(The opinions expressed in this post don’t necessarily reflect the views of TravelBallParents.com)
By Geoffrey T. Spaulding, baseball dad, scholar and part-time curmudgeon
Thinking about joining a team at a Baseball Academy?
“Baseball Academy.” That’s the term I will use here. But, it doesn’t have to be called an “Academy.” It can be a program, an organization, or whatever. And, there are all different types. Some have their own brick and mortar facility. Others rent space somewhere. And, some have no base of operations or HQ whatsoever. Some also sell lessons and/or run camps. Others only have teams. But, they all have one thing in common – they run a stable of travel teams and want to make a profit doing it.
The advantages of being part of a team in a “Baseball Academy” are pretty obvious. Just ask “them” and they will tell you all about it. First and foremost, it’s about instruction and exposure. Secondly, it’s often nice to play for a team where playing time and the like are determined outside of blood lines and cronyism.
But, here’s the thing: If the organization has more than one team at an age group, beware the
academy “B” team. In the vast majority of situations, this is not the squad where you want to play.
The academy “A” team is usually very good. This is the team which sells the organization to the rest of the world. It’s the brand maker. However, if the organization has a “B” team, it’s often just a money grab and a bad deal. Often, I have heard the line “The ‘B’ team pays the bills for the ‘A” team” – meaning that it’s the money collected, and the profit made, by having that second (B) team which pays the bills and keeps the lights on so that “A” team has a place to train and play. And, to fill that “B” team roster, anyone with a pulse and a parent willing to write a check will suffice.
Does that last part seem harsh? Consider this: Maybe the program has enough for an “A” team and SOME players for a “B” team? Suppose they only have 6 players for a “B” team. You think they are going to let those 6 kids walk away and take their parents’ money with them? That’s a negative, Ghost Rider. It would be much easier – and profitable! – to find three or five more warm bodies, regardless of their experience or talent level, and secure them to give you a team. And, now you have 11 checks instead of potentially losing 6 of them. That’s a big swing on the balance sheet.
Oh, they will sell it to you. “We have two teams. But, they will be balanced and equally competitive.” Or, they try and hide the “A” and “B” concept by labelling the teams with fancy names and/or colors. It will be the “War Birds Elite Blue” and the “War Birds Select Red.” But, don’t let that fool you. One is an “A” and the other is a “B.”
Once the games start, you will see the difference in the teams. The “A” team wins 60% of the time or more. Meanwhile, every tournament that the “B” team plays is the same: 3 games played, 3 games lost, 30+ runs allowed and less than 10 runs scored. For the “B” team, a loss where the score is 9-2 is considered a “close game.”
Is that the “Baseball Academy” experience that you want? Is it really baseball, period, if you go out there and get routed in all your games?
After a while, that gets old. And, then it gets uglier from there. Lastly, never lose sight of the fact
that you are paying for it. A survey of friends once yielded that it’s not uncommon for someone to be forking over $3,500 to play for an academy team over a year. That’s a fair chuck of cheddar to be on a (B) team where you are getting tarred and feathered on the diamond every time you suit up.
Why would anyone be OK with being on the “B” team? Some are naïve. Others have blinders on and look past the fact that “their team” stinks – and maybe even beyond the reality that their kid is not a strong player – and relish the fact that they can tell others that “their boy” plays for “brand name” baseball team.
And, hey, if he plays for THEM then you know HE has to be GOOD (even if he might not be in reality). The chest pounders will parrot the same sales pitch that the organization laid on them: “It’s one of the top ten ranked organizations in the country according to blah, blah, blah” or “They’ve had 37 D-1 commits in the last four years!” or “These are the guys who [inset name of current major leaguer] played for when he was in high school.”
It doesn’t matter that their kid is playing on a team that will lose 90% of their games and have most of the losses come via the Mercy Rule. But, if that’s not your cup of tea, avoid the “B” – and that academy/program.
Again, maybe it’s all a good thing if you’re on the “A” team. Many times, this is the case. Personally, my son has played for a few different types of “Academies” – and, overall, the experience has been advantageous to him. It’s good to have played for different types of coaches. And, without question, he’s received some quality instruction at times that has furthered his game. But, he was never on a “B” team.
If you’re considering a program, etc., look at their “B” team and see for yourself – especially if they are playing in the same tournaments and/or leagues as their sibling “A” team.
Just the specter of a “B” team should be a concern to a prospective player when considering an organization. There’s always the chance of maybe being on the “A” team and then getting pushed down to the “B” team for one reason or another. Maybe it’s not a reflection on your talent? Maybe it’s because some stud player came along and he replaced you on the “A” team? Or, maybe the situation on the “B” team got so bad that players quit mid-season and they have to pull someone down rather than throw in the towel with respect to being able to field a team for the rest of the season?
That’s another thing to consider when choosing a place to play – if you are on the “A” team, how far away are you from maybe being on the “B” team?
To “B” or not to “B”? Is it really a question? Take it from someone who has seen it around – and then some. Avoid being on the “B” team. The “B” stands for bad news.