Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Why Johnny can't stop playing sports

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I never get tired of this clip from the CBC series, “The Tournament,” which at 2:47 delivers the funniest, saddest truism about youth sports, ever.

Stephen Rodrick, in the latest New York, writes an excellent piece about a 13-year-old travel-league baseball player as a slice-of-life look into the travails of major-league pressure on minor-aged athletes. If you’ve had any familiarity with the professionalization of sport — well, professional except that the kids and their families are doing the paying, instead of being paid — at younger and younger ages, the story itself carries few surprises. But the story is great in that instead of a histrionic look at sports killing our children’s souls and bodies, Rodrick stays out of the way and follows what is going on with Karl “KB” Blum and everything surrounding him, and lets you reach that conclusion yourself.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to most readers is what KB’s baseball-obsessed, hard-charging, living-out-the-dream-he-never-had father does for a living — orthopedic surgeon. On top of that, KB’s mother is a radiologist. In other words, he is the child of people who have gone through the highest levels of education and presumably know its value, and how it’s a far more sure thing to be a professional than a professional athlete.

Yet the siren song of fame and fortune of being a pro athlete calls. KB’s father, haunted by his own promising baseball career cut off when his family moved in high school, is sparing no expense (the story doesn’t say whether that expense includes paying little attention to KB’s younger brother and sister) to bring KB to academies and teams all over the country to play. Even more puzzling, Karl Blum the senior doesn’t shut his son down when he complains his pitching arm is starting to hurt. You can imagine Karl being able to get extra-special bonding in a few years by doing Tommy John surgery on his son.

I don’t mean to be too hard on Karl. After all, he’s hardly the only parent of means who, due to a combination of his own hopes and dreams for his child, and his child’s ability and seeming love for the game, wanders headlong down the path of pro sports dreams. As the article shows, there are certainly plenty of people eager and willing to take the money of those on the way.

In KB’s case, Karl is quoted as saying baseball could be a back door to getting him into Princeton, as if the son of two professionals would have an unusual amount of trouble doing so.

Speaking of which, I also won’t be too hard on Karl because, in the sense of trying to figure out how to get his child into an Ivy League school, he’s part of another group of parents obsessed with an extremely difficult-to-obtain goal. As you can see here, in the New York Times’ 37th part in a 198,000-part series, “How Do I Get My Kid Into Harvard, And Is My Life And My Child’s Life Over If I Can’t?”

Written by rkcookjr

September 21, 2009 at 11:14 pm

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