Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The One Constant

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come" –Terrence Mann - "Field of Dreams"

I have been alive through 13 presidential elections. And if you are any kind of baseball fan, you are superstitious. The number "13" spooks me about as much as forgetting a bag of seeds, not wearing the right socks or not shouting the right words before my sons comes to bat.

The number 13 is a stressful number for baseball goons like me and that explains why this has been a stressful election year. Financial turmoil, uncertainty about jobs, money, the candidates, their credentials, intent and ability. Whew...I'm worn out...

So this past weekend, I went on a drive to find a good fall ball contest. There were tons of football games on TV and at the local high schools...that was too much noise. I just wanted to sit back, relax and watch our great Pastime and unwind. Folks...it did the trick. Baseball is great therapy...yet another reason to love this game.

When you dissect the words of the character Terrence Mann in Field of Dreams, you begin to realize that baseball is and always has been the one constant in our lives that we can use as therapy or as a reference to mark a moment in our lives that touched us.

Roger Maris's 61 was the height of the Kennedy era...

Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA in 1968 was low as low can go as was our nations political climate after the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

1975 was the year I graduated High school, but was also the year of one of the greatest World Series ever when the Cincinnati's Big Red Machine beat the Boston Red Sox. Even though the Sox lost, who could forget Fisk's 12 inning Walk -Off to force a game 7?

Tug McGraw's dominance in the 1980 World Series was also the year I graduated college and happened just weeks before the Reagan years began.

My son was born just before the "Earthquake series" in 1989.

I could go on, but the world...at least in my world, is defined by baseball.

Think about the milestones in your own sons life. I bet a lot of the moments you remember or chronicled, were on a baseball field. Were a lot of your happier family trips at big national tourney's? Are some of your favorite family video and pics of baseball games, times by the hotel pool after a game or team dinners? If so, then you too have marked the time of your lives by baseball. Not basketball...not football...But baseball. Because like our lives, baseball moves methodically along...pitch by pitch...out by out...inning by inning...game by game.

We are approaching a milestone in our world in the weeks ahead with a new kind of presidential ticket, no matter who wins...We are facing turmoil in our financial markets and are about to approve solutions that could change everything.

What baseball event will mark this time in our history?

I have a prediction? In a time of unprecedented change on our world, it would only make sense that a similar change happen in the world of baseball.

My prediction is that the Cubs...yes...The Cubs...will finally win the World Series...and to make it even more dramatic...it will be against the Rays.

What a way to mark the time in this crazy upside down world we live in. What a great feel good story this would be to get us back on track as a country too. Go Cubby's!

You heard it here first!

RT Staff

Monday, September 29, 2008

Another Travel Ball Convert

We received a series of e-mails from a reader in Tennessee that said that his son just recently converted to travel ball after playing in local rec leagues from an early age through his sophomore year in high school. The readers son was always a dominant pitcher/ infielder in his local rec leagues. He had a mid to upper 80's fastball that rec ball players couldn't touch. His son was in a mediocre high school league and the success continued through his freshman and sophomore years on the freshman and JV teams.

The player was frustrated that he didn't get called up to varsity with his success, but his high school coach was an upperclassman supporter and rarely, if ever brought up young underclassmen. The rec season had ended and he wanted to play more so that he could make an impact at varsity the next year. At the suggestion of one of his neighborhood friends that attended a local private high school, he filled in as a pitcher in a weekend tournament on a well respected local travel team in the last week of June of this year.

At that tourney, the dad told me, he acted like one of those typical blow-hard dads that thought his son was the next Nolan Ryan. When other parents on his new travel team wanted to know about his son and the teams he had played on, the dad told him of his sons multiple no-hitters and sheer dominance at the league he had played in. The parents were nice to him and told him that they looked forward to seeing him pitch.

The travel coach was a good coach and didn't throw his newest player into the fire until the third game that weekend, which at the time, angered the father of the new player. His son did get to play some second and had a few at bats to get himself acclimated. He always led his rec leagues in Home Runs, but in five at bats, only managed an infield hit.

The father WAS impressed at the level of play and was amazed at how well coached each of the teams were and how well they executed. Still, he was confident that his son would enjoy the same results as a pitcher that he always had. He didn't see too many guys out there that threw as hard or harder than his son. There would be no problem, he rationalized.

When his son pitched in his rec league, kids would always stand up against the fence when he was warming up and he would hear the oohs and ahhhs as his sons fastballs popped the glove of the catcher. He looked for that same kind of response from the team from Knoxville that they were about to face in that third pool play game, but instead, he saw the first five batters out of the dug-out watching his wind-up, swinging away as he delivered the pitch. They seemed locked in. That's something he never saw in his sons rec league.

Right before the throw down to second, the opposing coach gathered his players and evidently had a plan on how to approach our readers son, because what was about to happen that inning was "a Welcome to Travel Ball" awakening.

The first batter took the first pitch deep for a home run. That was the first home run, our readers son ever had hit against him in over six years of pitching. The second better got a single up the middle, the third batter walked, the fourth batter also went deep and the fifth hit a triple. The coach called time, went to the mound and calmly had a chat with his new pitcher. The next two batters walked and with the bases loaded, the eighth batter of that inning hit a grand slam. With no outs and eight batters faced, the score was 8-0 and our readers son had a look of shock and embarrassment on the mound. The coach called time, and gave his new pitcher a pat and replaced him.

After the game, the dad was full of excuses, blaming the catcher, the coach, the pitches that were being called and grabbed his son and said that they were leaving. He didn't want to see his son humiliated like this again and ruin his confidence.

What happened next was a total shock for our reader. His son, said no. He liked the team...liked the coach and was not as discouraged with his performance given the circumstances. "Circumstances...what circumstances...you were shelled...that outing was a disaster."

"The coach says that I have potential. He likes my delivery, my size, my velocity and he says that I have an...upside?" Our reader didn't know what that meant at the time, and then asked his son what the coach had said to him on the mound.

"He asked me how many pitches I had."

"That's all...I mean you have a curve ball, but you never really had to use it much"

"Well, it wasn't working and he wanted me to locate my fastballs and asked if I had a change-up."

"What did you say?"

"I dunno, I said I would try and then I walked the next two guys. So after that I just wanted to get it over the plate and that's when the guy hit the grand slam."

"And you still want to play in this league? Don't you feel humiliated?"

"No, a lot of the guys on the team that pitch said that they started out slow like me and that our coaches are really good and will teach me how to pitch."

About that time, his sons coach came up and introduced himself. He said that he was impressed with his sons fastball and that it was a good base to build on. He went on to explain that his son is now just a thrower and that over time, he will learn how to pitch. He stated that anyone can hit a 88mph fastball, but a real pitcher keeps his hitters off balance and always guessing. He wanted his son to learn how to throw and master a change-up, a curve and really learn how to locate his fastball. His philosophy was that a located fastball was the most devastating pitch in a pitchers arsenal. That's the first thing his son needed to work on.

The reader said that although it has cost him a few extra hundred dollars that he never had to spend when his son was in rec ball...the transformation that has happened to his son has been nothing short of phenomenal. His son's next few outings progressively got better and better and he stated that last week, his son pitched a 7 hit complete game in the semifinal of a regional tournament that was attended by scouts. And more important...his son received his first letter from a major college.

Of all of the no-hitters, one hitters and games where he consistently struck out the side in rec ball...our reader was never more proud of his son that the performance he had against a very good team from Georgia in that 3-1 win. He was proud because the competition was real...his son learned to pitch and above all, his son had new found competitiveness that was based on players that all started out being better than him, but that gap was closing. His son has aspirations of being a big fish in a bigger pond...and doesn't miss one bit the small pond experience he had at the rec level.

Folks...this is what travel ball is all about. It's about learning, growing, competitiveness, confidence and facing reality. That's why we write this blog and why you all read it. Good luck to all that are traveling to the Arizona Fall Classic in the next few weeks, as well as the big Jupiter, Fl. Tourney. Don't forget to send us your sons verbal commitments too!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Notes From Tennessee

RT Staff Note: The Tennessee Messenger ran a story on a local scout turned recruiting advisor Don Mitchell. Here's the story:

By: By KENNETH COKER, Messenger Sports Reporter

It’s been said that there is a right way to do things.
If that’s true, then former Atlanta Braves scout and Arizona Diamondbacks scouting director Don Mitchell is hopeful he was able to steer some student-athletes and their parents onto the correct course when it comes to the college baseball recruiting process.

“Essentially, it boils down to the fact that you aren’t choosing the college; the college is choosing you,” Mitchell, who lived in Union City during the 1980s and is married to the former Michelle Moss, said Tuesday at a presentation of Recruiting Realities within the confines of Elam Stadium. “If you get a letter from a university that says, ‘Thanks for your interest in our program,’ that’s not the type you want to get. The type of letter a player wants to get is one that says, ‘We have scouted you and we believe you are one of the top players in your area.’
“Regardless of what university that is, it shows they are interested in you if they come to see you play.”

Mitchell, who helped to draft Reggie Sanders and Jim Thome during his career as a scout, brought a message on Tuesday, telling a group of Union City Fall League baseball players and parents that many times guardians and prospective student-athletes set unrealistic goals.

However, the real task at hand is far away from the diamond.

“There are three objectives really when it comes to finding a school that’s right if you’re serious about playing college baseball,” Mitchell, who played his college baseball at UT Martin, told the crowd. “No. 1 is to get a education; No. 2 is to go somewhere where you’re going to get playing time and No. 3 is to get it paid for.”
Throughout his career, Mitchell scouted with the Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates after his minor league playing days within the Cincinnati Reds organization were over and his advice is something that Union City High School baseball coach Jeremy Maddox believes will help both students and parents alike.

“What he’s talking about tonight is something I went through as a player after I was a player following my freshman year at junior college,” Maddox said. “I was getting letters from these big Division I schools and my mentality was that I had to play D-I baseball. Then, I got a letter from this NAIA school — Berry College in Georgia — and at the time, I discarded it because I was so set in my ways of going to a Division I school.

“Little did I know I’d end up there and it turned out to be a great decision because I developed more as a player and I got signed to a minor league contract by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.”

Now residing in Scottsdale, Ariz., Mitchell spends much of his time traveling the United States to offer seminars by the company, which was founded by former college athletic director Jack Rankens, to prospective college baseball players in order to educate the students and their parents on what to expect from the recruiting process.

“Basically, I want to keep things in perspective and realistic when it comes to what opportunities are out there for a baseball player to get a college scholarship,” Mitchell said. “I don’t really miss scouting today. One of my seasons with the Diamondbacks (1998) I was on 172 flights and I think that kind of burnt me out.
“That said, all I ever wanted to do was have a job in baseball and this keeps me in the game.”

And maybe, Mitchell’s advice can help get an Obion Countian into that fold.
Sports reporter Kenneth Coker can be contacted by e-mail at kcoker@ucmessenger.com.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Attention Travel Teams, Players and Parents! Participate in NLI Week!

The week of November 12th, we are dedicating our site to our annual National Letter of Intent signings for Class of 2009 graduates. If your team has anyone signing that you want to recognize, please send us the following information in this order.
1) Players Name
2) Players Height, Weight, Side He Bats/Throws and Position(s)
3) Travel Team Name and links to their team site
4) High School and links to his high school team site
5) College Attending and links to future college team

If you have a picture...give us that too!!!

E-Mail to roundingthirdstaff@gmail.com

We will post every player that will be signing. Our goal is to put together the most comprehensive and meaningful list of NLI signings in the country.

Our format this year will be a bit different. We will break out the signings by region and by state so that we can put more information like pictures and links for each player. Again, e-mail us at roundingthirdstaff@gmail.com.

Last year, as we scoured the nations newspapers looking for news on players that may have slipped our web of contacts, we noticed that 95% of newspapers nationwide did not cover or mention any baseball National Letter of Intent signings for the graduates of 2008. Those same newspapers did announce basketball NLI's. This isn't new and it's been done this way for years because baseball is not considered a revenue generating sport like basketball and football. But as the true American Pastime, the sport deserves better. We will give them the recognition they deserve.

The good news is...we see a change in the making as it relates to baseball as a revenue sport. The past few years have seen more national TV coverage of college from ESPNU and Fox. The much publicized hiring of George Horton at Oregon had the same feel and excitement of the hiring of a major college basketball or football coach. With help from Nike's Phil Knight, watch out for the Pac 10 and the rest of college baseball to change the nations perception of the college game this coming season.

But even now, baseball IS a revenue generating sport in many SEC and Big 12 south schools. Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi St, Wichita St., Oklahoma St., Nebraska, Arizona St, LSU (Who leads the nation in baseball attendance and sell-outs), Baylor, Rice, South Carolina, Fresno St. to name a few, are all profitable college baseball programs. When Rice built it's new stadium, it's attendance doubled. Nebraska averages well over 3,000 fans a game.

The SEC continues to break their attendance records each year in it's 12 SEC ballparks by drawing well over 1.5 million fans. The SEC has drawn over one million in paid attendance for seven straight seasons. No other conference has ever drawn a million or more fans to its baseball stadiums during a single season. During the 2005 season, for the first time in college baseball history, two schools (Ole Miss and Mississippi State) had on-campus crowds of over 10,000 fans for a regular season game on the same day. The largest on-campus crowd in the country was in 2006, when over 13,000, witnessed Georgia at Mississippi State on April 8. The 2008 SEC Baseball Tournament, drew over 100,000 for the 4th time in the last five years.

We encourage more influential people like Phil Knight to propel college and high school baseball as a revenue generating sport for the rest of the country, outside the SEC, Big 12 and several Western state schools.

But, for that to happen, we need to see more top round draftable players opt for college and play for their state or area school, get an education, and not just disappear into the minor league system for three-four years. If players would opt for college, we as fans can continue to follow them via the growing number of broadcast options available to us such as ESPN, FOX, CSTV and others. And, as more top prospects enter college, the competition would start to mimic the minors. In addition, the summer leagues in Cape Cod, Northwoods, Coastal Carolina, Alaska, etc. would play an even more important role in the development of future pro prospects. Plus, did we mention that these players could get a meaningful, life altering, career boosting, brain stimulating, college education?

As you can tell, we love college and college sports in general. Wouldn't it be nice to hear Fox's Joe Buck or ESPN's Jon Miller introduce MLB players as a product of their college, like they do in football and basketball? Wouldn't you like to see more pages dedicated in sport magazines and newspapers to collegiate baseball? We would too. Here's a start. Call your local newspaper and tell them to announce the baseball NLI signings this year. So what, it's not baseball season...these high school baseball players worked hard to sign that life changing piece of paper and they should be recognized as well.

Rounding Third Staff

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Making Baseball Better in the Northeast

RT Staff Note: This year, there will be over a dozen new college stadiums making their debut. Colleges realize that there is an increased interest in playing college ball by today's youth and must compete to bring in those recruits. More and more players are seeking out teams and leagues to help them play at the next level beyond the traditional summer ball offerings. Some are good, some aren't. One area that has shown exponential interest in an extended season is the New England Area. We have written about the New England Ruffnecks in past posts, but there are other leagues and personalities in the Northeast that are also on the right path to helping young players reach their goal to play at the next level. Here's an article that ran in the Boston Herald that shows how baseball in cold weather climates CAN work.

By Mike Sullivan
September 23, 2008

The Seacoast Fall Baseball League is growing up fast.

Not so long ago — nine years in fact — the league was a mere five teams, all of the high school variety. Newmarket, Marshwood, Rochester, Oyster River and Suncook all had entries in the league, which was founded by Newmarket High School assistant baseball coach Gary Pomeroy.

The knock on New England in national baseball circles has always been that many of the players are weaker because they can't play baseball year-round; kinda tough in the snow, really. But if it was available, you could certainly play baseball into the fall season.

Based on that premise, it seemed obvious that Pomeroy was onto something.

Fast forward to 2008 and it's hard to recognize the league thanks in large part to David Adam.

Adam, the owner of Strike Three Baseball School and a former, longtime minor league pitcher, took over as the league's head honcho in 2003. "Head honcho" isn't his official title, mind you. In fact, he doesn't have one. Adam is just a guy who is trying to make baseball better in this area. Seems like he's doing a pretty good job of it, too. In just five years, the SFBL has expanded to a whopping 36 teams broken up into middle school (10 teams), junior varsity (12 teams) and varsity (14 teams) divisions.

Adam played professionally for 10 years and is a Connecticut native, so he knew of the reputation New England baseball has always had. And he, like Pomeroy, recognized that extending the season could help dispel this notion.

"The whole concept of this league has caught on because kids weren't playing and people were kind of seeing that," Adam said. "Baseball up here was getting a bum rap down south because they play year-round and around here kids were only playing a couple months."

It was that same principle that attracted longtime Dover resident and coach Dave Rouleau to the league.

"In the Seacoast area, there's a bunch of very, very good ballplayers and in the fall, those young men did nothing because they're not football players, they're not soccer players," said Rouleau, who coaches the Dover high school division team and has been involved with the league since its inception. "We got together and recognized there's a certain group that had interest in this. We wanted to give those kids an opportunity to play."

So now Seacoast-area kids are playing baseball longer, and a whole bunch of them are doing it.

All told, there are more than 400 players in the league this fall, up from about 55 nine years ago. One of Adam's prime objectives when he took the reins of the league was growth, while maintaining the league's mantra of ensuring that everybody plays and everybody improves their skills.

No problems there. The league has not only grown, but it has developed a reputation for being, well, more than just a pick-up league.

Pitchers are limited to three innings per game day. On a typical game day, Dover and Portsmouth, for example, will play two five-inning games. The regular season, which began over the weekend for high school and middle school, is four weeks long and playoffs begin after that.

"We try to take the competitive edge off during the regular season, but come playoff time, the kids want something to play for a little bit," Adam said.

The high school division's games are played mostly on Sundays to allow soccer and football players to participate if they choose. The league isn't just for kids who play on their high school teams, either. Any kid in middle or high school can play, and everyone actually plays in every game. It's far from watered down ball, though.

"We've tried to steadily improve the quality over the years and I think we've done that," Adam said.

"The commitment is not as demanding as Legion baseball or high school baseball," Rouleau said. "But there's a lot of kids who enjoy playing and there's a lot of kids who want to play college ball, so this helps them."

Adam described the league as a "melting pot" of Seacoast baseball talent. The SFBL even hosts a showcase game each year — this year's is Oct. 26 — for college coaches. All the coaches submit a list of players who are interested in playing college ball, and the showcase team is made from that list. It plays another All-Star team of sorts from somewhere else in the state.

"It's important to these kids, a lot of them want to play in college," said Adam, who used to coach the baseball team at Hesser College in Manchester. "Any kid who's interested in playing college baseball, we're going to help them."

Help is something Adam has had a lot of. Each of the towns has people who not only coach, but do all the dirty work to help keep a league this size running smoothly.

"This could never happen if I didn't have all the people in the towns," Adam said.

What a difference five years makes. And sure, he's had help, but the better way of putting it is: what a difference David Adam makes.

If you're interested in learning more about the Seacoast Fall Baseball League, visit www.sfbl.us or call David Adam at (203) 668-7649.

Mike Sullivan is a Herald columnist. He can be reached at sullywrites@comcast.net.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

There's Never an Off-Season

RT Staff Note: We received an e-mail from one of our readers that passed along a letter his son received 2 years ago from an "advisor" that saw his son play at some showcases and camps. He sent it to us because he reads our blog almost every day and our past posts were almost identical to the words of this "advisor". At the request of the parent, we omitted names and references to the specifics like names and locations of the particular showcases. For the record, the player that this letter was addressed to had over 6 college offers and is presently playing and starting at a major D-I. He listened to the constructive criticism he received and benefited greatly. Will many of you players out there do the same?

Dear (Player),
I am a (Baseball Advisor) and I saw you play at (some recent camps and showcases). I have also talked with a lot of other recruiters and scouts that seem to like your abilities a lot. You have the body type, athleticism and skills that scouts and recruiters are looking for. That's the good news and definitely something to build on.

My job as a (advisor) is to identify and critique players and to prepare them for their future as a potential draft pick whether it is next year or after your junior year in college. While you have the basic tools, I am going to brutally honest with you and say that you need some major adjustments in the attitude department. Let me explain. I have heard that you are very coachable. That is not the problem. However, a house pet is "coachable". I can get my dog to do whatever I tell him, if you get the analogy. You need to work on what every player in the Bigs has. You need to play and display your talents with a lot of extra heart at the plate, in the field and in the dug-out. You need to make quicker decisions, have better instincts and be aware of the situation around you. Let me see a more hard nosed approach and the sky is the limit for you.

For example, although this may seem minor, I have been watching your approach at the plate. You start off looking great. You look very confident until the pitcher gets into his wind-up and then your confidence takes a hit a bit. A good pitcher, catcher or coach will pick that up and start to challenge you more. As a result, that gives the pitcher the advantage. Also, you may have been nervous but, at the (XYZ Showcase) you took a lot of good pitches. You need to attack those pitches and take them to the opposite field. As you get older and the competition gets stiffer, you will not see many "wheelhouse fastballs". You need to have the confidence that you can hit ANY ball at ANY part of the strike zone to ANY part of the park.

A lot of hitting is more about the mental approach than the physical. You need to put yourself in the mindset that you are in control. You OWN that pitcher. I don't care if he is throwing 95 or 75. You OWN him. You have the tools. You are like a high tech race car that is capable of reaching speeds of up to 230 mph. But if you don't put your foot on the gas pedal, you won't go anywhere. Your brain and attitude is your gas pedal. Step on it and you will reach your potential.

From now until the beginning of your high school season is your time to concentrate on getting better. Are you doing that everyday? If not, you will not reach your potential or goals. The type of player we are looking for swings at least 5-600 times a day...everyday. The type of player we are looking for is working on his defense everyday with a fellow player, his father, brother or by himself. That is the most important thing of all.

You are at the stage of your life where as a position player, you will be playing over 100 ball games a year. You need to be in top physical condition to be able to withstand that kind of schedule. Whether you play infield or outfield at the next level, you need to strengthen your legs, your core, and turn your arm into an Iron Mike. You need to have a schedule and stick by that schedule everyday. I suggest mornings before lunch (follow that up with a big, hearty lunch) in the summer and once school starts, take advantage of your schools facilities and work out a good three hours a day everyday including Fridays with a different routine every other day.

(Player), we look at hundreds of ball players just like you each year. I am telling you all of this because most don't have the athleticism that you have, but they have the heart. If you could just work harder and smarter each and everyday, you will see unbelievable results. For instance, according to the XYZ Showcase), you ran a 7 second sixty. By the time your high school season starts, we would like you to run a 6.7 sixty. Again, you have the body to do that, you just need the desire, attitude and work ethic to make it happen.

I hope you take my advice seriously, because scouts will be watching and following you. Good luck the rest of your summer and fall. We will be seeing you this coming high school season. If you follow my advice, you will dominate your league and then, who knows what will happen next?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Never, Ever Give Up

There was a feel good story in the San Francisco Chronicle over the weekend about a player that epitomizes our belief that there is no substitute for hard work...Daniel Nava out of St. Francis High School in Mountain View, CA unsuccessfully tried to walk on at Santa Clara University a few years ago, became SCU’s team manager and eventually played at a local JC, the College of San Mateo. He became so good at the JC level, that he returned to Santa Clara on scholarship and won the West Coast Conference batting title. Yet, despite his success at a respectable D-I school that plays a challenging schedule, he went undrafted. Undaunted, he went on to play for Chico in the Independent Golden Baseball League, signed with the Red Sox last October and was assigned to Class A Lancaster, where he just won the California League batting title this year with a .341 average.

Now we don’t know what the future holds for this 5’10” 200lb. young man, but time and time again he was confronted by adversity and each time worked like a mad man to overcome his perennial under the radar status. Other players like Dustin Pedroia and David Eckstein are other players that don’t fit the typical physical mold that scouts seem to want, yet worked harder than everyone around them to get the chance to show the baseball world what they can do...and boy, did they.

Baseball is hard enough, but the harder a player works, the easier the road to success in many cases. Talent will take ball players a long way, but hard work is the greatest supplement of all and it always has befuddled us as to why more and more ball players with tremendous athletic talent don’t give the game that extra effort, rather on relying on their natural athleticism to get them through the day.

For every Daniel Nava, there’s that 5 tool player that everyone thinks is a “can’t miss” that starts to believe his own hype and gets a bit too complacent. While everyone around him is revving up their internal engines to make an impact, this player is on cruise control, and before long, he becomes just one of the guys.

Now imagine if that 5 tool player had the same attitude as Nava or Pedroia? Well, you’d get Pujols, A-Rod and Jeter. Those guys are perfect examples of highly sought after athletes that wanted more and achieved super star status. They are never satisfied with the status quo. They are constantly raising their own bar, with each and every personal milestone they pass. They work harder than everyone else around them plain and simple.

Their talent alone was just a vehicle to take them on a much longer journey. The fuel they need to continue their quest is an unprecedented work ethic. And the end of the road won’t end for them until the day they are introduced at the steps of Cooperstown and are given that plaque in the Hall of Fame.

Yes, we may sound like a broken record with our constant rants on work ethic, but if there are players out there reading this, please take this information seriously. We have seen our share of surprises and disappointments. Experience can be the world’s best teacher, no matter what side of success and failure a person is on. Our experience tell us that the best way to avoid disappointment or failure, no matter what the skill level of any player is to have the mindset to work harder than anyone around them. Even if a player doesn’t achieve their ultimate goal, the discipline he programmed into his daily routine will continue to play dividends for the rest of their lives.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Future Is In YOUR Hands

Just about every college baseball team has started its fall work-outs. The NCAA allows 45 days of practice in the fall and many schools in the Midwest and Northeast are officially on the clock. Colleges run their practice as if it is pre-season, prior to a lengthy season. The practices are a benchmark for the spring season ahead. It's an opportunity to find out how the returners improved from the collegiate summer leagues and the freshmen and transfers fit into the equation. It's a dog fight. No roster spot is safe. And in the end, 35 will stay and the rest will move on.

The greatest thing about college is that there are no parents around to make comments in the stands about playing time or the way a coach manages the game. No e-mails are sent to college coaches from overzealous moms or dads about how great their son is. It's 100% up to the player to show his own mettle and make his own mark.

If a player doesn’t play, he becomes a team player and supports the coach’s decision. It’s his responsibility to compete and turn that status around. It’s always been that way for most players at the collegiate level. Not many Next Level baseball players ever had that kind of mom or dad that mingled in every decision a coach ever made when they were in high school. They had parents that knew that you had to earn the right to play. They were smart enough to understand that college coaches are petty savvy about ability and projectability. Some parents think they can pull the wool over some youth coach’s eyes, but it’s a little tougher higher in the chain.

This fall, all of the aspiring high school athletes out there should take a cue from their college baseball brothers and engage in some fall work-outs themselves…Make sure all of you are playing some additional high level ball, going to the Arizona Senior or Junior Classic, the Dessert Classic in Las Vegas, or the multitude of other great fall tourney’s nationwide that happens this time of year before the leaves turn brown and the ground a snowy white. (South Excluded).

The bottom line is…your baseball future is in YOUR hands…Not your parents…not an influential alumni…YOURS and YOURS alone. If any of you out there want to make a big impression on the baseball world, you need to make a big change in the way you approach the game and your work ethic.

Thousands of college athletes are grinding it out this fall to hopefully make their way to a spot in-between the lines this spring. It’s a dog eat dog battle devoid of politics and based solely on talent, results and the desire to compete hard. This is a great time to mentally prepare yourself for a similar battle. Ramp it up this fall. Go into your spring high school season in incredible shape and with loads of confidence. Create your own dog fight and you will be rewarded with your own spot in the line-up…devoid of politics, parents and solely based on your own efforts.

RT Staff

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Travel Ball Chips Away At Little League’s Base

RT Staff Notes: We are a web site that provides news and opinions about travel ball and playing baseball at the next level. And on occasion we will get into a rant or two about college and the NCAA. But today, we are getting back to our roots in travel ball. For our readers that didn't see the news clip about travel ball and it's impact on Little League in Virginia, we are re-printing it for today's post. Look down our side column under College Baseball News, Select and Travel Ball News and MLB News for the latest information and late breaking stories.

By Allen Gregory
Sports Writer / Bristol Herald Courier
Published: September 15, 2008

BRISTOL, Va. – It’s football time in the Mountain Empire, yet Cory Owens has other concerns.

On many nights this fall, you can find the 13-year-old Wallace Middle School student among friends practicing baseball at the Bristol Senior League Field.

Owens is part of the growing number of youth nationwide participating in travel ball, a controversial program where a select group of players spend months together practicing and traveling to tournaments.

“Travel ball is more of a challenge than Little League,” Owens said. “I’m having fun and learning a lot of different stuff about the game.”

Travel baseball and softball teams have long been popular in Northern Virginia. The concept has only gained popularity in Southwest Virginia in recent years, however.

Former John Battle athletic standout Lance Owens, father of Cory, manages the Washington County, Va.-based Southwest War Cats.

“We currently have 10 players for our fall team, and we usually have 12 in the summer,” Owens said. “Seven of those boys have actually been playing together since the minor league age group.”

The War Cats compete on the USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association) level. There are several differences between recreational ball – such as Little League or Babe Ruth – and travel teams.

Recreational teams are usually chosen via open registration, with rules designed for equal playing time.

On the travel team level, which includes USSSA and Amateur Athletic Union teams, players are chosen on ability and must pay expenses.

Some critics have blamed the rise of travel ball for the decline in the number of youth participating in Little League baseball and softball.

“Our guys played Little League as 12-year-olds, then we just stuck to travel ball last year,” coach Owens said. “We get to play 50 to 60 games a year that way.”

Richard Fisher has a different perspective. Fisher, the vice president of Bristol Little League, helped to start Little League softball in Bristol in 1991.

“Travel ball has a had a bigger impact on softball locally, and it was much worse this year,” Fisher said. “We’ve heard complaints from officials of area leagues, and it has really cut down on the number of teams participating in the various state tournaments.”

Fisher takes issue with the manner in which players are selected for travel teams.

“What I’ve seen is that a lot of kids who are just learning how to play and may not be the most talented get left behind,” Fisher said. “Some of these [travel] teams go all over the area to pick and choose the best players.”

Bill Hill serves as the longtime administrator for District 1 Little League which covers communities from Rye Cove to Marion.

“I’ve heard a lot of complaints from district presidents relating to travel ball,” Hill said. “It’s hurt softball pretty bad.”

Hill feels the rise of travel teams takes away the pride of playing for a community-based squad.

“Kids can also get burnt out or hurt their arms, plus you have the expenses,” Hill said. “It’s basically pay-to-play with travel teams.”

Little League officials are employing various methods to combat the effects of travel ball.

Fred Bowman, president of Bristol Little League, said there are travel teams on the Senior League (age 14-15) and Little League (age 11-12) levels in Bristol, Va.

Players can compete on travel teams from age eight until 18.

“Most of the travel teams play tournaments on weekends, so we’ve adjusted our schedules so they do not interfere with regular Little League games,” said Bowman, who has been involved in youth baseball in Bristol for over four decades.

Bowman said the numbers of players involved in Bristol Little League remained stable this year, except for a drop at the minor league level.

Abingdon has become a haven for travel teams. According to Abingdon parent and coach Keith Perrigan, there are benefits to both travel ball and Little League competition.

“We had a travel team this year and it was a good experience,” Perrigan said. “Travel ball provides an opportunity for players with more advanced skills to play against better competition.”

Perrigan said another benefit of travel ball is the opportunity to play tournaments at expansive complexes in Kingsport, Christiansburg and Danville.

Despite the advantages in terms of competition and facilities, Perrigan said Little League remains the priority in Abingdon. Several Abingdon teams earned district Little League titles this year.

“Little League has tons of tradition, plus it encourages participation of players of all skill sets, and stresses good character traits,” Perrigan said. “And Little League becomes as competitive as travel ball during all-star season.”

There are several success stories involving travel teams in Southwest Virginia.

The Smyth County Mets won the USSSA 12-and-under Virginia state title this spring. Meanwhile, Damascus has won two state Little League softball titles in three years, relying on a group of athletes who also compete on a travel team.

For the Owens family of Washington County, baseball is a passion. Cory Owens balances his duties as a catcher for the War Cats and a linebacker for the Wallace Middle School football team.

“I just focus on baseball after football practice ends,” Owens said. “It makes for a long day, but I don’t mind.”

According to coach Owens, the War Cats finished 29th among 2,080 USSSA teams last season based on a national ranking system.

The 2009 USSSA season began in August, and the War Cats finished second in their opening tournament at Kingsport two weeks ago.

“I’ve been playing baseball since I was six,” Cory Owens said. “I love the game and want to play as long as I can.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Weather Beater

RT Staff Note: We have been talking about cold weather and baseball all week, but we found an article that shows how being a player in Minnesota affected Dan Wilson, who will be inducted into the “M” Club Hall of Fame. Wilson was a First-Team All-American (1990), a two-time All-Big Ten honoree (1989-90), had .336 career average at Minnesota and had a 14-year career with the Cincinnati Reds (1992-93) and Seattle Mariners (1994-2005). Gophersports.com recently talked to Wilson about his playing career at Minnesota, the coaching staff, his memories of his career as a Golden Gopher and what this honor means to him. The weather sure didn't affect him because he had a plan and stuck to it. Don't ever let the weather affect your love for the game. Take a cue fom Dan Wilson...Enjoy the article from Gopher Sports!

Courtesy: University of Minnesota

Gophersports.com: What does it mean to receive an honor like this from your alma mater?
Dan Wilson: “I am very honored to be recognized in this way from the University of Minnesota. I look back on my days so fondly there. I only spent three years at the University, but I had an amazing experience there with some of the relationships I made. The games that we played there are images I will keep with me forever. The people that I met there are people that I still have strong relationships with today. I have so much to be thankful for from the University Of Minnesota, and to be honored this way is yet another thing that makes me very grateful for my experience.”

GS: What are some of the things you learned most from the baseball program that you were able to take forth and used to be successful at the level that you were?
DW: “John (Anderson) and Rob (Fornasiere) did such a great job preparing student athletes not just in the area of baseball. Their track record in that area has proven that they have had success, and they do such a great job of teaching baseball and how to play. What is great about the both of them is that they go beyond that and they taught us to be good people. They taught us to be good people no matter what we do. I was lucky to have the opportunity to play professional baseball. Whatever line of work you go into, they teach you life lessons. Some things that I tease John about till this day, is that he used to say “You have to bring your lunch pale and hard hat and you have to go out there and do it.” I remember hearing that from him and laughing at the time, but as I have gone through life, I have learned to follow that advice. What it said to me was that there is no free lunch, you have to go out there and you have to work hard to make things happen, you have to put forth some hard work, and John and Rob were great at instilling that work ethic and that took me a long way in baseball.”

GS: What are some of the moments on and off the field you remember most fondly from your time here at Minnesota?
DW: “When we won the Big Ten Championship my freshman year, I remember we had to beat a pretty good Michigan team. I remember playing them and winning the Big Ten in Ann Arbor. It was just a great team moment for all of us. With that being my first year at Minnesota, we were so excited at what we had accomplished and what we had gone through there. I think we ended up in the loser’s bracket and we had to fight our way back. Again, there is the lunch pale and hardhat, we had to crawl our way back and had to beat Michigan State twice to win it. It was just some great baseball, and a great memory for me. Going out to Fresno California to play in an NCAA Regional and to be was also a great experience. A couple of spring trips during my sophomore and junior year produced great memories. We went to California and had a great spring trip, which was a great memory for me. We also went to the University of Texas and played them which was a great memory. As I look back, there are some great times on the field and I have met a lot of great people along the way.”

GS: You did a lot of pitching your freshman year. Talk about the memories you have of that and when it became clear that catching was going to be your path to success?
DW: “I do remember that, because it was a very pivotal time for me. I realized that it was getting close to the time when I had to make a decision to pick one position over the other. I liked pitching, but I enjoyed catching a little bit more. I enjoyed playing everyday and getting a chance to hit. I really wanted to pursue catching. I remember pitching some that year for the Gophers, and then going in the summer time to play at Cape Cod. They had a catcher on the team I was with already so I ended up pitching a lot in Cape Cod as well. I remember talking to John about it during the summer months when I was in Cape Cod League and asking him what do I want to do. I really wanted to catch. John was very instrumental in helping me come to a conclusion and I really appreciated that about him. We landed on catching, and it was something I wanted to do and he was a 100 percent supportive of that. I was very thankful to have another ear and listener to bounce those ideas off.”

GS: Talk about your journey here to the University of Minnesota being from growing up in Illinois and your professional career playing for Seattle. Did you ever expect for things to turn out as well as they did for you?
DW: “It is hard to expect things in baseball because it is unpredictable. In sports, injuries and other events can so often play a role in your chances to success. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with my career, but I cannot be more thankful for what we were able to experience. Not so much the personal accolades. Those things are great, but what made more impact on me was being part of some great teams and playing with some great players. That to me was probably an even greater highlight. Playing in Seattle during the time I was there, we were fortunate enough to make the playoffs four times. Being part of that and playing with some great players like Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, and some of those all-time greats were thrills for me that I will always remember. The University Of Minnesota was where I was prepared for all of that, and I am thankful to John and Rob for a great education in baseball and in life. It was both of those things that I took with me down the road to Seattle, and I have always been thankful for that. As for the recruiting process, I was recruited by other schools, lone in the Big Ten and a couple of Southern schools and I really felt most comfortable in Minnesota. I think the environment and the student-athlete environment at Minnesota was something I was really drawn to. I am so thankful for that decision because I think it prepared me for what was ahead.”

GS: How good does it make you feel to still see John Anderson and Rob Fornasiere running the program and instilling the same values and the same things that have been successful all these years and continuing with that?
DW: “It is great. It is nice to see that they will continue to do it. I think it is a testament to how much they love the game, and they love baseball. They also love teaching kids and I think they do such a great job. They teach them and prepare them for life, and I think that is tremendous. You really cant put a price on that. I think as a parent now, I hope that there are coaches who prepare my kids the way the John and Rob prepared me for baseball and for life. I think, they are excellent at what they do and that is a big motivator to continue to do it and I think it is great.”

GS: Is there a particular moment or game that stands out in your memory?
DW: “I have some memories that are clear in my mind. Playing against Jim Abbot in Michigan, getting a chance to hit with him and getting to face him in the American league once I got to Seattle. I remember playing some really cool games. I remember some doubleheaders in Iowa when I was catching with my hand in my back pocket when it was so cold. I remember playing in the Metrodome and some of the great players that we played against who I would see later when I played for the Seattle Mariners. There are just some great memories that are fun to look back on. Not only to see the players that you played against in college, but then playing with them in the major leagues was really cool. I also really enjoyed the teammates that I played with, and was able to share a lot of great memories with during my career at Minnesota”

GS: Did your experiences in college baseball help you in a different way then someone who maybe did not get a chance to play college baseball and went right to the minors?
DW: “What I think is great about college baseball is the level of enthusiasm that goes along with it. It really is a trademark of all collegiate sports. It is just the underlying enthusiasm. Not that individuals or Minor League organizations don’t have it, it is just a different feeling and a different kind of enthusiasm at the college level. Being a part of that was great, I loved it. I loved the innocence of that, and I think it taught me a lot of great values. It taught me the hard work ethic, respecting your teammates and all of those things that go along with being a successful athlete. You can learn that in a collagen experience and I am thankful for mine at the University Of Minnesota.”

GS: How amazing of an experience is it to get the opportunity to be at an event like this with all the greats from different sports all gathering to celebrate the University of Minnesota?
DW: “When you begin to step back and look over the names that I will be joining, the feeling that comes to my mind is that I am humbled. I am humbled that my life experiences have brought me to a place where I am included in that kind of a group. The “M” Club is such a big family with the different sports at the University. I am just really grateful that I am even considered to be part of that group. To be inducted into this Hall of Fame is something very special to me and I am very grateful for this opportunity.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Weather Proofing

One of our readers posted a comment that stated that it can get expensive for a high school baseball player in a cold weather part of the country to continue to work out in the winter months. Working out several times a week in indoor cage facilities and clubs can get a little cost prohibitive. We have several friends in the Mid West that we talk to frequently and they controlled costs by turning their basements into batting and pitching tunnels. The upfront cost is a little expensive, but the long term savings for those that are serious about baseball is worth the expense.

Most batting cage facilities cost around $25 an hour and if a player wants to spend 3-4 hours per week for the 12 weeks of harsh winter months, it can costs upwards of $1,200 per season to keep a players swing in shape. For a seasons worth of batting cage fees, that player could install a 55ft. indoor batting cage in their basement.
Batting Cages Inc. (1.800.463.6865) sells a trapezoid framework with net and L-Screen all for for $769. Of course, a cage and L-Screen is just the beginning. Throw in Balls, plates, tees, and buckets too. And, for those days when a player just wants to hit by himself...we are big fans of a somewhat low cost automatic soft toss machine. It's called The EZ-Toss and it's a rechargeable swing trainer that will help players at any level improve hand-eye coordination and sharpen their hitting skills....for only $279. So, for $1,200, you can have your very own personal hitting facility that will last for years.

I know Dad, you always had the plan to turn that basement into your own personal sports bar. That's a project you can tackle after your son heads off to college. Until that time, if your son really wants to play at the next level, this is a great way to keep him in the game and as a bonus, bond a bit more with him. A cage also turns your house into the team hangout. We know families with cages in their basement in the Mid West whose sons friends always came over to hang out on one of those cold, dismal winter days to hit and get winter off of their mind. It's uplifting to play what is usually a traditional summer sport, in the dead of winter. It really gets your mind off of the cold weather.

Our article on the strength of southern schools yesterday wasn't meant to be a slap in the face of northern programs and players...It was meant to say that northern players need to re-think their work habits. Youth and high school age baseball programs like the New England Ruffnecks are constantly keeping their players busy with off-season indoor practices, and work-outs. One of their facilities is the expansive Harvard Indoor Bubble (pictured above) as well as Babson College, Stonehill College, and Tufts University. It's no surprise that because of their dedication top off-season conditioning and baseball drills, a majority of their players go on to play D-I ball.

All it takes is a plan and the desire to implement it guys...A re-thinking of priorities. It IS easier for a California or Florida player to stay in game shape, because he is playing outdoor games scheduled through Christmas. That doesn't necessarily mean that they are the better athletes...just more seasoned players. But, a northern player can definitely close the gap with a strong regimen himself...that mimics the game day activities. And, if northern players compliment their winter baseball practices with their high schools off-season strength and conditioning program, they will spring into the baseball season fresh, and ready to play, no matter what the weather conditions.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Weather or Not?

Rivals College Baseball has a message board and there is a heated debate going on about the very subject we have brought up many times in the past...There are a group of northern universities that have had an influential voice in changing the way the college game is being played. (Condensed schedule/later start date being the biggest rule change) Northern schools complained that the February 2 start date was too early and lobbied to have it moved to February 22nd...They were successful. Last year was the first year that rule went into effect.

Now, some coaches are coming forward and talking about if the weather has any effect on their ability to compete. Some coaches in Northern climate schools say weather is a factor in recruiting and player commitment to the sport. Others say weather has nothing to do with it.

So a poster on RivalCB asked a hypothetical question that in essence said if the weather was the same all over the country, much like Southern California weather, would an LSU shortstop that was originally from Alaska decide to go home and play for his home state...He states..."Does he stay in or near his home state and make the local team more competitive? Or does he weigh other considerations? Remember, in our hypothetical, weather is not a factor any longer."

Here's our answer to that question.

If weather was not a factor, then baseball becomes just like basketball and football and the universities and conferences that pour more money and state of the art facilities into a program have the best shot of loading and re-loading every year. Plain and simple. It would even out the playing field and the southern states would not have the edge any longer....but only if those northern universities commit to the future success of a program.

It can be done. UC Irvine started from scratch and succeeded in a very short period of time with great coaching, new facilities and a commitment to winning despite competing for recruits with 11 other Division-I universities within a 90 minute radius of it's campus.

Those that are serious will compete. Those that aren't won't. So to answer his question. Would the player from LSU stay home and play in his home state of Alaska if weather was the same everywhere? Only if Alaska had the same commitment to winning that UC Irvine did. You see that scenario in basketball all the time, a sport unaffected by weather. Players from Iowa, going to Duke rather than play for the Hawkeyes...because the opportunity for that player was better...Oh, and there's that Coach K guy.

But the reality is...his hypothetical will never happen and we have to deal with the dynamics of a divisive system. Here's some questions and answers to ponder.

Q. Historically, where are the stronger programs?
A. In the past 20 years, the southern/warm climate teams have had 156 representatives go to Omaha...the Northern teams have had 12.

Q. Why does the south and western state colleges dominate in the College World Series?
A. Outside of foreign born players, the majority of major league baseball players come from California, Florida, Texas and Georgia, so it stands to reason that these colleges would have a strong base of high school players to choose from, making their ability to load and reload easier each year.

Q. Why do baseball baseball players be seem to better in the southern/western states?
A. They play more baseball. They have the ability to concentrate on baseball year round and by high school, have ceased to chop up their season by playing fall and winter sports. Although some people will disagree that year round baseball makes a difference, the realities are that most west coast and southern state players DO play year round and as a result, those states continuously produce some of our nations best players, best college teams and MLB recruits.

Q. Will Northern players ever compete with southern players?
A. Absolutely!!! A great athlete is a great athlete. The difference is commitment. It takes a year round commitment, a love for the sport and a major shift in their work-out habits. Baseball is an outdoor sport, when you can play it outdoors. A great athlete that loves baseball in Schaumburg, Illinois will have to take his game to another level mentally, than the guy in Poway, California. The guy in Poway can play in tournaments, face good pitching, hone his game situation skills, etc. The high school player in Schaumburg has to visualize those situations and work a lot harder indoors to achieve those kind of results.

And, folks that's very hard. Northern players have a distinct disadvantage. It's tough to psyche yourself to play pretend baseball in a cage, gym or on an indoor carpet. But, it can be done and has been done. Prior to 1988, there were teams like Maine and Michigan that used to be regulars in the CWS. A lot of that was due to regionalism and the way they seeded the brackets, but back in the 50's and 60's, Minnesota won three times and Michigan won twice. It just takes commitment and hard work, no matter if you are indoors or out. High School players in the North just need to get used to the idea of getting their reps indoors for 4-5 months.

Northern collegiate baseball seems to be headed in the right direction to address their biggest issue of February baseball. Teams in the Big 10, Big East and other conferences had to travel down south starting as early as Feb. 2nd and play conditioned and outdoor seasoned southern teams from the ACC, SEC and other warm weather conferences. That was a big disadvantage for them since they had little or no outdoor playing experience that early in February.

So, last week it was announced that the Big East and Big Ten will have a pre-season tournament challenge in Florida to kick off the 2009 season. They can get their feet wet by playing other northern schools that are in the same situation as them to start off the season without greatly affecting their RPI standing.

We think that this is a great idea. We also hope this tournament and hopefully others like it, will eventually convince the NCAA that there are solutions to narrow the weather gap and lengthen the season again. As we have written many times on this blog, the condensed season is hard for the STUDENT-athlete. In a condensed season, teams have to play 4-5 games a week early in the season and that makes it extremely hard for an athlete to be a student.

It's all so complicated folks. And, unless this global warming issue gets worse, collegiate baseball will always be be divided by the climatized haves and have-nots. All of you readers that live in the north are probably real sick of hearing about how the south is better than the north...when we all know there are great baseball athletes are on both sides of the Mason Dixon line. The bottom line is the level of commitment and playing time that separates the good baseball athletes from the great athlete and that divide can be closed with a shift in your winter baseball work-outs. It's really that simple.

Friday, September 12, 2008

How to use the 1% Factor to Achieve Greatness

RT Staff Note: We have been laboring on about the labor it takes to succeed at the next level all last week. Guys, it's very, very hard and time consuming. But, of course it is...It's a valuable life lesson to learn. If it was that easy, then everyone would be an elite athlete. In our 30 second sound bite world of instant this and instant that, the results will never, ever, happen overnight. Overnight success leads to instant failure. Our bodies just can't handle a crash course of instant muscle. Just like our minds can't handle a crash course in information. That's why we go to school for 16 or more years. Think about that for a second...16 or more years to have the privelege of working in the real world for another 40 years or more. Our physical bodies need that same slow and dedicated routine if we want to play without injury and succeed with confidence. So, how appropriate then to fall back on the word of wisdom from Jon Doyle of Baseball Training Secrets who states that how over time amazing things can happen. Please go to his web site for more great information about training, nutrition, hitting and more.

By Jon Doyle.

In any endeavor, athletic or not, winning is there for the taking by improving your performance by a few percentages points, if that. A fraction of a second is the difference in winning Gold or going home empty handed. In team sports those split second improvements put you in an entirely different category than everyone else. While a huge leap in improvement can seen like a daunting task at first glance, by simply doing a little bit more today than you did yesterday will lead to greatness.

So you always wanted to write a book, but never had the time? What if I told you that if you wrote just two paragraphs each day you would have a book that was just about 200 pages in one years time. Don’t even try to tell me you don’t have the time to write two paragraphs each day.

The same principle applies to baseball strength and conditioning. Adding work and improving your efforts and baseball drills over time will give you the ability to perform feats you never thought possible. This advice is very simple and elementary, yet overlooked by the majority of people in all walks of life.

You must ask yourself what it exactly that you want is. When you have a vivid picture of that, embrace it and make it come to life. And then it is time to go out and take the necessary steps that are needed to reach that goal. It comes down to the question, "How bad to you really want it?"

I ask myself that question every time a negative thought comes in my mind. Sometimes the answer is "Not very much." That just tells me that goal is not that important after all. But when I want something so bad that I can literally taste it, I know it is a true passion and I cannot
be stopped.

These small victories will lead to your large goal, whatever that may be. Start your small improvements today and they will lead to many major improvements, often sooner than anticipated.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's About Time

Last month, we reported on the plight of the young player that wasn’t allowed to pitch in his youth rec league because he threw too hard. This isn’t the first instance where a rec league has held down a good player.

Little League has an odd set of rules that restricts stealing, lead offs, adult first base coaches and other rules that are contrary to what Abner Doubleday had in mind when he concocted this great game almost a century and a half ago. Those rules also hold players back.

As we stated yesterday, we like community rec leagues at the younger age groups. We are big on that type of community commitment. Good players should play with their grade school friends as much as possible until at least 12 years old and enjoy the spectacle of the Little League All-Stars…which is the closest thing Little League comes to travel ball that there is. It’s not really that close in talent level…but it is the closest Little League comes to Travel Ball. That said, the better players still need much more than what even All-Stars provides.

Then, as we said yesterday…if your son has a desire to play at the next level…after the Little League 12 years old All-Star Games… his success will be measured by the amount of time he commits to his ultimate goal...If that goal is next level baseball, then it is about time to commit to travel ball.

Here’s a timeline from the ages of 8-14 to follow for those with kids that show some athletic prowess from an early age.

Ages 8-10
There’s no need to rush your son into travel ball this early, but if your rec leagues are that bad, there are travel clubs in just about every market at these ages. Don't get us wrong...we encourage travel ball at this age...you just don't need to go crazy with it yet. Most travel ball team’s play on the Holiday weekends that rec leagues don’t play on, like Easter weekend and Memorial weekend in the spring. After the Little League season is over, most good travel teams will play up to another 25-30 games to round out the summer. The most important reason to get involved in a travel club this early on in your son’s life is for him to learn the proper fundamentals to become a better player and perform against other better players. From age 8-10, the players should play 45% of their games with their Rec league and 55% with travel ball through September...or until their fall/winter sport ramps up. (Yes, they should be playing multiple sports at this age.)

Ages 11 and 12
After a taste of travel ball, Little League gets a bit frustrating at this stage of your sons baseball life. It did for our son. Therefore, at this age it is time to ramp up the travel team commitment a bit. If you live in a warm weather state it may even be a good time to ponder whether or not your son is open to more year round ball. Many next level players started playing well beyond the traditional summer months at this age and with the right mentoring coaches, your son will greatly benefit from the extra reps. Players at this age will play 60-80 games. Twenty five of those games are Little League and the rest - travel ball.

Ages 13-14
This is a time when your son should be rec ball free. It’s also a time period when many players in warm weather states start to pick their sport and concentrate on playing year round. Since players in the Midwest and North can’t play baseball year round, it’s hard to give up that winter sport to concentrate hitting in indoor cages. We get that. However, in the south and west coast, many baseball players decide that this will be their year round commitment…especially at 14 when they are about to enter high school. Many of the top players in Florida, Texas and California play up to 100 games or more a year on a year round schedule and they start doing so at this age.

Once they hit high school, it' a whole different ball game. Go back and read our earlier posts on Freshman through Senior time lines for more information on what to do during those years.

If any of our readers have any other ideas about travel ball and the impact it has on players that want to play next level baseball, put it in the comments section or e-mail us and we just may use it as our daily article.

RT Staff

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On The Campaign Trail For Travel Ball

Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Liberal, left or right, right or wrong and on and on and on. We live in a world separated by two poles and it seems at times they are pulling us apart, rather than pushing us together.

I received an e-mail from a father of an 11 year old and he asked me…”When is it the right time to play travel ball over rec ball”?

Ahhh…the age old question that polarizes Little Leagues from coast to coast. Little Leagues wished that Travel ball would go away and Travel Ball has no love for Little League. For the past two decades, the two have butted heads and every year, message boards get busy with pages of rants and parents get confused.

Our e-mailer went on to say that he feels the democratization of Little League holds his son back. For instance…His son can’t wait for practices to begin, yet he gets the same playing time as the dandelion picker who can’t wait for them to end. As a shortstop, he feels uneasy to let go of a throw to first, because one of the weaker athletes is there and doesn’t want him to get hurt. Even his own coach suggested that he bat lefty during practice because he hits it to hard from the right side and might hurt someone. ( Hmmm. Well there’s one advantage of rec ball I’ve never considered…honing your switch hitting skills.)

Now, we are not huge fans of Little League and their rules…That said, we are fans of kids having fun with their school friends for as long as they can and take advantage of the community pride and recognition that they get with these local rec teams. I do think that there can be a synergistic relationship between Little League and travel ball, as long as there is an understanding that the two must not interfere with each other.

The one big advantage that Little League has is that the community newspapers usually embrace their local teams. It’s fun to pick up the local coffee shop Journal and see your kids picture or name in the paper. That doesn’t happen as often with travel ball because the kids are from several communities. And as an 11 year old…there’s really no rush to make baseball all business, all the time anyway. Kids at that age should be mixing it up and playing basketball, football and other sports.

But, if your kid is one of those players that likes to hit on his free time in a cage, play catch with the neighbor kids and engage in some stick ball in the park, then after the Little League season is over in late June, it’s time to take that heart and desire to a travel team. Most of the better travel team tourneys at ages 11 and 12 are in July, August and September anyway…including that tournament every young aspiring baseball player must go to in Cooperstown.

After the age of 12 however, your big hearted son should never set his foot on a rec ball field again. That’s our take anyway. Because if he really does have Big League Dreams, he isn’t going to be satisfied playing with Dandelion Danny anymore. He will want to be challenged and learn more from experienced coaches that will make him a much better player than Danny’s dad ever could.

It’s also a perspective check for parents as well. As a parent, many of you will get to see if your son was really that good, or if the Little League competition was really that bad. For some it will be frustrating, and others, the type of challenge you were hoping your kid would get. Either way, it’s really better for the player if the coaches are the type that really want to develop and mentor.

The one thing travel ball does better than any other league is that it clearly defines where the players with heart and desire are. A good travel team will always challenge even the best players…and it’s the players that have that attitude of never wanting to quit that will separate the high school player from the future college player.

Your travel team player will always have to compete for any position he tries out for. There are no gimmies on travel ball teams. If you want to play shortstop on an exceptional travel team, you have to earn it. Other wise, you’d better give it your 110% to compete in left, right or second, because after the coaches pick their starting SS and pitching rotation, those positions will be hotly contested as well.

And it’s those players that compete hard to win a position in left, center or elsewhere that will make it to the next level. These are the kids that never give up. They may not have won the SS position, but by gosh, they aren't going to lose that third base spot. That’s character right there folks! Those kids will make it. They aren’t the type to whine about losing a spot…they are the type to pick it up and win another.

If your son is that guy…if you as parents embrace that type of life for your kid…then after the age of 12…hang up the rec stuff…Get into travel ball…and enjoy the ride.
RT Staff

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

We Need a Correction

Like the stock market, real estate and the price of gas…America goes through cycles economists call a “Correction”. Corrections must occur, because there are opportunists that take risky shortcuts to financial freedom, usually at the expense of others. We are witnessing such a correction right now in the financial and energy sectors, because no one was minding the store while thieves were robbing us blind.

Travel Ball needs a similar correction of sorts. Travel ball as we know it today started a little over a two decades ago on a major scale when good players, their coaches and parents wanted to seek a better way to strut that athletic ability.

Travel teams seemed to start innocuously after Little League All-Stars, when coaches from a good community team tried their mettle against other all star teams in late July, into August and the fall. As was usually the case with these upstart teams, there's constant attrition due to player commitment, a parent’s complaint that their kid isn’t playing enough, or a really good player just wanting more.

That's where the established travel teams come into play. They seek out that player that wants more. The goal of these teams is to make sure that their players play at a high level and get better by getting taught the right fundamentals.

The better programs have coaches that dedicate their time and knowledge to be a mentor for these young developing players. These are the regulars you usually see at all of the big tournaments like the USSSA Elite 24, AAU or Super Series National Championships. And not just any player can play for these teams. They have try-outs and their pick of the best athletes in a metro area. While winning is a goal of these teams, it takes a back seat to the development of baseball fundamentals.

But somewhere along the way, the opportunists came crawling out of the swamp and for a price, they promised to turn a naive parents kid into A-Rod overnight. “Oh, he just got cut from the Houston Banditos, OC Hawks, San Gabriel Valley, San Diego Stars or Beaver Valley Red???…no problem…we’ll take em and make him a star.”

Now, we don’t mind that there are teams out there trying to put together a group of kids to play at a higher level, but to do so under the pretenses that everyone is a star and they can get that scholarship with “OUR team” is like a real estate agent saying…”no worries, real estate prices will continue to go up and you can re-finance that lousy loan before it adjusts”. If it’s too good to be true….

As a result, you have an oversupply of travel teams and even more overzealous parents standing in line to buy into the frenzy. What we see now more than ever, are 25 extra teams in what used to be an elite state tourney, doing nothing but watering down the playing field and in the process, giving the entire genre of travel ball a bad name.

Let’s face it folks…it’s not that easy to start a travel team and it SHOULD be even harder to make a team as a player. As we stated earlier, the truly good programs have try-outs and only select the players that they feel college recruiters will want to see.

It's one thing to have a free program that just wants to go out and get reps and play more ball. If that team is real competitive...great...But what has happened is that there are now too many of these so-called elite teams charging money and accomplishing nothing...These for-profit programs should be profitable for the kids first and the "business" second...but many aren't and buyers need to beware.

That is not what travel ball is about plain and simple. The reality is: great travel teams are well coached, disciplined teams with the real stars and real talent...cost or no cost. And…the good programs will have the hardware, signed players and testimonials to prove that point.

Maybe it’s time for a correction. We suggest that USSSA, AAU and Super Series regional directors stop worrying about filling that local tourney bracket and be a bit more discerning about who they accept. We wrote an article a few weeks ago about Talent Division. It's time to take that theory and use it to close the divide between the truly elite and the teams that always get beat.

Again, we aren’t saying that players that want to play beyond their rec ball leagues not play…but there has to be a better way to stock a tourney bracket so that a good travel team is challenged for the betterment of the players and team as a whole.

Not all teams are going to be like the East Cobb Astros, Norcal or Team Anderson. But, teams like those should only be playing against alike teams. Newer, less experienced teams should play at that level and so on. There is nothing more frustrating than a good travel team paying a hefty tournament fee, only to 10 run every team in a tourney. It happens a lot folks.

There also has to be a better way to communicate to all parents the reality of where their teams and sons fit in. If your son got cut from an elite program, there is usually a reason for that. A good team will always take a kid aside and tell him what he needs to work on to get better after they are cut. If another teams says he's the best and holds out his hand for a payment...caveat emptor. It's in your sons best interest to start looking for another developmental team that will work on the things the elite team said your son needed to improve upon.

That’s why it is so important to make sure you seek out an established organization. With that in mind, there are some signs to look for when looking for a good travel team.

Travel Teams Stick to the Plan
A travel team should be approached in much the same way a business is developed. A plan that replicates a business plan should be the first step. A Business Plan??? Yes...if the goal of the travel team is to enter competitive tournaments and ask parents to spend money, then that team organizer should have an accountable plan put together that shows the investors or parents of this venture what the return will be. What Return? The return that their kids will develop into better ball players, play better competition and if in high school, get exposure to the proper scouts that can see their son play. And parents should see this plan, especially if the travel team is not one the more established clubs. It's not too much to ask is it? If parents are going to spend their hard earned money and vacation time on a team for their son, then a hard fast plan better be in place.

Follow Through and Communication
Having a plan is one thing and following through with the plan is the tough part for many rookies in the travel game. The more established teams have their summer schedules posted and organized ON WEB SITES in the January prior to the spring or summer season. They also have their rosters secure, work-outs are year round, and lines of communication open. Logistically, team hotels are reserved, and team and parent meetings set prior to the tournaments. But more important, the coaches of the top travel teams have credentials.

When confronted by a newer travel team, ask about the coaches. Did they play college or pro? Have they coached at a high level before? How many years? Do they know scouts or recruiters, and can they communicate intelligently...in baseball-eese about player evaluations, skill sets and projectability to them? Parents...it's your money...you can do whatever you want with it...but if you have a son that wants to play at the next level, then experience and communication skills are paramount to not only the success of the team, but the future success of your son.