With rosters already filled for most fall ball teams, I fear that this post may be a little late. But it’s still great advice to keep in your travel parent knowledge bank if your kid isn’t playing showcase yet.
As we’ve all noticed, the days of a few dads joining up to create a travel team for their kids are dwindling. Most families are opting for teams that exist under the umbrella of local baseball or softball facilities. And it makes sense really. These organizations tend to offer more resources, brand recognition, sponsors and competitive connections than, say “Jacob’s dad’s team.” (Unless Jacob’s dad is an extraordinarily well connected millionaire who happens to own an indoor practice facility.) Yeah, there are plenty of independent teams still around, but that’s not the point of this article.
The organization/franchise/academy, whatever you want to call it, is often a big selling point to lure players to join the teams that represent them. Parents are easily swayed by state-of-the-art practice facilities and banners from universities that have recruited said organization’s players. Also, many of these organizations are owned by someone who is well-respected in the sport, whether it be a former major leaguer, college MVP or retired high school coach.
To illustrate, let’s take a look at fictional academy, L-Screen Elite which is holding open tryouts for their fall teams. After tryouts, the Johnsons bring their 10-year-old son, Bryce to tour the facility. The owner, Lefty McGee, who used to pitch for the AA Montgomery Biscuits, gives them dozens of reasons why L-Screen Elite is the absolute best baseball organization in town. All L-Screen Elite coaches are paid professionals, not team parents, and they focus on instruction and proper mechanics, not trophy hunting. L-Screen Elite also employs knowledgeable trainers who offer private hitting and pitching lessons for a fee. Their impressive indoor facility is available for weekly team practices. And they have an excellent college recruiting record. That’ll be very important for Bryce in a few years. But for now, L-Screen Elite is proud to offer him a spot on their L-Screen Silver 11u team. The fees are higher than the “daddy ball” team Bryce is leaving, but he’ll be getting so much more by being part of a professionally run organization.
This all sounds great. Right? And it is. The only thing is that the Johnsons were so enamored with Lefty that it didn’t occur to them to ask many questions about L-Screen Silver. Who’s the coach? What’s his background? What’s his coaching philosophy?
Once Bryce commits to L-Screen Silver, the Johnsons won’t see much of Lefty, other than saying hello to him when they come into the facility. Silver’s coach is Scotty Swinger, a super likable 23-year-old former left fielder for the Class-A Dayton Dragons. Sadly, his career ended prematurely due to a freak dry cleaning accident. Scotty is great with the kids and has tremendous baseball knowledge. He’ll be an outstanding coach…one day. But right now, he hasn’t developed enough of a backbone to stand up to his know-it-all, self-appointed assistant coach, Frank Clemson, aka Tyler’s dad. And honestly, Scotty’s day job is so demanding that he’s more than happy to hand the reigns over to his assistant.
Frank has a colorful past on the local travel circuit, as well as coaching rec ball, where he’s a master of bush league bravado. You either love him or hate him…or in some cases, would like to see him torn limb from limb by a herd of angry hippos (but that’s a whole other post). For the most part, kids don’t like him and pray he doesn’t choose them for his team. Parents scratch their heads wondering why he insists on coaching at all. Is it a control thing? His kid doesn’t even seem to enjoy playing that much.
It’s funny how Lefty McGee didn’t mention anything about this head coach bait-n-switch when he was selling L-Screen Elite to the Johnsons. But honestly, he’s in the dark about it himself. In fact, Lefty spends so much time on his six high school showcase teams, that the younger teams pretty much run independently and he’s okay with that.
A couple of weeks into the season, Bryce is spending more time on the bench than he’s used to. Coach Frank’s philosophy is “I’m a coach, not an instructor. I don’t have time to teach mechanics. And playing time is earned, not handed out.” This is very different from the inclusive, instructional environment that Lefty had presented. But, there again, Lefty doesn’t realize that things have gone astray. Someone should maybe tell him.
The moral of the story is this. Unless your kid is playing showcase ball, choose his team based on the team itself…not the big name organization it may represent. This is not a knock against organizations or academies at all. In fact, they play a vital role in youth sports. Some of the best experiences we’ve ever had have been facility teams. But until players get in high school, their teams will, for the most part, operate independently of the organization logo on their uniforms.