What’s Wrong with Travel Ball?

For the 11th installment we are heading into another multi layered area. Please be patient if your biggest complaint isn’t included in this blog, there are a more to come.

11. Organizations, part 1.

Over the last decade or so there has been a fundamental change in the way travel ball teams were created. Once upon a time (the fairytale beginning is intentional) when someone wanted to create their own travel team one of the first things they had to do was come up with a catchy and creative name. Then after they disabled the spell check on their computer because whatever name they created had to have the letter Z somewhere it doesn’t belong they would go to work on assembling a team, picking team colors and putting together a schedule. (Please check out my What’s in a Name blog from 2017).

Fast forward to the modern day where the path to creating a new team appears to be a whole lot different. Now we have to decide which one of the “big time” organizations we want to join. And now instead of disabling our spell check we have to engage our checkbook because joining almost any of the high powered national organizations has a price tag attached to it. Don’t worry, much more about that to come in a later installment.

I’m so old I was around the game when there was only the original, one and only, Worth Firecrackers team. Yes, you heard that right, there was only one Firecrackers team, I know it’s hard to believe but really only one. Now my goal isn’t to blast the Firecrackers because they have accomplished an awful lot in the travel ball world but I think they are a good example of how much things have changed.

Of course back then there was only one of a lot of the teams we now recognize as the power organizations. So when you talked about watching Batbusters or Firecrackers or Gordon’s Panthers playing you didn’t need to have a coaches name attached to the team name because there was only one, and they were always really really good! I remember watching players on those 18 Gold teams who later played on Team USA in the Olympics. Some, like Caitlyn Lowe among others, are now coaching high powered college programs, yes I am that old!!!

I was also around when the second Firecrackers team was born and it was born from the thinking that has created all the big organizations we see today. The idea that brand recognition was a good thing for helping our players get recruited and to get our team into better tournaments. Don’t worry a lot more to come on that idea in a later installment. But I felt it was important for everyone to understand that I’m not writing a revisionist version of what I think happened but rather a boots on the ground perspective of how this fundamental shift occurred. At the time the brand recognition thing was a really good idea but as with all things too much of almost anything can become a bad thing. More on the “too much” idea to come.

If I had a dollar for every coach that has said, “we had to have a nationally known name to get players to join our team”, I’d be living on a private island somewhere. But is it really true?? I think it is absolutely a “chicken or egg” discussion. We have come to believe that we need a big name to get players because so many people have been saying it for so long (most of them benefitting from this belief) that it has become the accepted idea. We’ve talked it into being.

So as we’ll discuss in a the next several blogs there are a lot of fundamental issues to the true necessity of being a part of a big organization. And if the benefits are real or perceived. Like if it’s worth the money, or why so many teams feel the need to jump from this years “perfect” organization to another year after year, or why it cost’s so much money. And on the list goes…

But before we venture into those discussions, here is when I knew this thing had gotten out of control. Around 2008, yes that long ago, I was recruiting a very talented player from California. She played for a Firecrackers team, which was pretty common for many California players at that time. She sent me her schedule for an upcoming Surf City Showcase so I could be sure to see her play a couple games while I was out there. So have you figured our where this is going? Come on, I know you know where this is going…game one versus Firecrackers Ernie, game two versus Firecrackers Bennie, game three versus Firecracker Fred, game 4 versus Firecrackers Sally, game 5 versus Firecrackers Ed (not the real coach names but you get the point). Her Firecrackers team was playing 5 games all against other teams in their same organization! And of course, no one coordinated the uniforms so you had a couple games where both teams had the exact same uniform combinations on. Why that was way too confusing in a later episode.

Before anyone gets offended, I’m not blasting the Firecrackers, just pointing out that they are certainly a major player in the fundamental change that has taken place in the how travel ball works in the modern world. There are a bunch more with Batbusters, Glory, Impact Gold, Georgia Impact, Hotshots, Mojo, Fury Platinum, EC Bullets and many more that now have a national presence. So there are plenty of organizations in the discussion but Firecrackers created the model that many others now follow. We now live in a world where organizations have hundreds of teams all around the country. Some of the team names make a little more sense because there is no state or city in the organization name but, again, more on that to come soon. But no matter what, big organizations are here to stay. Let’s revisit that statement after we conclude this discussion and you can tell me if you think it’s a good thing or not!

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?