I guess I never thought that I would say this but I was wrong. Ouch, that hurt! Things change and even though I wish they didn’t in some cases, I can’t stop what some people call progress. Now I don’t have to call it progress, but it’s happening no matter what I think.
What I was wrong about was travel baseball. Having been involved with recreation league baseball for decades, I thought that this was the best way for our youth to learn about the game of baseball, to compete with their local friends, and to progress to higher levels. Recreation leagues still exist, but travel ball is the relatively new concept that attracts most of the better prospects.
For those who may not know what travel ball is, I will give a novice definition. Travel baseball simply is accumulating the best talent available to travel to games and tournaments where they compete against other travel teams with a similar talent level. Of course there are different age levels and even different competition levels. There are even baseball academies that train players and sponsor teams. Some employ former major league players to work with the youngsters. This is very serious stuff!
Most parents feel that the best way for their son the improve is to play against the best talent. Travel ball provides that. I know from personal experience that some high school coaches feel that kids who don’t play with a travel team are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to making the high school team.
Some kids who play on travel teams practice year-round at some of these academies. They have very nice indoor facilities and quality instruction. College coaches are aware of these academies and teams and keep a close watch on the progress of players through this venue.
Of course this is not cheap! Parents spend mucho dollars to provide this opportunity for their sons. They have beautiful uniforms and get to play in some great tournaments on some quality fields. Some tourneys are out-of-state in places like Panama City, Fla., Gatlinburg, Tenn., or New Orleans, La. If you want to play travel ball, you had better open up your wallet.
Most parents don’t consider the financial investment to be a problem. It is exactly that for them, an investment. Their son only comes along once and they feel that this is their chance to provide him the best chance to succeed and possibly get the recognition needed to move forward to higher classifications or even a college scholarship. Why not take the opportunity while it exists?
Parents love the fellowship too! They gather under tents for the weekend games and share stories and cheer their team on while lounging in their folding chairs. They get really involved in the games and always assure that their son is fully hydrated. Yeah, the parents love travel ball too!
There is more that can be said about travel baseball. Next week I’ll share some of the successes of local travel teams and some out-of-town teams with local players. See ya then!
Jim Fowler is a sports columnist and retired teacher and coach who worked in the local school system for many years. He is a founding board member of the Thomaston-Upson Sports Hall of Fame and is also the statistician for the Upson Lee football team, and has written a book about the history of football at R. E. Lee High School.