McCutchen: Little Leaguers can be unfairly left behind
MLB star voices support for Jackie Robinson West, points to financial issues facing youth baseball
By William Boor
When news broke that Jackie Robinson West Little League, the Chicago team that won the U.S. Championship at the 2014 Little League World Series, was stripped of its title because some of the players lived "outside the geographical area," the reaction focused on the adults.
Plenty of people were disgusted at the adults in charge as the young kids were robbed of their amazing accomplishment.
However, the news brought up different emotions and feelings in Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who shared his thoughts in a passionate article for The Players' Tribune, the new website started by Derek Jeter geared toward giving athletes a writing platform.
McCutchen, who grew up in a small Florida town, can relate to the struggles the inner-city kids on Jackie Robinson West faced.
"Baseball used to be the sport where all you needed was a stick and a ball," McCutchen wrote. "It used to be a way out for poor kids. Now it's a sport that increasingly freezes out kids whose parents don't have the income to finance the travel baseball circuit."
McCutchen writes about his journey to stardom and notes that the path to the Major Leagues is not always glamorous: Unlike football and basketball, college baseball is a partial scholarship sport, and top prospects must choose between a partial ride and riding buses in the low Minors.
"If I could've been a wide receiver for a D-I school," McCutchen wrote, "I would have chosen that path because of the promise of a full scholarship. The University of Florida offered me a baseball scholarship, but it only covered 70 percent of the tuition. My family simply couldn't afford the other 30 percent. The fact is, no matter how good you are, you're not getting a full ride in baseball."
The 2013 National League MVP also noted that it is much harder to get exposure in baseball than in football because of the lack of media attention at the amateur level. And although baseball has plenty of showcases and big-name tournaments, that's only for the kids who can get there.
"It's not about the $100 bat," McCutchen wrote. "It's about the $100-a-night motel room and the $30 gas money and the $300 tournament fee. There's a huge financial gap to get a child to that next level where they might be seen."
And therein lies the problem, as McCutchen sees it. A youth coach named Jimmy Rutland saw and recognized the skill and potential in McCutchen and helped him gain exposure, which ultimately led to the Pirates selecting McCutchen in the first round of the 2005 Draft. Not every kid gets that help, but McCutchen hopes that more will.
The kids on the Jackie Robinson West Little League team may have had their title taken away, but McCutchen hopes their magical run helped set up their future.
"Somebody probably watched their Little League World Series run and saw one of them make a smart play in the field or hit a perfect line drive up the gap," McCutchen wrote. "That kid might not have been the best player on the team. But somebody saw something in him, and they're going to reach out."
William Boor is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.