The Big Lie: Travel Baseball

bigstockphoto_Baseball_2688855In the summer of 2011, my son, Penn, attended a Baseball Factory showcase in Lebanon, Tennessee.  It was attended by around 75 high school players, and their goal was to be chosen for a larger showcase event in Atlanta – one that would be attended by college coaches and professional scouts.

The cost was minimal – $99 – and only involved about 2 hours.  It was the usual stuff – ground balls, fly balls, arm strength, speed in the 60 yard dash, hitting, and so on.  It was more evaluation than anything, and since Penn would need to do these type events in the years ahead for college exposure, I wanted him to do it now, the summer after his freshman year in high school, to gain experience and knowledge of what these type events involved.

After the showcase ended, we went home and returned our focus to summer baseball.

On the following Tuesday, I received a phone from a Baseball Factory representative in Maryland.  He basically informed me that they were impressed with Penn’s skills in the Lebanon showcase, and they felt he would benefit from playing tournaments with their USA 16U team.  They would be playing in a tournament in Arizona the next month, and they wanted Penn to join them there.

I was intrigued.  “So, how much is involved financially?” I asked.  He responded with a list of benefits – multiple uniforms, several games, coaching by former professional players and coaches, hotel, food, and airfare.  They would meet him at the airport, take him to the hotel, and the week would begin with his team.

The cost?  $3500.

I politely refused his offer, and told him it was way too early and way too expensive for us to participate.


Baseball-PlayersBaseball is a game.

It’s best enjoyed on a sandlot with your friends, or at a big league ball park with your family.  Or, even the local ball fields, where the Bears play the Indians in the 10 year-old rec league.

It’s not meant to create a “straw man” of college and big league aspirations for any player willing to pay the fee.

There are things travel baseball can do.  First, it raises the level of competition significantly.  Take a team from Murfreesboro to Ft. Myers, Florida, and you’ll discover quickly that there are better players out there.  Secondly, it can increase exposure if you’re son is interested in playing college baseball.  College and professional scouts attend showcases in droves.  It’s a convenient one-stop-shopping for coaches that eliminates time and travel overall.

However, the culture of travel baseball has hijacked what was meant to be a simple, innocent game.  It’s a multi-million dollar business that preys on the desire of players – and parents – to be the next Mike Trout, or maybe sign with an SEC program.  It’s out of control, and it will continue as long as players believe the hype and parents pay the bucks.

The Birth of Travel Ball 

My oldest son, Griffin, started travel ball at 11 years-old.  I was a coach, along with a couple of other dads, and we were in search of high quality competition.  Our reasoning was that if our boys were to be better baseball players, they needed to play against better competition.

So, we bought a uniform, and paid the fees to play in tournaments – about $250/team – most of which were held in Jackson, MS, or Gulfport.  Both locations were about an 1 1/2 hour drive, so hotel stays were involved whenever we played.  At first, it was a tournament here, a tournament there.  But, it quickly evolved to playing every weekend, and that meant more tournament fees and hotel bills.

Since then, both of my boys have played on travel teams as they’ve gotten older.  At times, I would go with one, and Michelle would go with the other.  Hotel stays were common, but the tournament fees rose steadily.  Add to that multiple sets of uniforms and equipment, and the costs skyrocketed.

Team Finances

When I coached travel baseball in the early days, the dads would take it on and it was, well, just part of being a dad. baseball-crowd You spent time with your son as he played the game.  The cost to play on a team only involved your part of the tournament fees.  On a team of 11-12 players, that amounted to about $200 for the summer.

Now, teams will charge between $1200-2000 to play summer baseball.  Sound like a lot?  In comparison, elite teams will charge a lot more.  And, that doesn’t include the cost of travel and meals for the parents and family.

[I know of one program in Ohio that sports a yearly budget of over $1 Million.  Elite players from all over the country play on this team, and they play all summer long.]

Why the cost?  The coaches (who are not dads) get paid now.  The high-end uniforms are many.  And, the tournament fees have gone up.  What used to cost $250 now costs anywhere between $850 – 1200.  For one tournament.

The Tournament Directors

Tournament directors and owners have benefited.  Programs like Perfect Game and others will host and sponsor tournaments every week.  These tournaments will run from Tuesday to Sunday.  Clean the park on Monday, and start another one on Tuesday.

What’s the appeal?  Pristine fields, your own web page for recruiting, and playing in front of college coaches and professional scouts.

For example, the World Wood Bat Association holds tournaments every summer in Atlanta for every age group starting at 14U.  There are over 150 teams playing in the 16U tournament, and that number explodes to well over 200 teams in the 17U tournament.  That’s approximately $800/team.  You do the math.

The Sacrifice

The culture of travel baseball has taken over what once was simple and innocent.  Coaches and tournament directors and recruiting organizations know that parents will pay for the promise and guarantee of exposure to college coaches and scouts.  They know you’ll do whatever it takes for your player to get every opportunity he needs.

So, as a parent, you pay to play.  You make the sacrifice.  You do your part.

But, that’s where it ends.  Once the bill is paid, little else is done by anyone to guarantee exposure and recruiting.

Travel baseball has become the Big Lie.


Lest you think I’m a bitter dad whose sons didn’t get the opportunity to play, I’m not.

My oldest son has combined an academic scholarship with an athletic scholarship and has yet to pay a dime out of his pocket as he plays in a D1 program.

My younger son will continue playing college baseball at the JUCO level this fall.

My issue, though, with travel baseball is that there are people involved who take advantage of gullible parents who believe their player will go on to the next level.  They prey on your desire to want something for your child, as well as the guilt you’ll have when your player’s friends are playing and you chose not to do it.

And, the thing is, these people know it.  They know what they’re doing.

Have Fun

If your player throws 92 mph, or he’s 6’5 and 230 lb. with a “Ted Williams” swing, he’ll play at the next level.  If not, just enjoy the summer and the games and the popcorn.

Spend your money prepping for the ACT.


Filed under Baseball

67 responses to “The Big Lie: Travel Baseball

  1. Shad Holloman

    One of the many dads I see on a regular basis at Barfield recently told me that, with his older son, if he had saved all the money he spent for his son to play travel ball he could have paid for college a couple of times. His oldest child did manage to get a scholarship, but, like you mentioned, the ACT is a much cheaper way to go!

  2. The problem with travel ball now is that it is not exclusive to the best players taken out of the little league/babe ruth recreational leagues. Once upon a time when I was younger only the best would be asked to play and not be asked to pay some huge entry fee. Its not just for the serious players anymore. Parents that had children who were not selected just started their own teams and drastically diluted the talent. Travel ball means nothing now like it did 15-20 years ago. Once everyone started creating their own teams people realized how much money there can be made. Especially with the weekend tournaments. Its like alphabet soup these days ( AAU, CABA, xyz…etc etc) , just string some letters together and its an organization with a World Series.

    • Thanks for reading and discussing this with those reading along.

      I agree. Travel ball is now saturated with average to below average players. I think many will create an “elite” baseball program with a team at each age group and promote the lie that kids who play for them will almost be guaranteed scholarships. When parents hear that, they’re all in.

      Travel ball is not what it used to be years ago. Very watered down and the cost to play has skyrocketed. It’s simple supply and demand.

      My sons have a hard time comprehending that when I played years ago, everyone played in the same rec league. The talented players were on the same teams as the casual player. All Stars helped to challenge the better players.

  3. Testify! As your first responder wrote, take the money for travel ball for ages 5-14, put it in an investment account. That is the college fund. Then have fun playing high school ball knowing you have come college covered no matter what.

    If you can play, college coaches and scouts will find you. How many remember the score of their June 11 summer travel ball game from seven years ago?

    • Amen! Maybe if the parents will band together, they can affect change in the system. As long as they keep paying the fee, though, travel baseball will continue to flourish. Thanks for reading and commenting!!

    • I totally agree with you, however, it is almost impossible for s kid to make a high school team if they don’t play travel ball!
      I thought about putting my daughter on a travel softball team but chose not to because of the long distance practices and costs. Then there’s no guaranteed play time.
      I chose to take my daughter to private lessons. She is a solid hitter. She is a sophomore in high school. She is struggling to make varsity because most of the girls trying out play travel ball!
      And before you say she has no skills, she was invited to play with the varsity team for one week during her freshman year. During a varsity game she hit a double knocking in two runs but apparently it wasn’t good enough for her to be invited back to play CIF. Over the last year in private lessons her headache has improved significantly but since there are so many other girls who play travel ball it really is a wonder if she’ll ever make varsity. So it seems as though if a kid wants to make a high school team they have to play travel ball despite the fact that I have been told that my daughter has talent.

      Thank you for your article and for letting me vent.

  4. Dan Watson

    Sadly in softball you have the same thing.

    • Shannon

      I too am terribly frustrated with travel softball. My daughter is 13, the best softball player in our little league. She also plays on boys baseball, where she is on of the top players too. In April, she was “recruited” by a local travel team. The team has had a pretty good reputation. I, of course said no way, she’s already on two teams. But hubby said she could play. The team “sponsored” her but don’t let that fool you, we still had out of pocket costs: new cleats, Under Armour, snacks and drinks for the team, gas and travel expenses. etc. The team turned out to be worse than her Little League softball team. She didn’t play the position she was recruited to play. Talking with travel coaches from older divisions, they expect by high school the girls will give up their lives for softball and ONLY softball. YOu have to be kidding me. My daughter loves ALL sports and drama, dance, etc. There is NO way she’s giving everything up for one sport, especially for a team that may not even be competitive and CAN’T go to the better tournaments. I feel the way others do, if she continues to be that good, then she’ll get noticed. She already has the attention of high school coaches in our county FROM Little League.

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  6. Hi Mark,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ll tweet your post today.

    If you don’t mind, I’m going to shamelessly plug my upcoming novel, “Saving Babe Ruth.” Based on a true life story, I have exposed the “big lie,” as you call it, in the book and also explored the negative impact travel baseball can have on communities.

    Hopefully, this book will serve as a common frame of reference for future discussions about the youth sports culture we have created with particular reference to youth baseball.

    The novel goes on sale on June 27th. You can read the advance reviews, download the first chapter, and read more about the book at this link:

    Thank you,

    Tom Swyers

  7. Sadly, same for travel soccer. We just forked out $2200 for our 8yo son to play next year. So yeah, 2200×10 years = a year of college tuition. I agree, travel has changed. When I played travel softball in high school, I was invited to join the team and I think my parents maybe paid $200 for the season.

  8. Chip

    Rec Ball has become so bad lately in our area that the games are fairly non-competitive baseball. However, I have seen almost every player that may have been a decent rec ballplayer that has moved to travel ball improve their skills measurably and learn the game from a mental standpoint. I don’t think many rec players will make the high school team if they keep playing rec ball as they other kids are passing them by.

    To that point, I agree that travel ball has proliferated to the point that it is big business. Our team which is a regionally recognized program has done well and teaches the game is not an end all. They provide opportunities beyond baseball for community involvement and stress academics. There are many programs that are popping up that state that if you play with us we will get you the exposure you need and that means paying several thousand in fees just to belong to their organization beyond the tournaments. This is where the hope occurs for the parents in the future..

    With regards to my son who is a very small player at the 13u level (75 lbs), he has worked extra hard because he loves baseball and developed great technique and baseball knowledge playing on his elite team. Defensively his skills are phenomenal and the only thing holding him back is that he can only hit the ball so far right now. Travel ball has made him recognize what he needed to do and we put in the hard work together to get him there.

    Finally, at the HS level I have talked to our coaches and they have stated that almost every kid that makes the team now is a travel player with a few exceptions. The primary reason is the baseball IQ is just so much greater. This is relatively new to our HS programs in the north but the coaches are adapting.

    If I put all the money we spend into baseball into a college fund then my son would be missing the opportunity to learn teamwork, work ethic, bonding and other traits that successful leaders require to succeed and he would also most likely have no shot at playing the game he loves the most at a higher level. I am fortunate that he is also a very intelligent child who excels in school in the highest level classes and that has always come first to us as well. Thus, I am glad we are paying the money for my son to try and achieve his goals even though realistically he knows that his academic work will lead to his success and most likely not sports.

    • Chip:

      Thanks for reading my post and commenting. I appreciate and look forward to the discussion from everyone, hoping that it can help us understand and appreciate some of the issues with travel ball.

      I think you’re spot on with regard to travel ball, in that it will raise the baseball IQ of younger players as well as show them where they are deficient. I’ve always said that taking a team to East Cobb or Ft. Myers will let your players know in a hurry how they stack up against players their age.

      I think this is where travel baseball is successful. The bar is raised in expectations for the players on a team, and the competition, as a whole, will force your player to step up the quality of his game.

      Rec ball, which is certainly an option for all of our sons, has suffered at the expense of travel ball. Years ago, every player participated in rec ball, and those who played well experienced the higher level of competition in all stars. Rec ball could regain its status with elite players, but that’s not going to happen as long as coaches and programs make the promises they do. Parents are drawn to opportunities for their player, and I can’t find fault there.

      My biggest problem with travel ball – as one who has experienced it for over 10 years now – is that 1) the cost has risen to ridiculous heights, 2) coaches make promises – quality of coaching & practices, exposure, contacting college programs on behalf of the player, and so on – that they can’t/don’t keep, 3) recruiting services and tournament sponsors make claims they don’t keep, and 4) travel to “elite” tournaments that promise exposure is costly and unnecessary (most players will sign with a college within a limited radius of their hometown).

      Travel ball can be kept affordable while still playing quality baseball. And, it can be done so that the expectations regarding exposure and college scholarships are kept at a minimum. In essence, the parent can find ways to get their player in contact with a college program if the potential is there. So, travel ball CAN be a good thing if managed correctly. The problem comes when a coach or program director makes claims that are never intended to be kept while pocketing significant amounts of money because they prey on the fears and lack of knowledge of parents.

      I do have to disagree with you on a few points, though. Your player can learn every aspect of “teamwork, work ethic, bonding and other traits” on a rec team. The dynamics of team work are the same. Also, if your son acquires the ability and tools to play the game, regardless of whether or not he plays travel ball, he’ll get the opportunity to play in high school. If he’s not good enough to play in a high school program, he most definitely cannot play at the next level.

      I applaud the fact that you have emphasized academics with your player, and that his expectations of playing in high school and college are realistic. Many times, that’s the most difficult part to obtain.

      Again, thanks for reading and sharing your comments. I know that your input helps us all as we try to sort this issue out.

      • jay edelson

        Mark, I agree with you totally about travel baseball and high school baseball. My wife and I are going through this right now. Our 13 year old, we have been told is a pretty gifted player. We have him in private lessons for pitching and batting. He led his LL team last year in all categories, no one was close. He played on a club team for 3 months, he was recruited by his coach to play, we said yes since the team was going to Cooperstown and we thought that going would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. We went and it was indeed a fantastic opportunity…glad we went. The dilemma is whether or not for him to play on another club team right now. Being a former H.S. Track Coach, the last thing I want my child to do is focus on one sport. He does play football in the fall. I am leaning for the club for a few months so he can improve his skills for high school. This is where I disagree with you about being good enough to make a high school team. The flip side of not playing are the coaches who pick their teams out by either playing on club teams or what the players do in the fall, applying pressure on the kids to play,pretty much year round. I have seen it too often where the H.S. coach will pick a kid who has done the out of season stuff, penalizing a kid who has been active in the band or other team sports. That is the hidden secret of H.S. sports. Frankly, it makes me sick. Coaches who put their programs ahead of what is in the best interest of the kid. Over 99% of kids DON’T go on to play beyond high school, yet coaches pick and choose their teams long before the season “officially” begins.

  9. Justin

    Travel ball is a wonderful tool if used properly. I see kid every year being told that they are good enough to play “elite” level ball then when the parent asks me I turn into the bad guy for being honest. I want my kid (5 years old) to love baseball because we can enjoy the game together. If never plays more than rec league ball I will be happy as long as he is happy. Love your kids & be objective before you spend money & more importantly time lost with your child on a lie. Trust the people you have always trusted not a fast talking salesman looking to get a check.

  10. Tyler

    Mr. Moore, This comment is not so much for this particular post as it is just saying thank you for your blog. I just found it today when Coach Wyant tweeted the link. I coach baseball at Siegel, so I am familiar with you son Penn, so I decided to check out the rest of the blog after reading this post. It was absolutely the best choice I have made all day. As a baseball coach and the son of a Church of Christ preacher who has done some preaching myself, I relate to all the content, from what parents should and shouldn’t say to “we worship the same God”. I very much appreciate your insight. God Bless.

  11. Patrick Stoecker


    I think travel ball is necessary for your kid to play at the next level. I do think people are enticed to play at too early of an age. My son, Collin didn’t play travel until he was in 7th grade and that was local travel. All of the events he played in as a 7th grader and 8th grader were within 30 miles of my house. When he got to be 15 we chose to tryout for a team that played a few out of town tournaments but also played in a local travel league. He is 17 now and plays for a team at east Cobb. The team fees are less expensive than the team he played for locally and they are really good!

    My point is we took a different road than most. I chose not to drink the koolaide a lot of parents were drinking. I didn’t think there were many scouts looking at 14 year olds but when he was between his freshman and sophomore year we got pretty serious. We went to Ft. Myers and in 3 2/3 innings my son was rewarded with 3 D1 offers. It was a case of being in the right place at the right time and being on the right team. I give all the glory to God!

    When Collin was 10 we were led to believe we were not doing enough and we would be passed by. “Real” Travel ball is necessary but not until high school. Too many parents are trying to win the world on every weekend, when their time would be much better spent working with their boy on individual skills.

    I started reading your blog a few weeks ago and I love it!


    • Patrick:

      Thanks for reading and for giving such a good commentary. I appreciate it!

      Travel ball can be a great experience if done within reason. Your approach sounds like you did it right and with good logic.

      Both my boys played in a similar way that you and Collin approached it. Everything was reasonable and it was, for the most part, a great experience.

      I think college coaches follow the tournaments, but I think most coaches will follow specific players that they see here and there. Of course, you always hope to get noticed as coaches walk up to a game, or maybe they come to watch a specific player and notice another one. Either way, the results are the same.

      All that said, I agree with your statement and say that travel can be a positive experience if done within reason.

      Thanks for following and please continue to give your commentary as you feel led. Discussion is always good and helps us all to think through these issues.

      • Christine Larson

        I feel compelled to jump in here. It sounds like all travel teams are not alike. My son does not meet the skill level to play on our local travel team. The coach was up front with me. Then he said, “We have a lot of work to do.” He allows my son (and anyone who is willing to put in the work) to practice with the team. From day one he has my son on the field with the team and devotes equal training time to him. He asks nothing of us, other than to show up. I have offered to help with sponsorships or pay some sort of camp fee. They will not take my money. This is a professional Coach who volunteers his time. He is not paid. He does not have a son on the team. He is undoing all the bad habits and poor form my son has acquired from years of Little League.

        Many travel teams are formed as an alternative to “Daddy Ball”. Parents tire of the politics, the unfair practices around All Stars selection and the general negativity of the leagues. How many All Star slots are left after all the coach’s and assistant coaches kids make the team? Children are unhappy. Parents are unhappy. Umpire’s are criticized. I’ve even witnessed coaches nearly go to blows. In fact our coach was kicked out of our last game. We were looking for something different…as many parents are.

  12. Jolene

    You think baseball is expensive? Try travel volleyball. As one poster sited “best when used properly.” My question always was – do we really need to travel cross country to find level best competition? The answer, of course, is NO. My volleyball daughter is now working for a Fortune 500 company and drawing on all of her team sports to be successful. At the end of the day, I would do it all again. Hands down. yEs

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  14. Shane Gardner

    I am a college coach and we seldom go to any events where the player needs to pay a fee. We host several workouts on campus and do not use it as a fund raiser like so many other programs. I tell recruits to study hard in the classroom and contact coaches directly for workouts.

  15. CB

    Softball umpire here. You have hit the nail on the head with your post and the watered down talent. Example, did a tourney this year. Umped 10 games, out of those ten games, 2 of them were not ended by run rule. Closest game was a 2-1, next closest was a 11-5. Makes for long days behind the plate when your telling batters to take your base when the pitchers cant throw strikes no matter how big your zone is.

  16. Reblogged this on The Unsilent Majority and commented:
    Very interesting insight!

  17. T781

    Another problem is the amount of time parents have to take off of work. It no longer is just on weekends but some tournaments start during the week. People have lost their minds with this travel baseball stuff!

  18. thecaptclay

    I just stumbled upon this article, sadly by searching for the phrase “travel baseball is ridiculous”. lol

    I always told my friends I wouldn’t let my son play travel baseball until he was 14. But the level of play is so horrendous at our local little league my son had no interest in playing. He didn’t like playing with kids at 8 years old who couldn’t catch or throw. So, I let a friend talk me into playing on their travel ball team. Wow, my eyes were opened to what a time commitment it is.

    Truth be told, my son did improve as a baseball player tremendously and rapidly. But he’s 10 now and I just looked over the team schedule for the next few months and it looks like 100 of the next 140 days will be spent at either tournaments, practices, or fundraisers. I don’t know about you but to me, that’s a little excessive for a 10 year old. Not to mention I have 3 other children that would like me to spend some time with them as well.

    I’m a firm believer that talent trumps all. If you are talented, and you don’t live under a rock, you’ll play baseball at “the next level” (high school, college and or pro). I’m living proof of it. I came from a tiny town and played on the 1st ever home schooled high school baseball team in the country. We played tiny private schools in the middle of nowhere. By my senior season, there were more scouts at games than fans and families. I ended up with numerous D1 offers, more small school offers than I could count and ended up getting drafted and signed by the New York Yankees.

    I played some travel ball in high school but only because that’s about all we had when school ball wasn’t going on. And, it was a good experience but it also wasn’t year ’round and I wasn’t under 14 years old.

    I appreciate the article you wrote and I can already see the smoke getting blown around at the young level of ball we’re playing. My family and I are trying to decide what to do this year. I want well rounded children. I want them to enjoy other sports, enjoy the outdoors, spend time with their siblings… If God wants my son to play high school, college, or pro ball, He’ll find a way. He did with me.

  19. Cabbage

    Caveat Emptor – If you have coaches who spend the time researching the right local tournaments and you live in an area with a good league, you can play a lot of good baseball and get a lot of training for under $1000.00 a player.

    If you live in Ohio, you can play very good baseball through age 14 without killing your budget. Look if you go to Ripken, or Cooperstown, you are obviously not going for the baseball. You are going for the experience.

    12U Last fall our fee was $200.00 we had 15 practices and 8 Games(Paid Umpires), 12U this spring is $600.00, we have 20 indoor Practices, 30 outdoor practices, 25 games, 6 tournaments(all 3 game mins – should play 24 games). (again paid umpires) So over the course of a year, $800.00 pays for 65 practices(we pay for the fields) and 57 games – That’s 122 activities or about $6.00 a day. Ok, we have 1 overnight tournament so add $100.00 plus a little gas and say $1000.00 – Its still $8.00 an activity.

    Little league for an normal kid would be $260 Spring and Fall, 20+8 Games, and maybe 20 Practices or just over $5.00 per activity.

    The level of competition, the commitment of the coaches and parents is just so much better, the experience is just incredible. Little league and Knothole in Cincinnati have taken advantage of the good coaches and parents for so long, many of them have left, because, a lot of the parents drop their kids off and think its FREE BABYSITTING.

    I’ll gladly pay an extra $3.00 an activity. We played one of the teams from the Million Dollar Budget – Twice, We got Crushed, But we only struck out 8 times in 8 innings, all of our kids got to see the Top End. We even scored 3 Runs.

    Travel Baseball is like most things, “What you make of it”

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  21. TiredMomma

    We just made a decision to leave a travel ball team after playing with it for three years. Not really sure why the “coach” decided that our son was all of a sudden not good enough to play many innings anymore, but the fact that we are playing Babe Ruth this year seems to have been a sore spot with the travel ball coach.
    It truly aggravates me that my son was good enough to take our money, good enough to keep him on the team for three years, good enough to put him in four to five different playing positions that he can do equally well whenever he needed him….This is not our first rodeo. We have older children who played travel ball as well. We will not waste our family time and money to travel anymore. It’s not really worth it.

  22. Rick Whisnant

    It’s not all about the money. My son did the same evaluation. We went to Arizona and played with Baseball Factory for 2 years . It was a great experience and it’s something my son will cherish for the rest of his life. Just like Cooperstown and all the other things we as a family choose to do. He still plays Travel ball at 17 with Evoshield Canes Central 17U and we have fun as a family. Some choose hunting, some choose fishing. We play ball. Spend time with great people, travel to great colleges and have a fun summer.

    The Whisnant Family
    Hudson, NC

  23. Kate

    We spent years on a travel team with both my sons, went to the “Field of Dreams” in New York and it was one of the greatest trips we took as a family. I wish I had saved my money and saved for college as one now plays Football at the College level and the other hopes too. My thoughts are like some of the other parents, God First and everything else will fall into place. As long as they are happy, I am happy!

  24. Travel Ball Sham

    A lot of these teams are indeed not that “elite” – the water down factor. And a lot of these are run by a group of dads with delusions about the ability of their own kids. You’ll have 5 or maybe even more coach’s kids on the team + some other kids that have parents with past coaching relationships with the current coaches on the team. In short, they have “try-outs” but the best kids don’t always make the team. Yes, daddy-ball. These players wear a halo all season, make errors, get lit-up, can go virtually hitless all season, and the team loses 75+% of the games but the same thing keeps happening every game. What’s that definition of insanity again? Anyway, this experience did give me an opportunity that I didn’t want – to answer my son’s questions about why things were upside down. And I had to explain some hard realities about how life isn’t fair, and some people have to work to be much better to survive. In the end, I think he will be ahead if addressing the situation with the right attitude and approach. I feel bad for the kids who have their dads covering for them because daddy can’t do that for them in real life for everything else. What a shame. From what I’ve seen though, these parents/coaches really think their kids are special. They live in an alternative reality. The horrible team record and numerous mercy rules losses don’t even give them a clue. Another factor in this is scapegoating. It’s subtle, but the kids aren’t stupid. They pick up on it.

  25. Seeking some advice. My 12 year old kid loves the game and is pretty good. We are trying to decide if he should play on a travel team or not.

    Does playing on a travel team make it more likely to make it on the high school team? I am not asking whether playing on a travel team makes you a better player. I am wondering more about a player’s record and history.

    When a kid tries out for the high school team, are coaches looking at his record? Or is it just how they play at the try outs?

    if he wants to go on, is it essential he plays on a travel team at this age?

    I have really heard mixed things now about travel teams. High cost, your kid might not get as much time to play in the game, etc…

    All thoughts welcome

    • Michael:

      I appreciate the question. It’s a common one, and many parents wrestle with this. I’m not sure I have the answer, but I’ll certainly offer my opinion.

      Playing on a travel ball team doesn’t guarantee anything. Without knowing the specifics of your situation, I’m going to say that the only sure thing is that travel ball offers a higher level of competition. That, in itself, will help your son raise his ability. To compete, he has to get better.

      If your son is good enough to play beyond HS, it doesn’t matter if he plays on a travel ball team. He’ll get noticed – if he’s that good.

      My experience, too, is that HS coaches keep players based on ability and projection, regardless of whether they’ve played on travel teams or not.

      In the end, you have to be objective about your son’s ability and potential, his love of the game, his desire to put the time in to improve, and whether you want to put in the time and money to play travel ball, knowing that there are no guarantees (and that’s my biggest objection…coaches who guarantee results).

      Hope that helps.

  26. John Farrar

    As a League Administrator in Little League I see many players leave our ranks to go to travel ball. One would immediately assume they are elite players that find no challenge in Little League but in fact that’s rarely the case. One of the biggest reasons we lose players to travel ball is the unrealistic disgruntled parent who thinks their player is elite despite showing no more ability than any of his teammates. They often come to us demanding their player be moved up into divisions they are either not age appropriate for or frankly aren’t skilled enough to play. I think some parents forget that maturity has a role in their players development as well.

    So they leave in haste seeking out travel ball teams or in extreme cases start their own (usually when their player doesn’t make the cut on other teams). But its these parents that fall victim to less reputable programs thàt lure parents with the promise of scholarships and professional aspirations. They are told what they want to hear so they’ll keep writing those checks. Gone are the days where players were hand selected and invited to try out for elite teams. Instead you see teams advertising for players to even fill a team…..hardly a team I would consider as elite.

    Truth be told, the players in our League that could be deemed elite don’t even consider travel ball. They have been in our League since TBall and stay until they age out. I could bragg and say it is all due to our coaches….but its really all about that players drive and their dads. On a day where there is no practice or games, they are still at the fields hitting fielding and running. I think far more major leaguers attribute their success to their Dads or a high school or college coach than they do to a travel ball team they played on when they are 10.

    My son is 13 and plays little league and travel. Is he elite? Probably not. He loves the game and was willing to spend a year as a practice only player to even make a team. His coach made it clear. “We are not here to groom you for scholarships or the draft. Our goal is to help you make a high school team. What you do from there is up to you”. That said it all for me. They rarely travel far and they don’t play in every tournament. As their coach says….college or pro scouts are not looking at 12 and 13 year olds.

    Reality is key. The percentage of players that will earn a full ride scholarship (or make the Varsity High school team for that matter) should be a wake up call. Only 0.5% of high school players will be drafted by the majos….only 5.6 % will be invited to play college ball scholarship or not. Only 10% of those will be drafted and then only a small percentage of those will play at the AAA or Major level.

    If every player who’s parent came to me or any other Little League coach claiming their player was elite truly was elite….Major League Baseball would have to add teams annually to accommodate them all.

  27. Greg

    All very thoughtful wise responses. The scary thing about travel ball now is that the kids playing are so young. I’ve seen a 5u team playing in a circuit full of 6u travel ball teams! What parents don’t realize is that they are playing the same teams in different local locations every weekend. Has travel ball become the new rec. ball? How do local Pony or Little League organizations keep it together with the astronomical growth in travel ball players? It’s hard to say no to my 7 yr. old who is surrounded by kids wearing their travel ball hats or jerseys instead of the local rec. league “Cardinals” or “Dodgers” jerseys. Travel ball has definitely become the norm and I am still struggling as an “old school” type of dad to embrace it. What would you do as a father living in today’s baseball society?

    • Greg:

      Very thoughtful response. Appreciate you reading and commenting.

      In response to your question at the conclusion of your comment, I’ll say first and foremost that I sympathize with you regarding the fact that your son is surrounded by peers participating in travel ball. It’s a difficult situation.

      I have two sons. My approach to travel ball with my second son was a bit different than with the first. I guess you could say I was a bit more seasoned and wary of the hard sell of the programs. We didn’t travel as much and were able to play locally, which cut down on costs some. But, the cost of the program had gone up, too.

      Use your best judgment, taking into consideration the quality of play in your particular area. In any case, I’d hold off until your son was 11 or 12, and even then I’d be careful regarding the amount of play. If the team that wants your son is charging a lot, chances are the dollars are going into the pockets of the coaches. Uniforms could be scaled way back too.

      Good luck. And, in any case, enjoy the game with your boy!!

      • There are 11.7 college baseball scholarships/D1 team. There are usually 30+ kids on a D1 roster. Based upon a hypothetical annual college tuition of $50K * 11.7 = $585K to split between 35 players (or more) on a roster or almost $17K/player on average. However; some will get more, some will get less. If the player is a also a good student (with AP and honors courses in HS) with high SAT/ACT scores, academic money will help close the gap.

        Attached is a good website that I found that list all collegiate baseball programs in ’14, w/# on roster average athletic scholarship awarded, average academic $ awarded, minimum scores (SAT).

      • Kenneth:

        In D1, only 27 of the 35 players can receive athletic aid. That means 8 players on the roster get no athletic monies, hence the term “preferred walk-on.”

        You are correct regarding HS players and high academic achievement. College coaches love to get players who get academic scholarships. It frees up more monies to lure players to the program.

        Appreciate you reading the blog and your comment as well.

  28. 1stWorldProblems

    Little League and Pony are dying a slow death in Southern California. I love our little league and it has a good supply of talent but losing it every day to Travel ball. The biggest problem with little league for a good player is: competition is not guaranteed. All-Stars is a popularity contest and often I see better players not getting picked because their parents didn’t coach or fulfill some league position. My son is 8 and he plays Rec ball during the Spring and with a casual Travel Ball team in the Summer, Fall and Winter. The coach donates his time and the only fees we have are nickel and dime stuff (renting fields, batting cages…etc.) We might play a tournament a month and do scrimmages just as often. My son has improved so much from this experience because we practice twice a week and we get to gauge our play against the top travel teams and for a scrapper team like ours we hold our own. To each their own and like Yogi Berra says, “…. it keeps that parents off the streets…” 😀

  29. csmithharvest

    A great article full of truth! As a father of a gifted player, I can attest to the travel ball culture having been bombarded by “offers” for my son to join elite 10U teams. My son not only has God-given skills, but loves baseball for what it is – a game. To be blunt, I despise the vicarious atmosphere of parents in the travel ball clique. That’s just how I see it. I have MLB clients who would affirm what I’m saying. In fact, one compared it to the “pageant mom types.”I don’t believe many of them hear the selfish and self-glorifying motives that often surface in the “benefits” they say come with travel ball. So, if you want to understand the travel ball phenomenon, look more at the parents than kids – kids who’d likely rather spend their summer catching fireflies, fishing, playinh at the community pool, the beach, eating ice cream, etc. I look at baseball like I do church. Some parents think if they drop their kids off with a youth pastor, they’ve done their part to expose their kids to what they need while trusting on the “skills” of the youth pastor to mold the child in the image of Christ. No friends, the PARENT(S) calling is to invest the time and attention to teach the Scriptures, pray and live out the Gospel before their children. In like manner, what a kid gets at home (practice, studying the game, encouragement, and character-building) from Mom’s and Dad’s who love them not only is what matters, but offers the best foundation for any kid, especially baseball playing kids this topic adftesses. My son’s skills are complimented by coaches from Little League/Recreation teams, skills camp mid-summer, books, youtube of all places, and the time HE asks for help (back yard time building memories that matter). God forbid we endorse what travel ball is becoming in so many communities – idolatry . . . paid in full, paid by debt, paid with money that should be used for the poor/needy and so many other causes. Lest one thinks there’s any bitterness from some “bad travel ball experience,” as I said earlier, my son doesn’t play travel ball . . . he just strikes out a majority of those players who also play travel ball in the rec league early spring. He’s led the league in KOs, games won, and been an All Star three years running so my son, and your son(s), can not only survive without travel ball, but thrive in spite of it when, as a parent, your priorities are where they need to be. This is a challenge, a loving warning and hopefully an encouraging affirmation for a few who understand exactly what I’m talking about.

  30. Ryno

    The idea behind travel ball, I feel, has gone through the up & down roller coaster as many things do. Travel baseball has exploded since the times of my days playing in-house park leagues against friends and classmates. However, travel ball should not be looked at as a tyrant that is invading the communities to “steal” players, if you will. It is simply another avenue for those that wish to play at another level or see what else is out there beyond a park.

    It is up to the parent to do research on the travel team that they try out for. If it is a “daddy” league coach, then that may be something they want to go after. However, if coaches are paid (not all are high stipend, mind you) then that may be a better avenue as you are working with coaches who have more than likely gone through the ranks of college, semi-pro and professional baseball and know how to instruct properly. Ask questions at a tryout: what is the program’s philosophy? How many coaches per team? What is the winter workout schedule look like? Fees? Travel locations, etc. Most teams will be upfront with you, others will hide this and move on to the next kid…use your judgement and common sense. If it is “See ball/hit ball” you may want to move on. Do they express concepts of opposite field hitting? How about the mental approach to pitching and base running?

    The concept, or at least it should be, is to have kids on a team play competition from all over, whether that is local towns or national tournaments. Travel baseball allows kids to understand what work ethic is, how to compete and to win or lose as a team. With this in mind, the common goal should be for each player to make their high school roster as a freshman and hopefully continue up the levels and possibly play in college. Now, parents may think it is either D1 or bust, which is a problem. If your son (or daughter for softball) can receive an athletic scholarship to earn a degree and play a sport they love, why not take advantage of that? The hard work that was instilled in them in the previous six years by playing travel baseball, has allowed their mechanics to develop and now be rewarded. Sure, in-house is fun and some are noticed, but others who train year round often pass these kids up, not necessarily because they are “elite” (not everyone plays nor should be on an elite team either) but because they are conditioned and receive proper coaching.

    There is more to travel baseball/softball then on the field. Concepts of being a better young man or woman and understanding respect, teamwork, winning and losing and how to cope with success (similar to life…we all apply for jobs and try to compete against others). Everything is not a lie…you just have to shuffle through the crap some tell you.

  31. Thanks for writing this. As some one new to the baseball community – I’ve asked the same questions regarding travel ball and it’s necessity. As it is I get pressure to move my son rec ball leagues because competition is ‘better’. Which I have a hard time believing since I know that what parents think aren’t always aligned with reality. My son is good and loves baseball, so it is hard to protect his love of the game and development. It helps to read from those who have gone through – and their thoughts; as well as the many commentators.
    Thanks again.

  32. Steve

    If you are contemplating a travel team you also have to take into account which team your contract is for…most facilities that draw a larger number of players will have multiple teams at different divisions – D1, D1A, D2, or open division/super/diamond division. They all have different levels. So if they have tryout for a certain age group and for example say 27 show up. They will take the best 12 of that group and offer spots for their D1 team. The remaining players will get contracts for the D2 team. Remember they are a business first…so they will rather create another team of the lower talented players so they keep that cash flow because those parents are willing to pay. They need acceptance within a few days so you don’t commit somewhere else. That D2 team may be no more talented than your basic rec team. So keep that in mind if you are looking for your player to advance their ability with a higher competitive level of play. D1 would have it but D2 will be the players that they didn’t want to lose money on.

    Other issues are if the team you want to join has a majority of returning players. What positions opened up and do they match your player. Meaning if they have a first baseman that’s proven themselves for the past 2 years and your player is a first baseman then you will have a hard time “breaking” into your preferred spot. If they only have 1 catcher and your player is a stud catcher then you are in.

    In the end you have to ask yourself, “why” do you want your player to be on a travel team. Find out why players/coaches have left the program. If your goals match the organization’s goals then you found yourself a match. If not then look elsewhere…

  33. Cindy

    We play travel ball due being an outcast during rec ball or in our case “daddy ball”.. My son has more opportunities to play more positions on the travel team than in rec ball..yes the price is crazy along with travel to games and practices but without the travel team my child would never bee where he is now.. In rec ball every coach is the same year after year and the coaching we get in travel ball chages depending in the teams we play..

    • Christine Allard

      I could not agree more, Cindy. Little League was a huge disappointment. I know of several talented children who have left the league and won’t return to baseball. My son is currently practicing with a travel team in hopes that he makes it on one day. I see a lot of professional coaching, coaches that teach respect of the game and grateful parents. There are kids that don’t have dads…and they still get to play.

  34. Jamie


    Many of you are missing the point entirely. 95 out of 100 of your kids are not going to play at the next level. The only reason that the rec leagues are so bad is because all of the average players have left for a sub par travel team. If you want to change it you have to refuse to play the travel game. I live in west Tennessee and 20 years ago there were 3 high school aged travel teams that covered this 3rd of the state. Out of those teams most went on to play college ball. The team I was involved with every player went to college or was drafted. Travel ball meant going to other states and playing their states best 3-5 teams. All of us still played summer league ball, high school ball, American legion ball, and all stars. Our families could travel 5 to 20 minutes to the ball fields and watch our games and then leave and go home or go experience something else as a family unit. Now in Memphis alone there are probably 100 teams within a 20 mile radius. Many times they will travel out of state and play in a 16 team tournament with 12 teams from Memphis. It doesn’t make since. Companies used to sponsor teams and towns kept up the fields. Now you pay large amounts of money to play the same kids you would be playing anyhow. That’s the reason they have to have different levels in travel ball because even the coaches know that the majority aren’t that good. I promise you that they will take your money as long as you are willing to fork it over.

    Another thing I cannot believe parents buy into is the notion that their child has to focus solely on 1 sport. That is a bunch of hogwash and in my opinion if your coach is pressuring your child to specialize at 1 sport at the sake of all his other interest it might be time to look for a new team or coach.

    I understand wanting the best for your child because I have 2 athletic boys who love any sport involving a ball. They may play at the next level or they may not but they will experience adversity because I believe it builds character and they will know that their relationship with God is much more important they spending every Sunday playing in some watered down travel league.

  35. jess

    Loved the article. My oldest daughter never played travel nor did we spend the money on it. She loved her weekends with her friends and being a kid too much to sit on hot or cold ball fields. She also played basketball and volleyball and made sure to make all of those practices and events. She played high school softball as a 4 year starting middle infielder and become a great bunter. She. Just finished two years all paid at JUCO college in our town. No its not D1 but it was perfect for our family. She lived at home 2 more years, got her feet wet at college, and continued to play a game she loved and we got to watch! Best of all it was free. If you are looking for free college you do not have to pay thousands for travel. It is all about what your true goal is. As a side note I would like to add that three girls on her college team traveled for years, received partial d1 scholarships…. hated it…. and moved to JUCO to enjoy softball. I think in the end it is what each family wants and can handle financially and emotionally. There is not just a money sacrifice here. You are also sacrificing the joys of a lazy summer weekend as a kid. Think about it… some kids don’the get a free weekend from may thru august. Where did childhood go? Will there be regret later? Free college happened for us.. we just practiced in the evening and did skill work. Just wanted to put that out there for those who think they are cheating your kid. You are not.

  36. Brian

    Just wanted to add something that I’ve barely seen mentioned anywhere in this discussion. FUN! Is your kid playing travel ball having any fun? Are you having any fun going to his / her games? My son plays 12U travel ball and loves it. And we love going to the games and watching him compete on a higher level. It’s pretty awesome! Whether or not he makes it to the next level is beside the point for us, we’re having a blast as a family so the extra expense is well worth it. My advice is simple, forget about prepping for some “next level” , go out and find an activity your child loves – then support that to the fullest extent you’re able to.

  37. Bob


    I enjoyed your article and it really put things into perspective. My son is a sophomore this year, play junior varsity as a freshman. Very good player. I wanted to get him out of the little league, junior league setting to let him see other talent. He has played on a couple of local travel teams where we may travel no more than an hour or so.Coaches are vested a little more. More than just dads. Hasn’t been too bad yet. Range from $500 to $800 for the summer. I have looked into other travel teams and it is really discouraging at how much it costs to participate and whether the dividends will show or not. It’s definitely a “pay to play system out there. So I try to find the best options for him to keep him playing and getting time on the field and his reps. I have always told him that if you have skills, someone will notice and find you. May be a little harder, but if you shine on your high school team, word gets around. Hopefully!!!! I have tried to get him to explore other sports but he hasn’t shown much interest. He’s a very good athlete and picks any sport up fairly easily, but he has chosen baseball and loves it.

    Actually, it took a while to really define whether baseball was more than just a past time with him. I know he really enjoys playing but it wasn’t until the last year or so where i saw a change in him where I realized that this was more than a passing interests. He has fun playing and enjoys the practice segment of the game as well. He’s adding conditioning and training to his practice regiment . I believe I found an outlet with a Legion team in the area that has a good track record of kids moving onto college and coaches that seem to be more interested in helping the kids grow their skills. It’s a little more than I have paid in the past but I’m willing to give it a try to see what happens.

  38. Drew

    Great Article but I believe there can be a balance between travel and rec ball. I am a manager of a 9U travel team. I am a Dad and did not make any money as the manager. I believe at this age the primary function of our staff is to keep baseball fun. Everybody on our team plays; nobody gets better playing two innings in right field. It is just a race to puberty anyways. I do not have any tryouts for my team as it is invite only. I have told every parent I will not cut any kid from the team. We are trying to form friendships for life. I do not believe in tournaments, they are cost and time prohibitive. I am only playing 6 scrimmages this spring bringing the cost of our spring season to about $50 for 18 practices and 6 scrimmages. Our practices have one hour of skills and than finished with sandlot scrimmage. The kids can’t wait to scrimmage and all have returned from last year to play. Every player on my team plays in our local rec league. The organization I am involved with was created by the local high school coach so they all have exposure to high school. We make no promises beyond that!
    I believe everything you have said about travel ball is true and out there but I have found other managers who have my philosophy. You can make a path providing better baseball competition for your child without the high cost or extensive time if you look for it.

    • Drew:

      It sounds as though you have the correct perspective regarding travel ball. I will say, though, it’ll be tough to keep the philosophy you’re using because many kids will be lured away to teams or programs that make promises and false claims. I encourage you to keep this philosophy, though, and do your best to keep baseball enjoyable for all involved. At some point, the system will break, and I hope you’re leading the way!

      Good luck in the upcoming season and enjoy time with your kids and the families. Thanks for commenting and contributing to the discussion.

  39. Jay

    Great article!
    A lot of the comments stated children will not make a high school team unless they play travel ball. I strongly disagree with that statement. If your child is gifted enough they will be noticed and make the team. There are some coaches that are the exception to this thought process but high school coaches want to win and they try to put talented players in positions that will help them win.
    Fortunately my son has proved my thought process. He is a 9th grader at his high school and made the Varsity team and has never played a single travel baseball game in his life. Not to mention he played JV basketball for his high school and missed out on 3 months of baseball conditioning before tryouts. He played little league since he was 5 and played 2 years for his middle school. Our little league teams won the district multiple years and were runner up in the state finals 2 different years. Little League has been the best experience! I help coach and strongly value this experience during my sons childhood. He will play again this year once his high school season is over and he is overly excited about playing with his friends and teammates from last season.
    Make it about the child. Not the culture, latest fad or what you want. As a parent, read your child and realize what will benefit THEM the most.

  40. Scott

    Thanks for the great article. I have a ten year old son who plays Little League and is a very good ball player. He’s in All Stars now, and from what I see, he belongs. We’re approached by travel teams often. I’m very hesitant. I do think the competition would be beneficial to him, however I played in HS, and work with him, as well as pay for a hitting/pitching coach. It’s not ridiculous money, it’s just to make him better and he loves it. What I don’t want is for him to tell me he hates baseball when he’s 15, because he played travel ball year round. The costs are obscene, your free time is toast, and your kid doesn’t have a chance to rest. Or better yet, use different muscles and play other sports. My son’s arm is a bit tired as it is, he pitched quite a bit for his team; I see the drop off. I think I’ll forego travel, and in fact, fall ball as well. He can take a break, and work with his coach on the side. Great athletes/players will rise to the top, period.

  41. gina

    As a grandparent of a travel ball softball player, I feel the prices and fees are outrageous and have seen their family do without ALOT because they believe the hype that college scouts are looking at these kids at 12 years old. Getting rich on children’s dreams is shameful and lowest form of robbery I have seen and if I could convince them to take her out I would and believe me I have tried. It is also a crying shame that families with lower incomes but excellent ball players don’t have a chance to play if they wanted. No its high society spoiled rich kids. Every time I see one grandchild go without so the other can play travel ball I just want to scream.

  42. I’d like to hear from someone whose child made varsity and did not play on a travel team. Sorry if I overlooked a story here..this blog has a lot of action!

    Both my Girls play rec league ball. The older one plays on her middle school team as well. Both are among the top 1 or 2 players on their respective rec teams for the last few seasons (they play in the Spring and Fall). I’ve already been told over and over that they would have to play travel now if they want to make high school varsity. And I’ve read that here as well. We simply can’t, and won’t, put them on travel teams. But they have been invited to practice and play as guests (and we have trouble committing to those opportunities). In addition to everything said here about the challenges of travel ball: Money, time, no guarantees…I have another concern: The safety and wellbeing of my Girls. Call me a helicopter parent or a smother mother, but I would not feel comfortable having my children travel, without me or my husband, on those occasions we may not be able to take off from work or if we have other obligations. We don’t necessarily feel their chaperones would prey on them (although anything is possible), but there are others (tournament officials and staff, hotel staff, etc.) who have access to the kids and may find it the prime opportunity to take advantage. I would very much like to have my children make varsity when they get to high school. We do involved them in local softball clinics and camps when possible.

    Any advise out there from anyone whose son or daughter never played travel ball, but made it to varsity?

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