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?