Since my daughter was 8 years old she has played travel softball. Our family vacations are always planned around weekend regional tournaments, four-day state tournaments, and even week-long national tournaments.
She has played against teams from Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri. Some of her teammates travel 30 or 40 miles just to practice. During tournaments they wear three sets of uniforms, matching helmets and cleats made especially for girls fast-pitch softball. They swing $300 bats and make regular visits to specialized hitting or pitching coaches.
It has been one of the great joys of my life watching my daughter play softball, bond with her teammates and fall so deeply in love with a sport. She just turned 15, is trying to make a high school team for the first time (she’s been attending 5:30 a.m. workouts since school started), and will travel again this summer with the Indiana Thunder.
This is what the landscape of youth sports looks like these days. This is what is expected to play at a high level in virtually any sport. I couldn’t begin to dream of doing what she’s done while I was playing park league baseball here in Goshen back in the 1980s. Two completely different worlds, indeed.
Back in the day, as they say, there was no Little League baseball or softball in Goshen. Kids of my 30- and 40-something era played their summer ball at Shanklin and Rogers parks. Leagues were run by The Goshen Parks and Recreation Department and the games were the highlight of every summer.
There was “Ponytail” softball for the girls. For baseball, boys started in the F.O.P. league at Rogers Park and were pitched to by coaches. From there they aged up to the Cadet and Junior leagues at Shanklin Park, and finally to the American League back over at Rogers Park.
Local businesses would sponsor the teams and provide uniforms that consisted of mesh-back hats and white T-shirts that were brown by the end of July. Some of the sponsors included Thompson Body Shop, I.B.E.W., the Moose Lodge, Everett’s, Parkside Pharmacy, Penguin Point and Hoogenboom-Nafziger.
For Cadet and Junior League, games were played at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. four days a week. Most of us would stick our mitts on our handlebars and ride our bikes to the park. After the games we would either sit around and watch more baseball, or walk 30 yards to the pool once it opened. I often wore my bathing suit (with a season patch stitched to it) to games under my “uniform.”