Larkfield-Northport Little League Board Member and Northport Varsity Baseball Coach Jim DeRosa gives us his perspective on what parents should consider before making the leap to travel baseball or softball.
To Travel or Not to Travel that is the question. Travel Baseball/Softball that is. Should your child play travel baseball/softball? And if so, when? If you are reading this, you may be drawing conclusions already. Conclusions that this will be an editorial railing against travel baseball/softball organizations because it is written by a Board Member of Larkfield-Northport Little League. It may surprise you to learn that this Board Member does believe there may come a time for your son or daughter to join a travel organization and leave little league. My goal here is to offer some of my insights into the matter, and hopefully allow you to reflect on what is best for your son and daughter with regards to “travel” baseball or softball.
So, why listen to what I have to say? Well, baseball has been a part of my life for over 40 years. I am currently coaching varsity baseball at Northport High School, and have been coaching high school baseball for the past 22 years. I co-own and direct Tigers Baseball Camp which has been operating in our community since 2005. I played 4 years of D-1 baseball and had a very modest professional baseball career, playing 2 years in the Northeast Independent League. I also played Little League baseball until I was 13 years old. I proudly serve on the Board for our little league serving as Commissioner of Baseball. More importantly, I am a Dad of two children who I have coached on the Little League level. Currently, I am coaching my son’s 14u travel team called the East Northport Knights, yes, a travel team! I have friends and acquaintances in the baseball world who own travel organizations and manage travel teams.
What is travel? That question is actually not as simple as you would think. Let’s take the team I am running and coaching, the East Northport Knights. We are a “travel” team, but are not what would be considered a “travel” organization. We play on Long Island in Nassau and Suffolk. The Knights will play in tournaments and leagues against other “travel” organizations throughout the summer and fall. We also conduct workouts and an indoor facility in the winter. The East Northport Knights and teams like them are usually run by dedicated parents who have a core group of players that want to stay together and the cost is relatively lower. These types of teams are more the exception than the rule. Most “travel” teams are a part of a larger organization. Quite simply, they are a business and they want volume. Some of these organizations in my opinion are very reputable, honest, and offer solid baseball instruction. Some of them, in my opinion, are not. Many, if not all, will cost anywhere between $2500 to $5000 for a season. Most “travel” organizations will hold a “tryout” either in fall or the winter. I put tryout in quotes because a potential player is essentially trying out to see what team he or she will be placed. There is no real risk of “being cut”. If you write a check or put down a credit card, your child will be placed on a team.
Which team will your child be placed on if you join a travel organization? That depends on the assessment of your child’s skills in the “tryout”. Most if not all travel organizations have more than 1 team in an age group. Most travel organizations will logically promote and market their A-level or best teams. Many of the web sites are impressive promoting the number of players who have gone off to play college baseball or softball as well as the number of former college and pro players who may serve as an instructor or a coach. Yes, some organizations do have good baseball/softball people serving as instructors and coaches. That does not necessarily mean your child will be coached by them. There have been more than a few times when the East Northport Knights played against a typical travel organization with two “Dads” coaching the team. This begs the question, What are you paying for if your child is on one of these teams and not on a team with professional coaches? You are paying for the elite teams and elite players in that organization to “travel” the country, play in highly competitive tournaments and leagues and receive exposure. That is what is promoted on the web sites and brochures.
This is why I advise so many parents to consider these pitfalls before joining a travel organization. I came to love the game of baseball by playing little league. It fosters community, volunteerism, sportsmanship, and fair play. These are traits as we all know have been lacking in the world today. My son and daughter loved their little league days. A little league Saturday was always something the whole family looked forward to, and the field was only 5 minutes away. Little League even offers a slice of travel. If your child is selected they can play in the District 34 and Williamsport tournaments in the summer.
Yes, if your child improves and shows to be a skilled player, considering “travel” could and probably should be an option. Many of my high school players now play on competitive travel teams, and I do believe that at some point a transition from Little League to “travel” is warranted and recommended. There are also parents who are shocked when their son is cut from the high school baseball team because they have been paying and playing “travel” since they were 8 years old. When I hear about a 7, 8, or 9 year-old playing “travel”, I have to admit, I cringe. Because more often than not, these travel organizations are taking advantage of parents' naivety. According to scholarshipstats.com only about 7% of high school athletes or 1 in 13 will play in the NCAA. Fewer than 2% of NCAA student-athletes go on to be professional athletes. (source: www.nfhs.org) From 1981-2019, 17.6 percent of players who were drafted and signed to play minor league baseball ended up making it to the majors. (sources- baseballamerica.com) In 2016, the Northport Varsity Baseball team made it to the Suffolk County finals and was ranked 4th in the State. That team was a magical group of young men who set their egos aside and played for the guy next to them. It was also a very talented team of baseball players. There were only two D-1 college players on that roster. My point- Don’t rush it. There is no set formula. You may be raising a D-1 athlete. But odds are you aren’t. Odds are, you are raising a great kid who just loves to play baseball/softball. Most players learn to love baseball/softball in little league first. I did.