What’s Wrong with Travel Ball?

We’ve reached the last installment of the organization part of the discussion but for those of you who keep asking when I’ll start writing the “What’s Right with Travel Ball” series I hate to tell you there are several more topics to discuss before we change gears.

18. Team Parking Lot

Okay, I know there are a lot of very successful teams that have players from many different places. Some of you will tell me how great it is that these teams get together for training weekends where they have several practices and get all their work done. You’ll also argue that you have to have players from several states or time zones to compete at the highest level because other organizations are already doing it. Of course, you’ll say I’m old fashioned and just don’t understand the level of commitment and passion that a player and her family has to have to travel all over the country just to be on a great team. And you’d be right about my inability to understand why this is a great thing, because It isn’t a great thing. It’s just a thing!

This is not a new phenomenon, by any stretch of the imagination. I knew how crazy things were getting back when I drove past a players house in Nashville on my way to the airport to watch her play in California for a team from New Jersey in an attempt to get her interested in my school in Tennessee. And she was not alone, there were many players doing the same thing, which spawned the idea of what someone a lot smarter than me coined “Team Parking Lot”. Since this early early experience back 2003 it has just gotten bigger and more prevalent.

Why is this a problem?

I knew you would ask. Well, to answer, number one, it has to cost a ton of money for a player and her family to travel all over the country to be on a team where in many cases there are a lot of great teams much closer to home. Now I get it, for some players their options are limited because of where they live but we all know that is the exception and not the rule. Of course, I know you might not have a national championship calibre team in your area but just think how much stronger all those local teams would be if great players stayed closer to home.

Where this gets really messed up is where you have teams and players that have many options available to them start doing the “Team Parking Lot” thing just because they see other people do it. When we see other teams or players going the route of long distance softball we assume that it is normal. Just the cost of doing business, right? Well, I say wrong. And when you add in the wild card of different school ball seasons where you might have some of your players unavailable for long stretches of your season because they are playing during your traditional travel season. For example, here in Georgia where we play of school ball in the fall I see a bunch of teams playing now, missing several players from their teams because they are playing school ball in most other states. But I guess I shouldn’t worry since for many of these teams playing with pick up players is pretty much what they are already doing.

When I see teams from our Atlanta area bragging about adding this great player or that stud pitcher from some far away place I just shake my head and ask these questions: When there are so many great players in our area why do you need to go hundreds of miles away to get players? And, do you expect me to believe that these players from wherever are really better than the kids we have right here? Or, is it, You can’t get the good players from around here to join your team so you have to cultivate a team from a different state or time zone? Just a couple things for you to ponder.

Why is it an organizational issue?

Remember when we talked about where the money goes? For many organizations, who are building these traveling all star teams, there is the expectation that the organization will be offsetting some if not all of that player’s costs. I have been told by a couple different players, two pitchers, getting a “full ride” to their travel ball team because the team wanted them so badly that they covered all their costs. So where do the dues of the rank and file teams go?

You’re right! I am very old fashioned, but I miss the days where teams were built from the local area. Where they had practices together on a regular basis. Where the only plane tickets were the ones everyone bought to go Colorado or to the nationals at the end of the summer. And for everyone who says that this is just the way it is I have another of my grandfathers gems for you: “Just because you are used to something doesn’t make it right!”

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?