Can Pujols and Wilson save Orange County youth baseball?

Frankly, I wasn’t too excited when the Angels signed Albert Pujols. Ten years, $250 million for a player in his thirties? Perhaps he can do for the Angels in the teens what Reggie Jackson did in the eighties, if he doesn’t get hurt. CJ Wilson was a better catch, a player in his prime who wants to play in Orange County and turned down a bigger deal to play in elsewhere. Could they put the Angels back on top again? If so, they may help more than the Angels. They may help youth baseball in Orange County.

Youth baseball has been in steady decline over the past few years. So much so that the league where I was president is now merging with a nearby league. The problem is that there is too much competition from other leagues and other sports.

For example, lacrosse has taken off in our area. It is a faster-paced, more aggressive sport. More importantly, it is a no-cut sport in our local high school. Instead of competing for one of the few spots on the high school freshman baseball team (which usually go to kids who have been playing travelball twelve months a year anyway), you can get on the high school lacrosse team, get your letterman’s jacket, and not have to do regular PE.

Also, it seems that youth baseball has appeal when the Angels have appeal. Interest in baseball seemed to spike after the Angels won the World Series in 2002. That’s when my son got into baseball. In Winterball where teams can pick their names, my son’s teams called themselves the Angels even though their uniform color was blue and the Angels wear red. (They worked around it by calling themselves the Blue Angels.) As the Angels began to decline and AL West titles seemed less of a sure thing, baseball’s appeal among kids began to decline. The loss of Vladimir Guerrero, struggles of Torii Hunter, and the disappointments of Gary Matthews and Hideki Matsui made it worse.

Having a marquee player like Albert Pujols can get kids in our area interested in baseball again. If kids run out and buy a #5 Pujols jersey, they may consider getting a bat and glove and play on their own.

We Southern California fans are notoriously fickle. (Obviously, we can’t handle having an NFL team.) If something doesn’t excite us, there is no shortage of other things we can do. The only way baseball can have a chance in our area is if it offers something exciting, something that makes it stand out, something that gives it appeal. Perhaps Albert Pujols can do this for Orange County youth baseball — but only if he makes the Angels a winner again.