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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mark Moore: The Big Lie: Travel Baseball

Mom, we’re coming home…they’re throwing us a $3500 curveball.

In 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.

...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.

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.

Repoz Posted: June 12, 2014 at 06:16 AM | 14 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: travel baseball

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Bhaakon Posted: June 12, 2014 at 06:36 AM (#4723813)
Spend your money prepping for the ACT.


Or don't. Standardized test prepping is only slightly less of a scam.
   2. The_Ex Posted: June 12, 2014 at 09:01 AM (#4723841)
There are a lot of people making money off the dreams of parents, in a lot of sports. The parents really need to be realistic about their kid or they can get fleeced.
   3. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: June 12, 2014 at 09:25 AM (#4723867)
There are a lot of people making money off the dreams of parents, in a lot of sports. The parents really need to be realistic about their kid or they can get fleeced.


You ain't kidding. I'd thus far managed to get trapped by the Youth Sports Industrial Complex, but this year SoSH III is playing his first bit of travel ball. But he's doing it primarily because a) that's where his baseball playing friends are and b) I told the coach that we were only interested if it wasn't one of those deals where we were spending every weekend in hotels. In his case, all but one tournament is local, and the upfront costs aren't too much higher than what we'd pay for Little League. But some of the stories I hear are pretty damn sickening, and clearly there are an awful lot of adults preying on some outlandish expectations from ma and pa.

Whether ACT prep is a good deal or not I can't say, but I've got no complaints that studying hard is in fact the way to go (we'll surely be paying a lot less for the better college non-athlete SoSH Jr. got into than we will for our youngest).
   4. Pat Rapper's Delight Posted: June 12, 2014 at 10:21 AM (#4723912)
Neither of my kids got caught up in the Youth Sports Industrial Complex either, but I understand things are even worse in youth soccer where the costs are the same but the big payoff isn't the dream of a multi-million dollar contract.... it's a full-ride athletic scholarship, of which extremely few are doled out to the soccer team.
   5. Colin Posted: June 12, 2014 at 11:35 AM (#4723965)
My kid plays junior tennis. He's good at it, and the costs associated with it are significant - tournament fees, gas and food and hotels for overnight at multi-day tournaments, shoes, racquets, restringing, plus lessons, clinics and court time costs in the winter. It all adds up.

We have no goal of a college scholarship or the pros; we haven't focused him full-time on tennis. Among tennis parents I consider us pretty moderate in our commitment. And it's still damned expensive. Anyone thinking college scholarship would be better off banking the money they'll spend over a decade.

There is a kid in our district who's amazingly good - just turned nine years old and he routinely wins 12 and under tournaments, has won some in the 14s. He plays multiple events per month, including midwest and national events out of state. I can't even imagine how much that family spends.
   6. dejarouehg Posted: June 12, 2014 at 11:41 AM (#4723972)
Spend your money prepping for the ACT.
This is sometimes true. Spent $2400 ($120/hr) for each child on ACT/SAT prep. Helped both significantly though my eldest spit the bit taking the test - anxiety - and once she was in college she felt better that it would never matter again. (College, other than the elites, is the genuine rip-off. How is it that college administrators making $50K can be so smug/nonchalant about charging $55K for their average institution? Well, the joke is on all of us when the tudent loan bubble legitimately bursts and pummels the economy. NOTE TO SON: Consider pursuing bankruptcy law.)

I always believed it was unfair for kids who didn't have the resources to take courses or have a tutor to not know the simple tricks that are part of the standardized tests. Growing up, most of my fellow students took the Kaplan course, but I didn't have the money. Those kids who haven't had the benefit of tutors or take courses should be given an extra 50 points. It is not an even playing field.

My youngest is now is 17U travel. I held off spending the big money until this year b/c he will likely be throwing 90 as a senior. (At 87 now.) He sacrificed putting his all into baseball b/c he bought into our mantra that the money - especially if you don't enjoy certain minority status benefits, which he doesn't - is in the education, certainly moreso than college baseball. He is much more appealing to college coaches because his grades allows them to boost their team's academic index. Does the travel team ($5000 when all is said and done) give him greater access to coaches? I don't know and I have my doubts. They definitely have some ties to some very ordinary colleges.

More frustrating than this is that one coach he met with on a college visit suggested that he participate in a camp b/c he will be flying in for it. That, of course, activated the "Kick Me, I'm a Sucker!" sign on my back and I just shelled out another $1000 for a two-day camp. (No refunds for weather or injury.)

My son is a decent prospect but certainly doesn't possess any unique skill-set (maybe other than in conjunction with the grades and then "unique" is stil a stretch - closer to rare). The 17-year old Kerry Wood's of the world have the option of passing on this stuff. The rest of us should probably pass on it b/c so much of it wreaks of rip-off but then P.T. Barnum starts echoing in our heads.
   7. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: June 12, 2014 at 11:43 AM (#4723975)
I wonder how much better I might have scored on the SAT if I'd had proper preparation...
   8. AROM Posted: June 12, 2014 at 11:50 AM (#4723984)
Well, the joke is on all of us when the tudent loan bubble legitimately bursts and pummels the economy. NOTE TO SON: Consider pursuing bankruptcy law.)


Problem is, it can't burst. And bankruptcy won't do anything for it. That debt will stay with people forever. It's never going to be a sudden shock to the economy like housing was in 2008. Just a drag that will be felt for a long, long time.
   9. VCar Posted: June 12, 2014 at 11:58 AM (#4723992)
Travel ball is a mixed bag in my experience. I run a rec league where we share fields with 7-8 travel teams in the 13-16 age range. Some of the coaches charge big $ and make a living (or at least a good 2nd income) doing it. They're all better coaches than me since they spend more time at it, but with few exceptions they're not worthy of charging parents that much. The top players travel quite a bit and get exposure to good colleges, but I can only think of a handful that have achieved at the D1 level. These guys usually treat the rec league like a red-headed stepchild. A few other travel coaches just do it because their son's playing and only charge enough to cover expenses. Typically their teams are made up of B-level players (upper half of overall talent but not studs) and they usually play within 1 hour of Atlanta. That's ok in my book.
   10. DL from MN Posted: June 12, 2014 at 12:24 PM (#4724020)
Anyone thinking college scholarship would be better off banking the money they'll spend over a decade.


I know someone thinking their child will get a gymnastics scholarship that hasn't figured this one out. Also their child is just smart enough to flunk out of college.
   11. villageidiom Posted: June 12, 2014 at 12:38 PM (#4724034)
A few other travel coaches just do it because their son's playing and only charge enough to cover expenses. Typically their teams are made up of B-level players (upper half of overall talent but not studs) and they usually play within 1 hour of Atlanta. That's ok in my book.
I'm getting the perception that our local travel team is a pyramid scheme, with a new coach every year, that coach being the father of the kid most desperate to make the team that year. One of my son's best friends, after a wholly unspectacular tryout, just made the team this year on the condition that his father be the coach. My understanding is that this is how the "retiring" coach had been recruited last year, and his successor the year prior.
   12. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: June 12, 2014 at 12:46 PM (#4724042)
I'm getting the perception that our local travel team is a pyramid scheme, with a new coach every year, that coach being the father of the kid most desperate to make the team that year. One of my son's best friends, after a wholly unspectacular tryout, just made the team this year on the condition that his father be the coach. My understanding is that this is how the "retiring" coach had been recruited last year, and his successor the year prior.


I think every crazy ass situation possible exists with these teams. At last week's tournament, I made a passing remark to a couple of travel coaches from another team, which they took as an opportunity to unload on how much of a pain in the ass their team's parents are (their frustration was understandable, based on my limited information).

My experience, one spring in, has been pretty positive. Reasonable costs, more games and practice than the Little League offers, some nice instruction from a decent baseball guy. Most important, my son seems to be enjoying it.
   13. DL from MN Posted: June 12, 2014 at 12:52 PM (#4724050)
My understanding is that this is how the "retiring" coach had been recruited last year, and his successor the year prior.


Most people can only put up with one summer of those parents.
   14. dejarouehg Posted: June 12, 2014 at 01:03 PM (#4724057)
I know someone thinking their child will get a gymnastics scholarship that hasn't figured this one out. Also their child is just smart enough to flunk out of college.


I know of two local girls (whose parents happen to own/work at a gymnastics center so the cost factor was significantly reduced) who were on the scholarship track. The better one suffered a broken back in 10th grade - done - and the other I believe just physically broke down including a broken arm (not 100% sure).

This is a brutal sport with some serious wide-ranging ramifications on girls.

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