Pirates lead push to promote youth baseball

Walker, McCutchen, front office attend first-ever Youth Baseball Summit

Pirates lead push to promote youth baseball

The Pirates, along with all of Major League Baseball, are concerned about the decreasing numbers of kids playing baseball and softball in communities all across the country.

Recent data has revealed that youth participation in traditional organized sports -- including baseball -- is declining. Overall physical activity rates among kids are also on the downswing. The influence of technology, fewer physical education programs in schools and a difficult economy are believed to be among the factors that have contributed to the trend.

The Pirates naturally love the game of baseball and want today's youngsters and generations to come to love it as well. With that in mind, Pirates chairman Bob Nutting gathered a group of approximately 25 community leaders, who are involved in youth baseball and softball, together for the first-ever Youth Baseball Summit. The event, held at PNC Park on June 12, was designed to address the state of the sport in the Pittsburgh region.

"The idea for the Youth Baseball Summit was borne from our desire to address this critically important issue in a meaningful and impactful way," said Nutting, who spearheaded the nearly three-hour session. "Pulling together this diverse group of individuals to share issues and ideas is the first step in a long-term approach to addressing the issue.

"Youth participation in organized sports, not just baseball, has been on the decline. We need to discover why that is and find ways to encourage and promote healthy lifestyles with our youth through participation in sports."

Prior to the game against the Philadelphia Phillies that day, second baseman Neil Walker and outfielder Andrew McCutchen also stopped by to share their views.

"I had a lot of time dedicated by my friends and family through the course of growing up that really helped me," McCutchen said. "The older I got, the bigger that group of people that helped me got. I know for a fact that, if I didn't have any of that help, I wouldn't be in the position I'm in today.

"So, time and money are the two biggest issues, I feel, that are going to make the difference between a kid making his way through the system or going another route."

Promoting youth baseball is a league-wide initiative, one in which the Pirates are positioned to take a lead role.

"Encouraging and promoting youth baseball is important for the future of the game as a whole," said Nutting, who was joined at the Youth Baseball Summit by several other Pirates officials, including president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington, senior vice president of community & public affairs Patty Paytas and Pirates manager of diversity and youth baseball initiatives Chaz Kellem.

Among the questions presented to the community leaders at the June 12 get-together were:

  • Are participation rates in the Pittsburgh area similar to national trends?
  • Are participation rates different for recreational baseball and softball, compared to travel ball?
  • What is the most significant factor keeping children from playing baseball and softball?
  • What can be done to make playing baseball and softball more appealing to the boys and girls of today?

The entire session was videotaped in order to properly capture feedback, comments and ideas from the group.

"This was a very informative initial meeting, and the first step to the development of a long-term initiative," Nutting said. "It's too early to get into details, but I cannot thank all of the participants enough for not only their insight and expertise, but also their obvious passion for the game and for our children. It was a very interesting and productive session. I believe the Pirates are well-positioned to continue to be leaders in the industry by working to make baseball fun for our kids, pushing for greater access, assisting coaches with the challenges they face and improving upon fields and facilities throughout the region."

Youth baseball and softball programs that the Pirates currently support include Fields for Kids, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), Junior Pirates, and the Miracle League program.

Jim Lachimia is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.