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 own 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 gatherings.

We’ve all seen Little League games where kids in the field wander aimlessly, pull daisies in the outfield, scuff their shoes in 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 catchy 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 strive to maximize their skills and coordination that only come with constant repetition.

But what about kids who don’t enjoy chattering in the infield, and dislike the taste of chewing on leather? There’s no reason for kids to be inactive this spring simply because they don’t like baseball. Even those who play Little League could still use a bit of extra physical activity.

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 several 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 get started. Or you can call the marathon office at 831-625-6226 and ask for Susan Love.

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 them that are just as strong as flipping through a game program in a crowded baseball stadium.

Over the next four months, you have at least four chances to start just such a tradition:

1) 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 crossing the same finish line the marathon runners use. Get more information at www.bsim.org.

2) On May 19th, the Heart and Sole Races sponsored by Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital have the best events 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 759-1890 for more information.

3) On June 9th, the city of Marina hosts 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. Call the Marina Recreation Department at 384-7547 to find out more about this great event. Ask for Dan Gibson.

4) 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, “If you build it, 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.

That way, you can make running and health your family’s National Pastime.

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