I was wandering through the mall last week and I saw the sporting goods store. I had to stop in.
You've heard of a kid in a candy store? I'm a kid in the sporting goods store. All that cool equipment looking fresh and ready to be worn. All those balls and pucks waiting to be shot into nets, or hit over a fence.
When I was young, kids didn't have money like they do today. Buying a baseball was a big deal. It was a treasured possession, to be carefully protected.
We played baseball on a field in back of my house. It had a rectangular shape, with pricker bushes running down the right side and a creek along the left. Hitting down the line meant trouble, one way or the other.
(Years later, the few hits I got playing softball usually went straight up the middle. I don't wonder why.)
A ball that went down the creek bank brought a panicked cry of "CREEK BALL!" Everyone scurried to various points along the creek to try to fish it out. Because that ball was worth something.
You might grab a stray tree branch and try to guide it to shore. There were stepping stones where you could reach out and snatch it back. As a last resort, you could hop a fence and scramble over to a low footbridge on Arthur Ave., but this meant going through the property of a much-feared man who didn't like trespassers. If you got caught, you made the walk of shame all the way around the block.
I was thinking about that last week as I browsed through the sporting goods store and saw a bat on sale for $449.99. It's a reminder of how much more expensive sports can be these days.
Growing up in Cortland, youth baseball was run by the recreation commission and played at 10 o'clock on weekday mornings during the summer. There were no uniforms. We shared equipment. If there was a registration fee, it wasn't much.
The only other sport I played as a kid was hockey, and that involved clomping down to Suggett Park on skates and using a couple of snow clumps for goal posts.
Youth sports today is a different landscape. It's better in some ways, because there are many more options for kids. But it can also be expensive, especially if you're in a sport that involves travel teams. With equipment, fees and hotel rooms, it could easily run into the thousands of dollars per year for one athlete.
I wonder if that isn't one of the underlying causes of some of the problems at the high school level. We hear stories all the time about parents complaining to coaches about their kid's playing time. If you've invested all that time and money in your child through the years, I suppose it's tough to watch your son or daughter sit on the bench.
Life is full of ironies. Now that I have the money to buy anything I want in the sporting goods store, I no longer play any organized sports. Once or twice a year I'll toss my stick in if I find a pond hockey game at an outdoor rink. Otherwise, I get my exercise by walking circles around the apartment complex.
Thankfully, most of the stuff in the sporting goods store isn't nearly as expensive as that bat. I walked out last week with a baseball for $2.99. I have no use for it, but it looks nice sitting on top of the TV set at home ... a safe distance from the creek.