Is baseball still America’s favorite pastime?

Tuesday , June 09, 2015 - 9:32 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

LAYTON – Baseball has long been known as “America’s favorite pastime.” Yet decreasing little league registration numbers have baseball fans concerned.

The Wall Street Journal reported little league baseball numbers dropped from 8.8 million in 2000 to 5.3 million in 2013. The report counted youth participation from ages 7 to 17. In fact the study showed a decrease in all four core sports: baseball, basketball, soccer, and football, since 2006.

City baseball leagues in Utah are striving to be the exception. This year, Layton saw the first increase in registration numbers in almost five years. Chris Floyd, the recreation coordinator for Layton city, believes “the kids simply don’t want to get outside and play anymore.”

Layton peaked in baseball and softball participation with almost 2,400 kids in 2011. That number dropped to a low of just more than 1,700 in 2014. Now it’s on the rise again, slowly, with 1,750 kids participating this year.

“Just baseball has taken a hit, basketball has basically maintained the same numbers for some time. Football is a little different with the risks attached to it,” Floyd said.

He believes involving the kids and parents during the season will increase participation. Floyd describes his “Fun Shot” for Junior Jazz and the “Punt, Pass, and Kick” for football as two examples of competitions that increased kids’ interest and keeps them returning each year.

He also works with the Utah Jazz and Weber State football to get the kids professional exposure. “We just started a league night with the University of Utah and BYU [baseball teams]. The kids get to meet the players and be on the field for the national anthem,” Floyd said. “A lot of things like that are going to help our numbers continue to grow.”

Centerville also saw an increase in registration numbers in 2015. The city added seven new teams to the league in 2015.

Matt Layton volunteers as the league president. “I grew up playing Centerville baseball. It was something I didn’t want to go away,” Layton said.

He sees kids moving to more “fast-paced” sports, but credits baseball’s “comeback” to the coaches’ and other volunteers’ passion in Centerville.

Jody Call, the recreation supervisor in Roy, feels with the more sport options out there, kids overlook baseball. Roy and Layton newer sport leagues, such as flag football, are gaining momentum.

“There are just more sports out there, so many options for kids to be involved in,” Call said. “Ultimately the core sports are going to be affected by that.”

Roy implemented a “bridge league” between competitive and recreation play in basketball. The bridge helped the gap between the competitive leagues level of play and the recreation league.

“We tried the bridge league in baseball, but it never got going. We don’t know if it was a timing issue or something else,” Call said.

Roy plans to try the bridge option again next year for baseball. Call believes the option for kids to create their own teams may make them more likely to play, especially at a “less competitive” level.

Despite the declining numbers, baseball still maintains the highest registration numbers of the core sports in many Utah cities. All cities in the area are working to increase participation in the leagues.

“As long as we have people who are passionate about it, I think it will continue to grow,” Layton said.

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