If you like baseball, April is one of the best times of year — smell of fresh cut grass, crack of the bat, your team doesn’t suck yet (unless you’re a Brewers guy), all of that. If you’re a serious baseball fan, there’s a decent chance that at some point in the coming weeks, your kid’s going to look at you and ask, “Why are you screaming at the TV?”
And that’s your opportunity to make them fans, too.
“Sports is the low stakes, safe, common ground where kids and parents can relate to each other — particularly when you get to the teenage years and all these things are bubbling up,” says Jason Sklar, who’s one half of the Sklar Brothers comedy duo behind the Sklarbro Country podcast and a regular guest host on The Jim Rome Show. “It’s the last true drama, outside real life. You don’t know the outcome; it can surprise you every single time, and that’s a really cool thing to turn your kids on to.”
Sklar has lived in Los Angeles for years, but he’s such an unapologetic homer for his native St. Louis that he and his brother Randy made an ESPN documentary about trying to get an obscure Cardinals utility player from the 80s into the Baseball Hall Of Fame. Sklar’s made on-going project of instilling in his 6-year-old son and 15-month-old daughter a similar obsession.
Here’s how he’s going to make sure they root, root, root for the home team.
Meet Them On Their Terms
Raising a young Cardinals fan (in Sklar’s case) isn’t as simple as slapping a hat on their head and a “Wainwright” jersey on their back — sometimes you have to be a bit more clever. “My love of the Cardinals dovetailed nicely into his love of Angry Birds,” Sklar says of his son. “The Cardinals are the red bird, which he likes.” His son’s interest in Pokemon cards were similarly useful in introducing him to the baseball version.
“My love of the Cardinals dovetailed nicely into his love of ‘Angry Birds.'”
From there, Sklar makes baseball part of the family atmosphere. He plays it in the car and pops it on the TV at home, familiarizing his kids with the sights and sounds even when they’re not actually watching the game together.
It’s always easier for kids to understand what other people are doing if they’ve done it themselves already. With baseball, they can hit off a tee or swing at an underhand toss pretty early; if they show an interest, put a glove on their hands, pronto. Lean on friends with kids who have outgrown old gear or buy it cheap on Craig’s List, so any financial investment doesn’t turn into a pressure point to push more than you should. If you’re space deprived, a lot of municipal golf courses will let you play a little catch on the putting greens if they’re not too busy.
Of course, if you have the juice to throw out the first pitch at a Cardinals game, as the Sklars did last summer, that’s going to make a impression, too. “He met (Cardinals mascot) Fredbird,” Sklar says, “which made him really happy. He dug that part of it.”
Limit Expectations And Don’t Push
Once you kid has some idea of what the game’s about, taking them to a ballpark is the next level — just don’t expect it to be any kind of bargain. “The first baseball game we went to, he lasted about 4 innings,” Sklar remembers. “You go all the way out to the game, and you pay for parking and everything else and think “Man, c’mon, we’ve got to make this last!” but one way to turn your kids off to something like that is to force them to stay longer than their expiration date. So we left after the fourth inning.”
If you have a Major League team in your area, many of them have daytime games where they allow little kids onto the field beforehand, which can help set a hook before you head to your seats and lose a month’s worth of groceries on 2 hotdogs. Even better are minor league ballparks, where family friendly promotions are a weekly occurrence and everything from the hotdogs to the parking to the team hat is 50-percent cheaper. The mascots are way better, too.
The bottom line, though, is that you can’t push your kid to like anything, so pay attention to when they’ve reached their limit and pull the ripcord. Consider it an investment in memories, since beating a retreat under tantrum-like conditions will make it harder to raise a kid who thinks fondly of afternoons at the park with the old man.
Remember The Larger Goal
Sklar’s hoping to raise Cardinals fans, but he understands they’re growing up in Dodgers country, and their memories will be composed of experiences they have surrounded by Dodgers fans or at Dodgers stadium.
Sklar notes his son is already starting to tease him by claiming an allegiance to the Dodgers.
“The best would be if we get to the point where he asks if the Cardinals are playing today,” Sklar, who notes that his son is already starting to tease him by claiming allegiance to the Dodgers. “But you just hope they have a passion for [the game].” More than the team, that’s what creates the connection.
Of course, Sklar has his limits. When it comes to college football, for example, the dyed-in-the-wool Michigan man is not prepared to accept a son who roots for, say, Ohio State.
“That,” Sklar admits, “would be devastating.”