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April 5, 2007

National Pastimes

OK - I’m back in California, and I’ve got a couple of bike rides under my belt this week, so I’m in much better spirits today than I was with my previous post.

Since returning home, it’s occurred to me that given my grumpy mood at the time, perhaps I judged Phoenix a little harshly. Maybe if I had stayed in a different part of town, or if it had been my first trip of the month instead of the third, or if I had just hung out with Momo for a while, I’d have a different impression of the city.

Maybe there are a lot nice things about the city, and I somehow managed to miss all but one of them. If someone were to tell me that Phoenix is really a great place to live, I guess I’d have to take his or her word for it – because I don’t have any plans to return there anytime soon.

As for today’s post – it’s an introduction to our Monterey Herald column from last week, comparing the sports of baseball and running.

My friend Mike is very involved in youth running programs, and has visited almost every elementary school in Monterey County to promote healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle. Our local program (website mentioned below) has won several statewide awards for its positive impact on children’s lives.

On a related note, Mike also hates seeing children play baseball. He feels that it is a nearly sedentary sport, and that most kids would be better served by running. He wrote a rough draft of an article that essentially bashed the kids and parents who participate in baseball as a primary means of exercise. You know – it’s a waste of time, it’s not really exercise - that sort of thing.

Unfortunately, we had a difference of opinion – because I absolutely loved baseball when I was a kid. I still have memories of friendships and good times on various teams from my youth. I remember listening to night games on my transistor radio after my parents tucked me into bed. And I’m ashamed to admit how much money I probably spent on baseball cards.

(Unrelated side note: this is yet another reason why my heart breaks every time a new drug story involving a professional athlete comes to light – especially those regarding a certain Bay Area home run hitter. Being a Giants fan has been like watching a morality play over the past several years. I’m not supposed to hate the best player on my favorite team, but there’s simply no rational alternative. What a mess.)

Even though it’s not the most physically demanding game in town, I think there’s a lot to be said for kids playing around and having fun while participating in a sport that is part of the very fabric of America. So I reworked the article as much as I could, to promote the childrens’ running programs while also balancing Mike’s disdain for baseball with my own experience.

This is the compromise we came up with.


The Running Life 3/29/07 “National Pastimes”

Springtime is finally upon us. For many sports fans, that brings thoughts of our national pastime: The crack of the bat (or the ping of aluminum), the “thunk” of a pitch into the catcher’s glove, and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while root, root, rooting for the home team.

Like clockwork, Little League practices have sprung up all over the place lately. Given the huge number of kids who play baseball, we often wonder about the relative fitness value for the children involved, especially when compared to our favorite “pastime” of running.

Baseball’s a great sport - but it’s definitely not the most active game in town. It’s a game of tradition, and of handing down lessons and memories from one generation to the next. We’ve both participated in this tradition, but we feel that running offers many of the same benefits that draw people to baseball.

In some ways, we think the sport of running is preferable to baseball, especially when we compare our races to typical Little League games.

Everyone has seen Little League games where kids in the field wander aimlessly, pull daisies in the outfield, scuff their shoes through the infield dirt, or yell out repeated choruses of “Hey batter batter!” while chewing on their mitts. Those are the kids who are IN the game.

The kids in the dugout have lots of time to eat snacks or create clever contests like seeing who can blow the biggest bubble, or who can take off and put on their jacket the fastest. Clearly, it’s not wall-to-wall action after the umpire shouts “Play Ball!”

Luckily, many of the kids who play baseball are generally athletic types who also enjoy playing catch in the backyard, or chasing after balls in the outfield during batting practice. Baseball players typically spend many practice hours honing their skills and coordination to help them succeed on the field.

But what about kids who aren’t especially coordinated, don’t enjoy chattering in the infield, and dislike the taste of synthetic leather? There’s no reason for kids to be inactive this spring simply because they don’t like baseball.

That’s where running (or any aerobic activity) comes in. As a matter of fact, you are probably better served by taking your kid on a 30 or 45-minute jog or bike ride a few times per week, than shuttling them to three pee-wee practices and games. Your exercise time can double as family bonding time, and you can do it in any of the wooded trails or city parks or school playgrounds that our area offers.

Springtime is a great season to introduce children to running and racing. At school, they can get involved with Just Run, the award winning youth activity program that the Big Sur Marathon provides free to schools and other youth organizations. (If your child’s school doesn’t already have the program, the website www.justrun.org has all the information you need to start this great program.) For more information you can call the marathon office at 831-625-6226.

On weekends, there are several fun races for kids in the weeks ahead. They are family activities where every child feels like a winner afterwards. They’re also great opportunities to create traditions and memories with your kids that are just as strong as flipping through a game program in a crowded baseball stadium.

Over the next four months, you have four opportunities to start just such a tradition:

The Big Sur Marathon 5K on April 29th is the biggest children’s race of the year. The course is the most beautiful around, starting in Carmel and traversing trails and beach roads before finishing across the same line the marathon runners cross. Get more information at www.bsim.org.

On May 19th, the Heart and Sole Races sponsored by Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital have the best set of races for the littlest runners. The children’s races include a one-mile run for kids 9-12, a ½ mile run for kids 5-8, and even Toddler Trots for those under 5. Call the SVMH Health Promotion Office at 757-4333 for more information.

On June 9th, the city of Marina is sponsoring a series of children’s races at Freeman Field (at CSUMB) called JUST RUN Marina. There will be age appropriate races for boys and girls on the track for children from 1 to 12.

During the summer, the annual Spreckels 4th of July festivities include a one-mile race for children. After the race, be sure to stay for the barbecue and parade afterwards. It’s a wonderful family holiday with “good old days” attitude.

The catchphrase from Field of Dreams was, “Build it and they will come”. It’s a great line from a great baseball movie – and we’re going to steal it. After all, these spring and summertime children’s races have already been built by people who care about kids and have a passion for running. All that’s left is for you to come and enjoy them.

We hope to see you and your children out there!


Annette 4/5/07, 6:14 PM  

Nice article! I can see a few die-hard baseball parents getting a little riled up, but I think you kept it pretty light and positive. Way to promote running for kids! I may be picking your brain in a few months about the Just Run program. I have thoughts of starting something like that around here once my teaching career is over and I have much more free time (or so I dream!) :)

Fran 4/6/07, 3:26 PM  

I loved baseball as a kid. More so than hockey (which is sacraligious in Canada!). But I do agree it's not the most active sport out there.

Backofpack 4/6/07, 7:27 PM  

Nice rework Donald. I think you found a good balance.

Bruce 4/8/07, 3:45 AM  

Agree with a lot of your comments Donald. Anything to get kids more active has got to be good. Glad that hear that I took out the prize for furtherest reader, guess you couldn't get much further really!

David 4/8/07, 1:23 PM  

I am with you brother.

By the way, what do you have to trade for a Topps Nolan Ryan rookie card?

Matt 4/8/07, 6:30 PM  

Good article. You could always note that running increases leg strength which will help these you ball players hit the ball a little harder and a little farther.

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