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

2 comments:

Robert Jenkins said...

Your last two articles have been right on the money. I have forwarded this to other coaches I know.

The Little League Coach said...

Very good perspective. Today in Florida there are 8U, 9U, 10U, 11U, 12U, and 13U travel teams all over the place. In fact, the local Dixie league is down about 50% and there are 5 travel teams formed from that league alone.

I agree with your perspective about travel league's being better competition. No doubt about it. But, as I was asked by Smart Money Magazine during an interview about the "professionalization of youth sports" at what point do the travel leagues look just like Little League just because every player is playing in them?

I also must disagree w/ your statement that you don't earn your position in Little League. While this may be true in the younger divisions, the major league division of 11/12 year olds must earn their spots and any player playing first can catch any velocity ball.

Little League all-star teams out there are just as good as any travel team. In fact, most travel teams are simply comprised of the local Little League's all-stars.

I will admit that for the most part, travel ball and little league get along down here. Travel ball stops during the all-star tournaments, and picks up early in the fall and spring to accommodate Little League.