If you happened to be out and about this weekend chances are good that you drove past neighborhood athletic fields which are starting to fill with student athletes and their middle aged coaches. In one sense, this is part of the American “Rite of Spring.” It’s that time of year when you stock up on $350 Hype Fire baseball bats and $80 New Balance cleats. Perhaps this year a back yard batting cage is in order. And don’t forget to send money in for the mid Summer games at Cooperstown. That’s $1,300 a player. The family can stay at the “Quality Inn” in Oneata for $270 a night, roughly 3x what the room costs the rest of the year. All for seven games, weather permitting.

This writer played baseball from age 8 to 14 but that was in the deadball days of the 1960s. Registration was $5 at the local Ford dealer. You played for 8 weeks and it all ended on Memorial Day. If my parents total cost was $50 a season it was because my team won some games and the winning team was usually treated to sno-cones. A top of the line Tony Oliva glove was $10. A bat $2. Cleats were $4.

Today kid sports are a $40,000,000,000 industry and while there was some thought that the pandemic might put a crimp in the growth of the youth sports business, the indications are that we are back to our old ways. Meanwhile you can read everywhere that Americans, young and old, are feeling stressed about how much everything costs. Even the Aspen Institute says so. https://projectplay.org/state-of-play-2023/costs-to-play-trends

How is this a family law issue? Because American families battle about sports off the field as much as their children do on it. In 2017 this writer testified before the Pennsylvania General Assembly on the topic of support law reform. Much more interesting than my remarks was the testimony that preceded mine. A middle age man told the representatives that he had invested thousands of dollars using his credit card to fund his son’s high school baseball activities. Then his marriage broke up and he was stuck paying the credit card debt and child support. He suggested the support guidelines needs to make accomodations for such things. Hmmmm.

Many of today’s parents regard these expenses as an “investment” which they hope will yield returns in the form of sports scholarships to college. When clients headed down that road with me, I would quote the 18th century lexicographer (and non athlete) Samuel Johnson who warned all humans to avoid conflating hope with expectation. The expense is certain; the chance that it  yields undergraduate cost savings is, at best, a hope. Yes, it is a hope that pays some emotional dividends when your child doubles off the right field fence on a hot summer night then steals a base. But that moment of joy is expensive when the registration to play costs $1,300 and your bed is setting you back $260 a night. Then there is the angst we’ve seen when your co-parent suggests that if “the family” can afford $6,000 a year for sonny’s baseball career, there is no reason your daughter should be told that a week of overnight camp on some obscure mountain in Vermont is wasteful. And, by the way, if you want to insist that only one child gets these benefits be certain to budget some money for your lawyer to argue that in court so that you can lose. It’s not all bad, lawyers’ kids need to go to camp, too, and the lawyer will be grateful for the business.

When couples split up, there is usually a lot of loose talk about the children not being the ones to sacrifice. This often means camp at Cooperstown and in Vermont. But, $12,000 for the two activities puts a major dent in the budgets of families when they share the same house. If you aren’t doing that you really do need to chat with your ex about realistic activity expenses in a separated or divorced world. Yes, your kids want to continue doing these things. But they also don’t want to experience parents who are now shouting at each other over whether “Field of Dreams” is more important or worthy than Camp Runamuck.

Having myself done the baseball, the daycamp and then many years charging for legal battles over sports, camps, ballet, bar mitzvah trips to Israel, concert pianos and outside driving schools, my point here is that in the quest to be a “caring” parent you may be sacrificing your blood pressure and your pocketbook.

That said. Play ball! Locally, anyway.