What’s ailing softball?

First golf hit the skids and now softball?

The Star Tribune’s Steve Brandt reports today that across Minnesota, rec leagues are having a hard time finding enough teams of softball players.

“One of the things I hear from teams that are not going to be playing is that they can’t find enough players to commit,” Lacelle Cordes, a Rosemount recreation supervisor, tells Brandt.

So leagues are going to experiment with five-player teams.

The new small-ball option will rotate three teams of five through batting, the outfield and infield each inning, with four-inning games that last about an hour. Each team still gets three outs at bat in an inning.

“The X generation and the millennials, they’re out doing other things,” said John Miller, membership director for the Oklahoma City-based American Softball Association (ASA). “The 5-on-5 is something that’s kind of perked everybody’s ears up.”

I know what you’re thinking: these kids today are more interesting in playing on their iPhones than getting out there in the fresh air.

Maybe there’s some truth to that, but maybe there’s another cultural factor. Maybe we’re more isolated socially now and that’s why we can’t find enough other friends to form a softball team.

The demands of parenthood play a part in this too, according to Brandt:

Minneapolis recreation workers attribute the falling numbers to parents attending or coaching the games of busy youth and the requirements of demanding jobs.

State softball leaders are concerned enough about the falloff that they’re surveying high school athletic directors to find out why. “A lot of them, the reason they gave was lack of time,” said Cordes, who is on a task force formed to recruit and retain players in Minnesota.

And organizing a traditional slow-pitch team roster that typically numbers more than a dozen players can be time consuming. “Nobody wants to be in charge,” Cordes said.

Another factor is the decline of the company softball team, the Wall St. Journal reported two years ago. What killed it? Companies. They’re leaner and meaner now.

“I think if you’re smart, you might think twice about getting too social with your co-workers,” Galen Beers, executive director of a softball industry group said. “You want to not have to worry about what someone’s going to say you did or said at your next company meeting.”

Plus, given how much of our lives are now required to be focused on our workplaces, who wants to spend even more time with people at work, especially if they take the game too seriously?

We’re simply a different culture now.

Back in my youth, the softball teams playing in the field behind my house each night were almost always bars and — the nature of my town being what it was — usually bars that focused on ethnicity — the Franco-American Club and the British-American Club come to mind. We tend not to socialize that way anymore.

If you’re just one person and you’d like to play some softball, but you don’t have a big circle of softball-playing friends, you’re out of luck.

Maybe one solution — and I’m just spit-balling here — is for leagues to encourage individuals to sign up, and then create the teams.

Also, maybe offer free beer for the first few weeks.