s childhood is gone. They become an unwitting adult, lying and cheating and trying to sneak to the top. Never mind practice. Never mind innate ability. It’s all about clawing to the top.
I am a gynecologist, and in my line of work, I maintain that there is very little out there in the realm of human behavior that can surprise me. I am constantly proved wrong. You would think I would learn.
This shocked me. And horrified me. And several days later, I still cannot get that conversation out of my head. Bat tampering for tweens? What the hell next? Are the parents shooting up their 12 year-old daughters with steroids too? At this point, I would put nothing past anybody.
I know this makes me look old, but all I can think is, what is this world coming to? I heard my parents and my grandparents say this all the time, and here I am saying it. Maybe I am conservative and old-fashioned, but in my mind, anyone who would tamper with an 8 year-old’s bat in hopes of throwing a game or getting their kid scouted should go straight to hell. Do not pass home plate, do not collect $200. I didn’t think I could be shocked anymore. But believe you me, I am shocked. And outraged. And saddened. And there is nothing to do but buy the bat.