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Why Travel Baseball isn't the right term anymore

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With the high school baseball season winding down, most high school players will move on and play in the summer, starting at the end of May and ending either at the end of July or early in August. They will play anywhere from 25-45 games, and play games both in the state of Ohio, or if lucky, play a few tournaments out of state.

The players call it their "travel" season.......but that term is quickly becoming outdated

The more appropriate term is their baseball PROGRAM

It wasn't always like this.... Back "in the day", as recently as 10-15 years ago, things were a bit different come the time to play baseball in the summer. A player played in his or her Rec League, then if they were fortunate enough to make a "traveling" team, they would form, have a few practices, then go off and play a few tournaments. Most of the time, it was rewarding the best players in that Rec League voted on by the coaches of that league. A kind of reward if you will, for playing well during the Rec League season. After the travel season was over, baseball season wouldn't start again until late March or early April, with practices with your child's new Rec League team.

There was only one problem.....players weren't developing

That is not a knock on Rec baseball. Everyone should play Rec baseball at some point of their lives. The more people playing the game, the better off the game is. Kids SHOULD have fun, enjoying being with their friends on a summer night, and compete against kids they know.

However....

There may also be a select group of kids that really love the game, and want to get better. They may want to see how good they can get if they dedicated some extra time to the sport. They wanted to be coached and taught by coaches that had playing or coaching experience at a high level. Where would they go to get this type of instruction? Personal trainers and coaches are pretty pricey by the hour, so what were these kids alternatives?

Enter the baseball "program"

What defines a baseball "program".... At least around the Cleveland area, the baseball programs all have similar traits. They usually have a number of different teams, ranging anywhere from age 8 to age 18, playing under the umbrella of the program's name. Examples of this in the Cleveland area include Diamond Boys, Lake Erie Storm, North Coast USA, Solon Stampede, Force Express, PlayersI Baseball Academy, and Premier Athletics. Some of these programs even have a fall baseball schedule, where they would play games until snow is ready to come down. They all usually have an indoor facility, where the players can practice during the winter months.

How are these teams formed?.... With the exception of the Solon Stampede program, which takes players only from Solon, all of these programs attract players from different communities. For example, on the North Coast USA 15 and under team, there are 14 players coming from 9 different high schools. Most of these teams are formed on a regional basis, with the location of its training center being relatively close to each of the player's residences. As far as attracting players, it is usually word of mouth, or through a tryout. One coach of these baseball programs gives an example of how he may attract a player:

We may see a player play in his high school season, then again in the summer if he plays against us. We then may ask if he would be interested in joining our program. We also post tryout information for the following season all over social media and the internet, so we can try and attract as many people to our tryout as possible

Be ready for almost a year round commitment.... When do these tryouts take place? Tryouts for these baseball programs usually take place in August after the player's summer season is over. Tryouts in August for NEXT SUMMER'S teams. Why so early? Because, with these baseball programs comes the ability to practice and have instruction outside of the guidelines of the OHSAA Rules and Regulations, which govern and limit practice time for high school players. With most of these programs, indoor practice and instruction can begin as early as November. Once high school or middle school tryouts begin in late February, these players are not allowed to practice with their summer teams until the end of May.

There is a changing perception when this question is answered:

Who do you play for in the summer?

The answer is usually the name of the program. North Coast, Stampede, PlayersI, Diamond Boys. In the past, the answer may have been "Chico's Bail Bonds", but that team answer is being replaced by the program name.

What are the benefits to being in one of these baseball programs?

  • Coaching- No offense to the coaches in the Rec Leagues. They volunteer their time, and do a great job in getting kids to have fun, and enjoying the game, but the vast majority of them really aren't coaches. The coaching and training a player gets through one of these programs are coming from players and coaches that have played at a high level and have been taught the right way. You will never hear these "program coaches" say things like "Keep your elbow up" or "squish the bug" when teaching hitting.
  • Indoor Practice- Baseball is played outdoors, but in the case of these programs, baseball is LEARNED indoors. During the winter practices that are held at each program's facility, there is a number of things that go on. Usually these facilities have two "cages" where the players can hit off a machine or even live pitching. There are stations that include work off of a tee, soft toss, and "target" type hitting. If your child is a pitcher, there are usually two mounds that he can throw off of. Some programs even video tape each player's swings, where it can be broken down and see where mistakes are made.
  • Competition- For these kids that want to advance their game, playing against the best competition is crucial. There are many times in the summer where these baseball programs will play against one another. To up the ante even higher, these teams in the Cleveland area will play this summer in national tournaments in Chicago, Pittsburgh, South Bend, Indiana, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Wheeling, West Virginia. Throw in the annual tournaments in the Cleveland area, and these players will definitely be tested.

Are these "program" players really all that much better?.... The answer is yes, and its an answer that doesn't need a lot of time to think. In the past 10-15 years, with the rise of these baseball programs, there has been a huge increase in the number of players from the Cleveland area that have gone on to play at the college level. Why? because the earlier one can LEARN the game the right way, say at 8, 9, 10, or 11 years old, the more time one has to REFINE one's game as one gets older. It's no surprise that most of the Division I college signees from this year's senior class have been with the same "program" for a number of years.

Underclassmen are now the norm on a Varsity baseball roster.... Twenty years ago, sophomores and freshmen on a varsity roster was almost unheard of. Now it is almost common place. Explanation? It's simple. Year round coaching and playing, learning the game the right way, playing against great competition, and the confidence that comes from going through those experiences.

As summer arrives and the high school season ends, it will be time for these players to play for their summer teams, get to play out of state teams, form new friendships with players on their team from different cities, and have fun doing it.

There comes a certain amount of pride by being able to answer the "Who do you play for?" question. There may be something really cool for the kids to stay overnight at an out of town hotel for the weekend. Parents may put a lot of miles on the car this summer going to games. The summer season is special in a lot of ways

Just don't call it "Travel". It has become much more than that

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