What’s Wrong with Travel Ball?

We’re rounding the bend and heading into the homestretch on this series of blogs but I do reserve the right to start again if something else comes to my attention. For all of the readers who want me to write a series about “What’s Wrong with Old Coaches Who Complain Too Much” I have taken your comments under consideration and will add that one to the list of future topics!!

20. Not Enough Softball.

What do you mean, we play every weekend, how can that not be enough softball, you say?

Yes you are playing every weekend but there are two things that are conspiring to create this situation. Or at least what I perceive to be a real problem. You all spend a lot of time and money on travel ball. You chase all over God’s green earth to play this beautiful game. And when you get there you are fooled into thinking you are getting your moneys worth. So who’s to blame for this trickeration?

Number 1. Time limits! When you sign up to play in a tournament you understand that you are going to get to play a minimum number of games. We see it all the time, 5 game guarantee, 7 game guarantee, 3gg and single elimination and so on. And all that sounds good until you realize that all those guaranteed games are 60/70/75 ish minute drop dead time limit games.

Now I get it, if we didn’t have time limits tournaments might never end (which many times it stills seems like they never do). The game times would be impossible to manage. Less teams could play in the tournaments. Umpires would get overworked and on and on the list goes. But in many cases that means that we are playing less innings which means less at bats for hitters and less innings on the field for the defense.

Does it really make sense to see a player at the bottom of the order only hit once in many games. So they get to play 7 games but get 8 or 9 at bats. Doesn’t seem like much softball to me.

Number 2. Teams waste way too much time. If you listen to our Everything Fastpitch podcast you’ve heard my recent rants about teams wasting too much time, so this is a review for you, but for those of you who haven’t found the podcast yet, let me share my most recent experience.

I went to watch a couple of the players I work with play in a tournament and was appalled by how much time was being wasted. In a 70 minute drop dead game, where the time starts at the home plate meeting, they spent 7 minutes before the first pitch on ground rules and basic chit chat. After the visiting finished hitting it took them 4 minutes to get out on defense and throw the first pitch. After they home team hit, it took them 3 minutes before the next hitter saw the first pitch. So between the meeting and change over time between innings these two teams wasted 14 minutes of a 70 minute game. Math has never been my greatest strength but that sounds like 20% of the game was spent on non-softball. Of course, the trend of wasting time continued throughout the rest of the game. Moral to the story, they played 2 1/2 innings because the home team was winning so they saw no need to hit during their last at bat even though there was still a couple minutes on the clock!

I know there are rules about one minute between innings and all that other stuff to keep the game moving but the only time umpires are incentivized to enforce them is when there is no time limit. One of the umpires working the game I detailed above was very open when I asked him about the pace of play. In summary, he stated that if the teams aren’t going to hustle he doesn’t feel like it’s worth it to try to make them. He’s already getting yelled at for every pitch call and every play on the field so why add another thing that people can be mad at him for. And he gets paid for the game, not the number of at bats a player gets or the number of innings that the teams play. Sad but true assessment of the situation, in my opinion.

For the record, I used to think the whole problem was time limits! I lived in the fantasy world where I thought the greedy tournament directors were trying to squeeze every drop of profit they could out of the event and the time limit was just one more way to accomplish it. Now time limits are a part of running a profitable tournament that has some chance of staying on schedule but my hatred of the institution of time limits was really misplaced.

The real problem is a little more complicated and much harder to solve because it falls into our usual problem of Human Nature!

Kids play so many games that they don’t value them the way I think they should. Why hustle in and out when you know you’re going to play a whole lot more games today. Many parents are more focused on the pop up tent village where they can enjoy each others company and have a great social gathering at the ball field rather than focusing on how many at bats or inning their kid gets to play. Many coaches are worrying more about how to get through the schedule with their limited roster sizes (much more on that in the next episode)and lack of pitching so it behooves them to play less softball to allow them to manage their pitching. Umpires are already overbooked and overworked so they have zero motivation to push the pace of play because they know the less softball that actually gets played the less abuse they are likely to endure. For the umpires it’s much more fun to chit chat with the coaches before the game than to have to argue with them during the game. And of course, tournament directors want to play as many short and sweet games as possible because it creates to illusion that the teams are getting their moneys worth (much more on that in the next episode)!

So next time you think about how tired you and your kids are after a long day at the ballpark I would ask you to do a little book keeping. How many games did your team play? How many at bats did your kids get in those games? Or how many innings did your pitcher get to pitch? Or how many innings was your kid on defense? Now I get it, you’re all really tired from the amazing day at the ballpark but how much of that tired is really from the amount of SOFTBALL you got to play? It’s going to shock you how little that number really is.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?