Jim Lefebvre on Canadian Baseball
Is American’s Pass-Time Canada’s Future?
While speaking at the Vancouver Coaches Association’s Annual Meeting, I was delighted to see the enthusiasm, excitement and pure joy that was exhibited at the event. The coaches are receptive to learning new things; they are well trained; they enjoy teaching their teams; and they love the game of baseball. It was like being in America 20 years ago.
It is a known fact that America’s Pass-Time has been slowly dying in popularity. Once the number one sports game in the country, it has fallen to a pitiful fourth place according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. Each year little league teams scramble to get a full roster of players. Kids are no longer dreaming of being a pro-baseball player as more and more sports and activities compete for their time.
So what is the problem? Many things. Kids drop out of playing baseball because the practices are boring. Sad to say, but for the most part, coaches are untrained and not really interested in learning anything more than what they already know. They are putting in their time with their child’s team out of necessity, not desire. And it is well documented that if a player does well and enjoys the sport in their early days of playing, they will stick with it throughout life, playing at all levels, maybe college and even work or church leagues. And more importantly, they are a life-time fan.
If however, they have a negative experience, then all the pluses mentioned are erased and they go on to find something else to hold their interest.
The length of the season has also been noted as being too long, thus losing the fans along the way. Finding a hero was once an easy thing to do in the world of baseball, now, not so much. The major league teams have been scarred with drug allegations, cheating and off-the-field activities that darken the reputation of the sport itself.
Why is Canada so successful? Just look at their stats: Three Canadians have been MVPs since 1997; One Baseball hall of Famer; Two Cy Young Award Winners; One Rookie of the Year; Four Silver Slugger Award Winners, (totaling seven different years!); One Hank Aaron Award, and on and on and on!
After spending a weekend with about 250 coaches and managers, I saw a passion for the game. They train their players the way we used to train our players: Repetition, repetition, repetition! Hit, catch, throw and do it again and again. They build arm strength with drills and concentrate on making each player great. They start with kids at an early age and teach them to be the best they can be. They make practice fun and make sure they are prepared. I taught them some new drills and they were excited about learning—they readily put their egos aside and admit that even the best coaches can learn something new.
Canada has hundreds of college students who are on full baseball scholarships at American colleges. Why? Because they have been trained to be the best they can be and college recruiters see their talents and skills.
What can we do to bring back that passion? How can we revive the love of the game of baseball? My life has been spent in the world of this game. I have been in many positions, Rookie of the Year, World Series player, International player, hitting coach, manager, International Coach. Now I spend my time teaching coaches to reignite the fire in their players; my greatest desire is to see this generation of young players be the ones that bring back America’s Pass Time. I want to hear little kids singing “take me out to the ball game!” once again. Together we can make sure that baseball has a future in America by taking an example from our Northern Neighbors.