I will never be an athlete. Not unless sarcasm becomes an Olympic sport. I mean, I “did sports” as a child, mainly baseball and only because it was expected of me. And then I did a stint of hyper-violent lacrosse and rugby in high school to take out my adolescent rage in a more productive way. But I never excelled at sports. It was like a foreign language to my body.
COVID has actually done a lot for my self-esteem, I am good at staying home alone, quietly reading or writing. I am a champion at social distancing. Masking is like a gift from the gods of going unnoticed and without makeup.
So imagine my discomfiture as the mom of a kid who lives and breathes sports. It seems to me that he knows all the stats and the names of every person in the NHL or MLB. He can shoot a puck predicting where the next player will pick it up. He can throw a ball and it makes it over the plate. He actually even seems to enjoy running.
COVID has meant the opposite to him — staying home, not playing with others, and cancelled hockey all hit him hard. I could see it as his mom, but I couldn’t feel it for him. I knew an essential part of his “kidness” was suffering in a way I couldn’t understand, and that hurt.
Thank goodness for the Kingston Baseball Association (KBA), who have managed to provide two seasons of recreational sports in the midst of a global pandemic. I watched the first practice this summer with awe, as my usually-reserved kiddo, beamingly introduced himself and engaged in animated conversation with an entirely new group of kids, casually tossing a baseball back and forth.
An athlete herself growing up playing baseball in Kingston, and then on a high-level team in Ottawa, Tori Labarge, President of KBA, gets it.
“It’s powerful to see the impact this has had on our players and their families. I believe in the short time we have been able to have restricted practices, we have already witnessed the positive effects that re-engaging in physical activity and the close friendships with teammates can bring. The direct impact and immediate benefits of a safe, naturally socially-distanced sport such as baseball can provide the physical activity to assist our players’ with their increased mental fatigue, tension, motivation and stress levels.”
Both this season as well as last, KBA put COVID-19 protocols in place to allow for players, coaches, umpires, and families to safely enjoy their baseball season: families complete a COVID screening check-in before any practice or game, proper sanitizer and cleaning supplies are available, masks must be worn while off the field of play and if physical distancing can not take place.
Labarge said, “we’ve actually been really lucky. Because baseball is an outdoor sport, but also non-contact, we were able to play last year. And we found there were a lot of people that registered for baseball last year who were new to the sport because I think kids that were playing other sports started trying it out.”
“Last year’s registration numbers were down very slightly to the previous year’s, but 2021 has seen an increase in numbers to our five previous years, with many new players joining our sport,” she continued, noting that there is now, in fact, a wait list to join.
“Seven years ago, there were 85 kids in our league,” she reflected. And now? “We have over 750. Last year we noticed there was even more ‘new to baseball’ players, and this year again.”
LaBarge said the reason for the increase in interest in KBA may be that, “other leagues have decided not to play or insurance has made it tricky, to be quite honest, because the insurance costs have gone way up. So, I can see how smaller leagues would really struggle to absorb the cost difference.”
But there’s also the sport itself gaining popularity, she expressed.
“Baseball is an exciting sport right now because the Blue Jays are doing so great. Players like Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. being as exciting as they are, the kids see that and kind of lean towards those sports,” said LaBarge.
As a mom, she said she, too, has noticed the mental stimulation baseball has given her kids, noting, “I think the biggest thing that we really noticed is just getting back into some routine of being outside more. You can really see the kids’ mental health improve.”
For example, she said, “My son’s team, they’ve pretty much played together since they were six or seven on the rep team. When we first started practicing in groups of 10 or below, we could see all of a sudden they were waking up a little bit earlier and they were excited to get outside and not play video games. All of us were commenting on the difference we could see. I think just camaraderie with their friends has helped to improve the overall mental health of all of us, including the parents. And to see something and have something to look forward to in the evenings.”
We agreed. I have even missed freezing cold arenas and sweltering ball fields. I just missed sitting and watching him play, it’s fun to watch him be excited about something so much so that he shines.
KBA, pointed out Labarge, was voted one of the fastest-growing little leagues in Canada, and, in recent years, KBA hosted the Little League provincial championships.
Labarge says KBA has a new, even bigger announcement coming soon… So stay tuned for more hard-hitting little league coverage!