Paul Kuharsky: The Stress Of Youth Baseball

Three years ago, youth baseball was golden for my family here in Nashville, Tenn.

My son Simon played on what started out as a Cal Ripken all-star team with other boys he grew up playing soccer and baseball with, plus a few additions. The kids were tight. The families all got along great. It was fun if a bit too competitive.

Then the Admirals started to come apart. One of the top kids intended to leave for greener fields. Most of the rest tried out for another couple teams, largely for the experience and to measure themselves against the landscape of other players.

Things went awry when one of those big teams offered attractive opportunities and lured a couple more quality players away.

We tried to patch, but we were going to be short. Parents understandably started to panic and scrambled to find alternatives. I waited too long and the good offer for Simon closed up. He wound up in a bad situation and played for two teams in the 2020-21 season.

That spring was his shot to get another invitation and he had a good tryout with one big exception: hitting. He got a call back and was ready to go win a spot when he got a positive Covid test that meant he missed out on Showcase for a second time.

Luckily, Simon landed with a team that became the Tennessee Aces 12u, a scrappy bunch that started out really badly. Thanks to quality coaches and long practices focused on the fundamentals, the team improved massively. They played increasingly headsy, competitive travel baseball of the mid-level variety.

Youth Baseball: The Next Chapter

The core of that team wanted to stay together and also add some quality. Being one team without a big organization fielding multiple teams at multiple age groups certainly had its benefits.

But I thought it would be healthy for Simon to participate in what amounted to free practices around Nashville in tryouts, experience different coaches and see what was out there, some of which might have no appeal. He played JV middle school ball in the spring too, but additional exposure to the full-sized field would be good. He said yes and we committed to four additional tryouts.

The Aces wanted him back. I was forthcoming. 

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Their tryouts were first, and he came off the field after a hot afternoon with his buddies and declared he did not want to play anywhere else. I explained that we had committed to four others and he needed to follow through. Just go workout and see. If you feel the same, you’ll find your way back.

Select was intriguing, but didn’t make an offer. Battle would have liked for him to have been their shortstop. Harris Baseball didn’t deal in any specifics but made an offer too. He quickly passed on those.

That got us back to waiting on Showcase, which has become Midland, or returning to the Aces. Simon was torn.

The timelines, of course, didn’t add up.

The Aces were putting together a roster. If they were losing their shortstop, they needed to find an alternative.

Midland still had a second tryout pending and a source told me there were probably only three spots. It was a longshot.

I talked to the Aces coach, who I consider a friend, and I told him all that. After being aligned for a full year, we were now going to be at odds for about a week. He needed a decision. We needed time.

Youth Baseball Was Causing Our Family Stress

Coach and I agreed if he couldn’t last until Monday, he’d let me know and we’d speed up. I said I’d share news as soon as I had it.

No news from Midland by Monday meant you were supposed to check in. By late that afternoon I got the return text. Sorry, very little turnover, huge turnout.

I texted coach: Simon is in.

We all relaxed.

A week has passed. It all may seem silly to you if you’ve had no connection to modern youth sports. If you’ve dealt with it you know, as ridiculous as it is, that 12-year-olds (and younger kids) are in these situations. It’s just how it works. If you’re good enough and want to play competitively, there is no scaling it back.

At Titans training camp, I saw an old friend whose son is older and had good success playing travel ball. At 13, my friends said, just play and have fun.

The revamped Aces practice for the first time Saturday as they look for more of that.

Simon had a hitting lesson Wednesday night. He was smashing it.

Paul Kuharsky hosts OutKick 360. Read more of him at PaulKuharsky.com.

Written by Paul Kuharsky

Paul Kuharsky is an award-winning writer who has covered the NFL for over 22 years in California, Texas, and Tennessee, and also is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After ESPN, PK came to join the longest running trio in Nashville Sports Talk in 2012.

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