The Downsides of Travel Baseball (when and why it stopped being fun)

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Editor’s Note: This guest post was sent in by a mom who’s fed-up with the “racket” that travel baseball has become. While you may or may not agree with her opinions, I think it’s important to share different perspectives. I’ve loved my kids’ ball-playing years and wouldn’t trade them for anything. But I can still relate to some of the points the author makes…especially the pay-to-play part and about having more than enough rhinestone t-shirts…lol…Oh, and the image above is not related to this post. (I had to put something there and it’s always been one of my favorite photos.)


As a parent, when did baseball stop being fun?

As Facebook now reminds me on a daily basis of my memories on this same date years ago, I see the smile on my son’s face year by year on this date until he started playing travel baseball.  I see how the smile has evolved and I recall how things changed in my heart and in my house.

I recently had a memory of my son’s first tee-ball game, his first at-bat, his first hit and his first time on the mound.  I was extremely proud and full of joy as the game ended and the boys ran together to huddle with their many Coach Dads. There were no huddles with the boys and the coaches that the parents weren’t allowed to hear.  They were huddles praising each kid for what they did and a different kid each game was issued the game ball. Mine was one of those Coach Dads and he enjoyed every minute of it.  The parents all talked and sat together and made up cute names for the boys and chanted a lot with the boys.  Everyone cheered for everyone. We felt the boys made life-long friends and so did we.

The following season, my husband decided he wanted to manage a baseball team. I didn’t think it was much different from coaching….. There is a huge difference.   Back then, as manager’s wife, I became team mom.  I coordinated snacks, birthdays and made cute things for the kids.  I pretty much just made sure the kids didn’t get hurt in the dugout and they went out on the field when they were supposed to and to the right position or in the right place in the batting order.  I never knew any of this ahead of time.  I did not know the rules on playing time. I had no idea how much time the kids were entitled to play in the infield or outfield.   I didn’t know how many innings they sat on the bench.  I thought being team mom was supposed to be fun.

It was until we hit coach pitch.  There was that one mom that started banging on the fence.  I thought maybe she was checking on her kid because he needed a drink, didn’t feel well or had to leave early.   Boy was I wrong! The mom was wondering when her son was going to play the infield because the kids were supposed to spend a certain amount of time in the infield per game.  I had never seen a look on a parent’s face like that…..and I had coached another sport before.  I told her nicely, I had no idea that I am just a mom and my husband doesn’t go over these things with me ahead of time.  She stomped off and started complaining to the other parents.  That night, my husband received a scathing two-page email.  That was the end of my team mom days.  I refused to set foot in the dugout again but still got comments over the years about how much playing time my husband gave their son.  Did we ever win a championship?  No.  Did the boys have fun? Yes, except for the ones whose parents complained in front of them.  Who does that? A lot more than I ever imagined!

When we started Little League back in the mid 2000’s, we did not even know what travel baseball was or if it even existed.  Did it? Then one day out of the blue, my husband says “I got a call from this dad and he formed this team and wants our son to check it out” So, I say “sure.”  He was 8-years-old.  At that point in time, I was busy with my other child and their activities and I trusted whatever he chose to do with baseball.   It turned out this dad was pissed off with the Little League and defected along with another group of parents to form their own travel team.  I went to a practice. Everyone seemed nice so I went with the flow.  It turns out my son was recruited because they needed enough players to form a team and not because he was a good player and an asset to the team.  This team was formed solely for these coaches’ kids to play and play where they wanted them to play.  I never heard anyone yell as much as this coach did except for my mom when she was going after me with a wooden spoon when I was five.  My son was the worst kid on the team but he didn’t care and I didn’t care either.  He worked harder because he wanted to be as good as the other boys.   Win – Win, right? We all want our kids to learn how to work hard.

This was when our lives changed forever.   The chants from the dugout changed.  I saw something in these parents and kids that I have never seen before.  My husband swore he wasn’t getting sucked in, but he was.  I was still busy with my other child, so I didn’t say much. I just didn’t have the time. This is when family dinners stopped and getting food on the run began.  We scheduled religious education around our kids’ activities.  It no longer became family, church and school first.

This is when the fights between my husband and me began.  I begged him not to get involved but the more I begged, the more he got involved.  We were signing athletic contracts for our 8-year-old.  We were told we should not make plans for holiday weekends since these were the weekends of the big tournaments.  No vacations for Memorial Day or Labor Day.

Things really started evolving in our area and more and more travel teams began popping up.  Not only was there “Daddy Ball” on the Little League level but it was on the travel ball level and it was BAD. Why? Because to sum it all up, these teams were created for their kids.  More and more kids began to defect from Little League… and Fall Baseball was a No-No.  If you were competitive, you played Spring Ball only.  There was even a draft in the spring.  We were drafting kids?  I thought “WOW! Of course, the dads all started plotting and planning their teams based on the evaluations. It was like picking a fantasy team but they were little boys, our kids.  Why were they defecting? They didn’t get placed on the team they wanted or drafted by the coach they wanted.  “That dad favors these kids” and “that coach said that to my kid,” etc….  Travel ball really hurt Little League at first. But then, kids started playing both travel and Little League because they wanted to make All-Stars.  Family dinners, weekends, vacations were really a thing of the past.  Homework was squeezed in between games and practices.

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, the term “Daddy Ball” starts becoming a large part of the community’s vocabulary.  I say “community” because it seemed like our town had become a baseball town.  People started taking lessons.  Lessons?  I didn’t get it.  You pay someone to teach your kid? I thought they learned that in Little League.

Well, in this area, there are a lot of retired “major leaguers” or basically guys who played minor league ball, got hurt, never got a degree and decided to start teaching baseball to make more money than they did playing in the minors.  Why? They met a woman got married and had kids and couldn’t support a family on a minor leaguer’s salary.  So, my husband comes to me and says, “do we have any extra money in the budget for our son to take a lesson once a week?”  Oh and yeah I would have to take him to the lesson.  What does that mean? More running and around and more money.  Did I forget to tell you how much travel baseball costs?   About $250 a month for lessons, on top of the registration, monthly dues, umpires, tournament fees and uniforms. I didn’t want to argue. He was the bread winner and my son wanted to go to the lessons.

Anyhow, back to Daddy Ball.  Now, the term “pay for play” comes into play (no pun intended). Now, teams start popping up with paid coaches.  Now, travel ball becomes BIG business.  Ok, so parents jump over to these paid coaches, thinking everything will be fair.  It won’t be all about the “Daddy’s kid.” Nope, it became about who paid the most for private lessons.  Parents start competing over who spent the most time and money doing lessons.  So, not only are your paying for lessons but now you are paying for coaches, fancy uniforms, bags and blingie t-shirts to show your support. I think I have enough rhinestone shirts and practice shirts between my kids to make a quilt or two.

What comes next? Cooperstown!

What is Cooperstown?

Ask some kids and they know all about it and have been dreaming about for years.  Some have no idea. They just think that is what you are supposed to do next.  Then I realize after all these years why these parents started teams for their own kids….to get that Golden Ticket.  Have any of these kids tried out to play on their junior high school teams? Mostly not or they did not make it. Do they plan on playing baseball after 12u (Cooperstown Year)? Most of them say No. They are totally burned out.

To sum it all up, it stopped being fun for me when my son started playing travel baseball.  It changed our lives forever.  If I look back over the years at all the money spent on travel baseball, expensive bats and baseball lessons we could have gone on several deluxe family vacations.  If you ask my son what travel baseball did for our family, he will tell you “it caused my mom and dad to fight constantly and my dad become a control freak.”  If you ask my other child what travel baseball did to our family….that child would say “What family?  We don’t do anything as a FAMILY!”

So, what happens next?

10 Laugh-Out-Loud Comments Heard at Baseball Tournaments

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Angela Weight

Founder and publisher of Travel Ball Parents.com, Angela Weight is still a little shocked to be running one of the most popular youth sports parenting sites on the web. Click the ABOUT US tab to read her story.

7 thoughts on “The Downsides of Travel Baseball (when and why it stopped being fun)

  • May 18, 2018 at 7:41 pm
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    I’m happy to say I haven’t experienced anything like this. The coaches on my grandson’s team are all knowledeable and excellent with the kids. There are two ways to go with coaching your own kid too easy and too hard and both happen. I have done it in the past and it is awkward at times for both the coach and the son/player. If their kids get an extra inning in the field or bat a little higher in the order is it worth the effort to argue about I view it as their perrogative while the rest of us sit back and enejoy the game and others complain about it but never volunteer.

    Reply
  • March 26, 2018 at 3:24 pm
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    Me and my wife wished we would have seen the red flags through the smoke screens. The first red flag was our son couldnt have his favorite players # because coach wanted that #, I mean what is that?

    We were on the fence about it and left city league after the league was begging the travel team to not form only to feel stuck in an even worse situation.

    We had questions and they had the right answers to make us feel we made the right decision, after all we asked our son what he wanted. We even asked coach if our son was right for it and was reasurred that he would fit right in. A huge factor was the coach didnt have any kids on the team because daddy ball was getting out of hand at the city league level.

    Our son can play but has a little bit of an attention disorder or add, were still trying to figure it out and no one knows except us, but Im not being bias at all, the kid had the lowest error rate on the all star team the year before and is an asset on any defense, he struggles at the plate because his mind is so full of thoughts, but has one of the prettiest swings on the team.

    We show up to the first game of a double header which was just a scrimmage and to our horror there are about 4-6 dads swarming around the dugout, all those kids whose dads were sniffing the coaches you know what played the whole day in key positions. We had 10 players and my son sat out for 6 innings that day. Keep in mind were paying 2400 dollars for the whole season, and that doesnt include travel costs to 4 major cities all over the west, and my son sat out for 6 innings in a damn scrimmages. Its a scrimmage, figure out who goes where and move kids around coach? Nope single 2 kids out and swap them in and out.

    My wife was in tears by the second game and had to have a talk with the coach after the day was over, I didnt want anything to do with it, I’m not a fan of the talking to the coach about our sons playing time, we had never been in that situation, but thats probable the problem, I’m not a dad that feels the need to coach my son and follow coach around like a puppy, I feel its better development for him, but whatever.

    Coaches response was our son needs to focus more, and hussle, he does both to his best ability. A blurt came out of his mouth about how his coach from last year made some remarks about how he shows up sometimes and sometimes doesnt, but the stats dont lie and they didnt keep stats but im telling you, the kid is a reliable defender. His old coach is a dad swarming the dugout by the way whos son can play and is a great little baller, but has attitude problems when things dont go his way along with a few other players, my son smiles if he stikes a kid out or strikes out himself, but that goes un noticed by the coaches. Politics and daddy ball has just hit an all time high.

    Were not sure what we can do other than tell our son to prove them all wrong. I’m not saying travel ball is bad, but at this age, which he is 10 playing 11U, its not worth it yet. If we travel all day to the first tourny and its the same result, we dont know what were gunna do.

    Make 100% sure the coach does things the right way. Now days if your kid isnt the next mike trout or your not in the dugout coaching him, its almost impossible things go the right way.

    Wait until 14 or 15 when alot of kids and coaches have it figured out with talent, not politics and dads forming teams so they can have their way.

    And this coach praised about how he was doing this to help kids not want to quit by their teens and make it fun, when in reality he has alot more issues than any city league coach.

    Stay in City League ball and only think of travel ball when the kid is atleast 14.

    Reply
  • November 30, 2017 at 12:50 am
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    You are spot on writing about the politics of the coaches. My now 11 year old has played the last three seasons for Daddy Ball coaches on two different teams — all who are coaching just so their kids can be the “stars.” Do they think nobody notices that they favor their children and their friends kids absolutely to the detriment of the 3 kids that are on the bench 95% of the time? My son notices when kids make 3-4 errors per game yet never sit. And he and a couple others don’t even get a chance to make an error. My oldest played travel ball for many years, so I’m experienced and I KNOW my son is not the worst on the team. And you know what is the saddest part? At 11 years old, he now hates baseball and never wants to play again. That breaks my heart since he used to love it.

    Reply
  • November 29, 2017 at 8:32 pm
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    I can honestly say that our travel team is not like this. Our parents get along and it feels like an extension of our family. Yes, we plan our activities around baseball but we were aware of what we were getting into. We still play rec league and our boys have been together for a few years now and move up together. I am blessed to have the good Christian coaches we have that pray with our boys and gives them praise whether we win or lose. I have told my son that when it stops being fun, we don’t play and he agrees but for now we all enjoy it tremendously! I hate that it isn’t this way for everyone and it sometimes turns into something that is dreaded and the kids don’t enjoy.

    Reply
  • November 3, 2016 at 6:50 pm
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    Been there done that, my son is know in H.S. and he is burnt out on Baseball. I will not miss it, he went with football and track – seems like we got our life back.

    Reply
  • February 8, 2016 at 1:12 pm
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    I’m on anxiety medication because of travel baseball. People laugh when I say that but it’s true. My sons and husband love travel baseball, until they hate it. I just hate it.

    Reply
  • November 30, 2015 at 11:02 pm
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    I have three sons – the younger two love love love baseball. They would play all day and night if I let them – but I don’t. During the LL season they play, they come home and play strikeout with the whiffle ball, tennis ball or a tape ball until I tell them to stop. When the season is over, they continue to play strikeout, but also start kicking around the soccer ball – which they would play all night during soccer season if I let them – then onto basketball season and finally back to baseball.
    I played football soccer and baseball in high school, continued to play baseball through college and a few years of minor league baseball. I still play baseball, it’s what I love to do – but I also remember the ‘dog days’ when the season was grinding and I thought… goddamn, I hate this. But, in pro ball we had an offseason, some guys went to instructional league, but, by then we were getting paid, it was our job.
    I will not and cannot allow my boys to feel the ‘dog days’ of baseball at such a young age. Hopefully they continue to play long after little league, but if not, hopefully it’s because they fell in love with soccer, or basketball or football… but I will not push them.

    Reply

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