Joys of Playing Travel Ball

 In Stories

The phone rings with a piercing sound that only a wake-up call at 5:30 AM on a Saturday can make. You’ve got to be at the ballpark by 7:00 AM, and in the meantime you need to get everyone else up, feed them, shower, get dressed and leave by 6:45 AM.  Your games are at 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM, and hopefully the team does well so you can catch a few more Z’s the next day, but if not, it could be another early morning. This scenario may not seem like that much fun and sometimes it’s a bear; however, these are some of the memories that families look back on after time and cherish. Road trips, late-night card games, befriending kids from across the country and playing ball at complexes whose surfaces resemble Major League ballparks are a few reasons as to why travel ball is thriving in America. In this day and age, regardless of the talent level, there is a travel ball team suited for your son where good times can be had and memories created.

In this article, we’ll talk about the aspects of travel ball that have contributed to its growth over the last 10-15 years as well as some areas to be cautious about in order to give your family and ballplayer the best chance to have an enjoyable season.

Finding the Right Team

In order to have maximum enjoyment, you must take the time to ensure the team you’ve selected is a good fit for your child. Asking the tough questions ahead of time can help make the season more enjoyable. Here are a few questions we’d recommend asking prior to accepting an invitation:

  • What is your attendance policy for practice/games?
  • Is playing multiple sports encouraged?
  • Will everyone play every game?
  • How often will there be practice?
  • What is the annual financial investment?
  • Is the focus on fun or winning tournaments?

These questions will help set the tone with the player’s family and the organization. As long as both parties know where each person stands, both coaches, players and families optimize their chances to have an enjoyable and memorable season.

Ties That Bind

One of the highlights of playing travel ball is the opportunity to stay in hotels when tournaments take you away from home. For the kids, there’s something magical about staying in a hotel. For most, they’ve got the same amenities at home, but for some reason a hotel pool is more refreshing, hotel TV is more entertaining, and hotel lobbies are transformed into restaurants and movie theaters. Laughter can be heard throughout the entire hotel as well as the pitter patter of footsteps as they congregate from one room to the next until curfew is reached. For the parents, the evening is an opportunity to kick back, relax, partake in some adult conversation and talk about the day’s results and what to look for the next day. For both parents and players, time spent at the hotel is where lifelong friendships are created while parents who share similar interests can truly become a support group for one another.

“The dinners out, the evenings on the beach and by the pool and the hot days at the ball park are all memories that we can all look back on one day and smile.”-Travis Sharp, Parent, Charlestown, IN

“Life is hectic being a travel ball parent but at the end of the day, as exhausted as I am, I reflect on the memories that are constantly being made and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”-Jessica Hinson, Parent, Valrico, FL

The Competitive Aspect

There are thousands of travel ball teams across the globe whose competitive levels can vary drastically. Is one any better than the other? No, they are all great, it just depends on which level is a good fit for the ballplayer and the family. Competition can be fun. From our experiences, we find the kids in our tournaments truly enjoy competing, striving to be the last one standing come Sunday. Some may say, “It’s not about winning” and there is some validity to that statement. If winning is not a priority and your child wants to focus more on the fundamentals or having fun, that’s wonderful, and there are organizations that can accommodate.

“Our kids are very competitive and enjoy playing against the best.  Travel baseball provides that opportunity.”-Tom Kaelin, Parent, Floyds Knobs, IN

The Largest Ball of Yarn

Playing travel ball can be an adventure. Some families make the most of it and leave a day early or stay a day later to sightsee or visit with family they’ve not seen for some time.  There are great times to be had and memories to be made. If you’re playing out of town, check out the local museums, amusement parks or state parks. For those that like to camp, some families will turn the weekend into a campout, finding a campsite close to the tournament which becomes their hotel for the duration. It might be you’ll never visit a certain location again, so make the most of it, see that unique tourist trap, take a picture next to the Largest Ball of Yarn. It is that picture that will help remind you of the fun times you had with your family and travel ball helped to make that happen.

“We have all of our stuff in our camper. We sleep in our own beds. It turns it into a mini vacation for BOTH kids, not just our ballplayer. We can cook more in the camper vs a hotel and we love the family time at the campground.”-Travis Miller, Fusion, 10U CoachFloyds Knobs, IN

Exposure

There are different stages of travel ball throughout your child’s playing career. The younger years typically are spent learning about travel ball, understanding the competition, tournament series, and figuring out how to travel best with your family. The middle years are spent leveraging that early knowledge and beginning to prepare for the high school years. Upon reaching high school, exposure to showcases will begin to occur and coaches from across the country will congregate so they can see as many ball players as possible at once. Good, bad or indifferent, this is the way of the world. Depending on your child’s goals, they may elect to pursue playing at the next level, and showcases are a great way to continue meeting new people and sharing with the world the talents your child possesses. Travel ball helps to prepare young ballplayers for the next level, and the ability for them to go through the process with their friends and families is life-impacting. Not every ballplayer will aspire to play college sports; however, the skill sets learned and character built throughout the rollercoaster ride of travel ball will help shape your child and build character, resiliency, and reinforce a love for the game.

Finances

Travel ball can be expensive. Yes, there are teams that may be sponsored by a corporate entity that help to lessen the financial responsibility for families, but for the majority of parents, travel ball is an investment. I recently read a social media post that addressed the amount of money a parent had spent on travel ball, which she justified it with this comment. “The time I get to spend with my son, going to and from practice and to the tournaments on the weekends is invaluable. Our conversations in the car, adventures in cities we may never return to, have been priceless. Yes, travel ball can be expensive; however, the return is what you make of it and we have benefited so much from the experience.”  This statement truly does lay perspective around the whole experience and although it may not be an inexpensive venture, it is one whose return on investment is through the roof.

Over the course of a ballplayer’s travel ball career, assuming they begin playing at 8 years old, they’ve a good shot at playing close to 500 games (average 50 games/year), allowing them to meet & compete against over 4,000 other ballplayers.  Countless friendships have been and will continue to be created by meeting kids whom you may not have met had it not been for travel ball. At the end of the day, we can’t play the game forever. The friendships formed, life lessons learned and memories with our families is all we have left. Travel ball provides numerous benefits to youth athletes outside of sports that can be overlooked, but in our opinion, the joys of travel ball start and finish outside the lines when it’s all said and done.

“Some people think we are nuts but this is our family time. Spending the weekend cooped up with the family in a hotel and hanging out with the team in the hotel lobby and pool. That’s the stuff these boys will remember. That’s the good stuff.”-Joe Decker, Head Coach Ironmen Baseball, Sellersburg, IN

TRAVEL BALL’S MUST KNOW 

 Top 10 Travel Ball Summer Destinations

(Based on tournaments / teams playing in events)

  1. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  2. Cooperstown, New York
  3. Orlando, Florida
  4. Omaha, Nebraska
  5. Elizabethtown, Kentucky
  6. San Diego, California
  7. Westfield, Indiana
  8. Phoenix, Arizona
  9. Louis, Missouri
  10. Panama City Beach, Florida

Top 10 Travel Ball Summer Team Events

(Based on overall experience – amount of teams, things to do, what’s included, etc.)

  1. Youth Nationals
  2. Cooperstown Dreams Park
  3. Disney International Salute to Baseball
  4. The Ripken Experience
  5. Triple Crown Slumpbuster
  6. Baseball Youth Majors
  7. National Youth Baseball Championships
  8. USA Baseball Futures
  9. USSSA Elite World Series
  10. Xtreme Diamond World Series

Top 7 Travel Ball “NEW” Facilities

(Based on facilities that have been recently built in the last 1-2 years.)

  1. Ballparks of America – Branson, Missouri
  2. Sports Force Park – Sandusky, Ohio
  3. Seminole County Sports Complex – Orlando, Florida
  4. The Ripken Experience – Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
  5. Louisville Slugger Sports Complex – Peoria, Illinois
  6. Choccolocco Park – Oxford, Alabama
  7. The Shipyard Park – Charleston, South Carolina (coming later in 2017)

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Story by John Bennett – Baseball Youth | Twitter:  Baseball Youth

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