Youth baseball

Parents face choice of travel, town baseball

2012-07-28T18:45:00Z 2012-07-29T01:51:12Z Parents face choice of travel, town baseballRobby Howard The Times nwitimes.com
July 28, 2012 6:45 pm  • 

With August tryouts right around the corner, parents will soon have to decide whether they want their kids to try out for a travel baseball team or play in their local league.

Joe Fushi and John Batistatos have been on both sides of the debate.

Both coached Little League before recently making the jump and starting their own travel baseball organizations.

For their kids, they decided that travel ball was best because of, in their opinion, advanced coaching and increased competition.

"Travel baseball is not for everybody," Fushi said. "We've been on both sides of the coin now. I think parents need to be real careful about picking travel baseball for their kid."

Travel baseball costs hundreds of dollars more than in-house baseball. Full-time travel organizations can range from about $800 per player all the way up to more than $2,000. Town ball is under $200, with a little more for all-stars.

"It's a financial commitment by families," said Dave Griffin, founder of the Indiana Playmakers travel baseball organization and the Dave Griffin Baseball School, "but it's no different than taking gymnastics or taking music lessons. It all depends on how far you want to go with it."

Although his organization is more expensive, Griffin said he has had 10 players drafted by Major League Baseball teams and about 80 percent of his players play college baseball.

However, Pat Killeen, president of the Schererville Baseball League, sees no reason to spend money like that before high school.

"We do everything that a full-time travel team does but at less expense," Killeen said. "The kids stay together. They all hang out. That's what it's all about. Staying together and playing with your friends until it's time to really go to the real world."

Several full-time travel teams pool players from multiple areas, from both Lake and Porter counties. Killeen would rather see local kids stay together as a team and play for a state championship rather than the various top-notch tournaments travel teams play in every weekend.

Fushi says the mental grind of those elite tournaments, which can add up to as many as 70 games a summer, can really wear a player out and possibly take the fun away from baseball.

"Sometimes the parents want the kid to be on the travel team more than the kid wants to be on the travel team," Fushi said. "We see that a lot. You might have a middle of the road athlete who will just burn up in travel ball, because he can't take the pressure, and he'll lose the love or desire for the game. And I've seen it.

"You might put that same athlete back in-house, Little League or Cal Ripken, and he will just continually grow. He'll have a love for the game and could turn out to be a great player. You just have to be careful."

Batistatos recognizes that this is a possibility as well. To combat this, he said he tries to give his team a few weekends off. Several travel teams also rarely practice during the week to try to give players a mental break.

"We try to give them a little time off, so they can break," Batistatos said. "On the off weekends when we're not at a tournament, we'll try to sometimes just give them the whole weekend off. Then they come back rejuvenated. It's something definitely that you have to be concerned about."

Griffin used to only allow players in his program once they were 13 years old to try to make sure they were able to have fun with the game before getting too serious.

But due to higher and higher demand, this year he expanded his program all the way down to a 9-and-under team.

"I saw that there were teams out there. I just wasn't interested," Griffin said. "I always liked to let the kids go through Little League and let them have fun.

"I resisted as long as I could. It's just people kept coming to me, and I said if the situation was right, and we thought we could get the right manager in there, and we could do the program right, we might as well."

Across the board, coaches agree that parents need to do what makes their child the most comfortable when deciding where to play. That's exactly what Chicagoland Sunday Baseball League president Anthony Belmonte did.

"The smartest thing we did, instead of us deciding, we went to him and said, 'Hey, what do you want to do?'" Belmonte said. "And he goes, 'Dad, I just want to stay in town and play with my friends.' And for us, it was the best decision.

"If he would've said, 'Hey dad I want to go play full-time travel,' and we had fun with it, that would have been the best decision. It depends on the kid."

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