Michigan’s Baseball Coach Drops Great Line About Travel Ball

via Twitter

Those of you who’ve been around here for a few years know I’ve been a little triggered over the death of Little League baseball in some towns across the country, especially my hometown Little League — Hardscrabble was the oldest Little League in Ohio until it was closed down a few years ago — which was like playing baseball in a Norman Rockwell painting. The park was perfect for Little League. All my friends played. I met friends for life in that park.

A creek ran through the middle of the park. That’s where we learned crawdads would back up into a cup after you lifted rocks. The 10-to-12-year-old Majors field is something out of dreams. The dugouts were below grade which made you feel special. There was a two-story cinderblock press box type structure where batters were announced. When I say the place was perfect for Little League, it’s no lie.

And then came the era where dads thought their kids needed to play travel ball — I’m so sick of those words used together — to get Little Colton in front of the people who’ll make college scholarship decisions down the road even though Colton is 11 and will likely end up hating the sport by high school. Meanwhile, Little Colton’s parents are dropping a grand each weekend to get him in front of the scouts. Blah, blah, blah.

It’s all just a huge scam that has been run on vulnerable parents and makes me wish I would’ve thought of the legal scam back before the economy crashed. Parents thought regular season Little League wasn’t competitive enough & the only solution was to join…travel ball.

So when I heard this clip of Michigan baseball head coach Erik Bakich, 41, taking a shot at travel ball and showcases while his team played tonight in the College World Series I was immediately Team Bakich. He said, “we think our roster should look like the United States of America.”

Translation: we’re going to go find ballplayers, not necessarily the guys who’re playing in 30 tournaments a year. Also, Erik’s going into cities and finding black guys who don’t have the resources to play travel ball and go to showcases. Let’s face it, parents with money think they’re going to buy their kid a way onto a college team with the best coaching and best tournaments.

Now that I have two boys I’m hearing from my friends about this travel ball scam whether it’s baseball, soccer, volleyball or basketball. Some are exhausted over the hustle. Some have made money off the hustle. And others deep down wish they would’ve never gotten caught up in the legal scam.

This spring I went to a local high school game and sat with a father to one of the players and asked which of the seniors would get a college baseball scholarship. One might get a 25% scholarship. The rest — nothing. And this is at a school where money is no object to baseball parents. They’ve paid for the best instructors and the best travel ball money can buy and it still won’t translate to scholarship dollars.

There’s a 2014 Washington Post opinion piece that I go back to on this subject when moments like this come up. Stealing home: How travel teams are eroding community baseball by David Mendell:

My son is now 12 and, although we’ve toyed with the idea of full-time travel ball, he has stuck with our local league (which is community-based but not affiliated with Little League) and part-time travel, progressing nicely as a shortstop and pitcher. Primarily, he wanted to keep playing with his friends. He was also deterred by the intense schedule of practices and games. “The travel kids are always talking about how much they practice, like every day, even in the winter,” Nathan told me. “If I went to a travel team, I think my pitching arm would fall off.”

I’m glad he’s stayed, because I think the most significant missing element in professionally coached travel ball is the father-son experience. No other American sport seems to bond fathers and sons as securely as baseball. There’s something about the pacing of the game, the long season, the buildup to dramatic late-inning heroics on steamy summer days and nights.

Call me crazy, but life wasn’t too bad when we’d play a Saturday Little League game and then my parents would drop me off at the community pool so I could swim for hours with all my friends and then go home to sleep in my own bed. I’m glad I got to experience it and it’s too bad the parents of today didn’t want the same thing for their kids, but that’s their call. Pretty sure I’ll ride or die with guys like Bakich and my kids will be just fine.

Oh, if you care, Bakich’s team shut out Florida State to go 2-0 in the College World Series.

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