A quote I overheard a couple weeks ago has been on my mind recently. Consequently, it’s the focus for this month’s column.

While umpiring a baseball game in Hillsboro last month, I heard a spectator between innings tell another spectator, “Baseball is dying in Hillsboro.”

Later that night, I realized that what that person said is true, or at least it appears to be so.

As far as I can tell, baseball’s decline in Hillsboro began two years ago when the Hillsboro High School baseball program was faced with a new coaching staff; the motivation of which was questioned by many.

Consequently, that team was, well, bad. They seemed to play with a sense of confusion and didn’t seem to care about winning or losing.

It was that team that, in my mind, caused what has been the slow demise of baseball in Hillsboro; a demise that sincerely concerns me.

I have been umpiring baseball games in the Hillsboro Recreation Commission system for four years now. During that time, I have seen several talented Hillsboro teams, but all these teams seem to fall apart as they get older.

My question is, “Why?”

The most common excuse I hear is that Hillsboro is a basketball town, so why play baseball?

The most disturbing excuse I’ve heard yet was that nobody cares about baseball in Hillsboro.

Again, my question is, “Why?”

If the basketball town excuse is the one you use, then I’m sorry to say, but we’re getting shown up by another “basketball town.”

I’ve umpired five games in Hesston this summer, and honestly, I’ve been stunned by what I’ve seen.

Hesston had nearly 30 young men in the 13-to-15-year age range sign up to play baseball. Because of that, they split the group into two teams, both of which are near the top of an extremely competitive Mid Kansas League.

Curiosity finally got the best of me one time, and I broke down and asked the coach how many of his kids were also playing summer league basketball.

He said an overwhelming majority of his players were also involved in numerous summer basketball teams.

I also got the feeling, though, that those kids had a passion for summer baseball, something that Hillsboro youth seem to have been losing lately.

Before I go any further, I’d like to clarify my stance on the impact basketball has on our town. I love basketball. I think basketball has done great things for Hillsboro, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Hillsboro needs basketball.

But Hillsboro also needs baseball.

I’ve been privileged to be a part of a handful of Hillsboro baseball teams, both at the high school level and at the recreational level. During my years as a baseball manager in high school, I made two trips to the Class 3A state tournament in Manhattan with the Trojans.

The first trip resulted in a third-place performance.

During my four years, we received incredible support from the community. The bleachers and telephone-pole fence at Memorial Field were lined with people and you couldn’t find a place to park in the parking lot.

Today that is far from the case.

I don’t think baseball in Hillsboro is dying at all. I think it is simply in a slump. With the right support from parents, fans, coaches of other sports, and yes, even city administrators, baseball will come out of its slump.

It was encouraging to read last month that city officials have expressed their intent that Memorial Field not be used as a parking lot in the off season. This is an important step, in my estimation. The field our high school athletes play on is decent, but it could be made much better with a little work.

Baseball has the ability to rise again. If you’re a baseball fan, get out and watch the young kids in your community play. Even if you don’t know a kid on either team, sit down and look at the passion some of these young people have for America’s pastime.

This may be too late in the season to have any effect, but if nothing else, I hope you think about this column. I hope the people of Hillsboro aren’t bandwagon riders; only supporting a team during good times. It is during slumps that people need the most support.

Go enjoy a ball game in your town. Show the kids that you really do care. Prove to your community that baseball is not dead.

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