Here at Ballparks of America, we love travel baseball. And we’re not alone. Over the last 20 years, youth travel baseball has become increasingly popular. Take the All-American Wood Bat Classic as an example. During the first year of the tournament, in 2000, around a dozen teams signed up to play. In 2014, nearly 100 teams attended the tournament.
Joining a travel baseball team has lots of advantages. Kids can become better ballplayers, make friends, and get to experience travel. However, it’s also a large financial and time commitment. And there’s a lot that goes into joining a team.
To help you understand the world of travel baseball, our team has put together a guide that covers the following topics.
What is travel baseball?
Also referred to as elite, club, select, and premier, travel baseball is an organized form of baseball characterized by competitive play and—you guessed it—travel. It is often seen as an intermediary step between Little League and high school baseball play. Travel baseball has also increasingly become the standard for elite youth players hoping to continue their baseball career in college or on a professional level. The typical age requirements vary by the organization but can range from 6 to 18 years old.
Unlike Little League, which typically has weekly, local games, travel baseball mostly consists of weekend tournament play. However, there are some leagues that cater specifically to elite baseball teams.
There is no singular governing organization in travel baseball. Rather, there are several organizations and facilities that host tournaments with varying criteria. Some of the dominating travel baseball organizations include Triple Crown Sports, Perfect Game, Untied States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), and Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).
As we mentioned above, competitive play is a defining characteristic of travel ball. Travel baseball teams do not have open registration, but instead, players are required to try out for a travel team. Therefore, a team could be made up of players from all over the state, region, and—in some cases—the country. Typically only the most competitive teams have players from all over the country.
How to join a travel baseball team
There are several ways to find a travel baseball team. Start with a simple Google search, “travel baseball teams near me.” Another good option is to check out the large organizations listed above. You can also look on Facebook for travel baseball teams. Don’t forget to search for the alternative names (select baseball, elite baseball, club baseball, premier baseball, etc). Finally, you can check out FieldLevel. FieldLevel is a website that lets you search over 105,000 travel teams by location, age level, and skill level. Once you find a team you’re interested in joining, you’ll need to try out. Coaches typically hold tryouts in March, around the time local schools have spring break.
How to choose a travel baseball team
Depending on where you live and how far you’re willing to travel, there could be several teams to choose from. When faced with a decision of which team to join, there are several factors to take into consideration.
Cost can vary from team to team, depending on how much and how far the team travels. Be sure that the team you choose fits within your budget.
As coaches will have a large impact on the development of a player, you want to be sure to work with coaches that have the right skills, knowledge, and experience. You also want to make sure the coach won’t play favorites with players. This can especially be a concern if the coach has a child on the team.
Although travel baseball tends to be competitive by nature, there are varying levels of competitiveness within the field. If a player is very serious about their development, they’ll want to be playing with teammates and against teams that are performing at a high level. And the opposite is true as well. If a player is not as serious, they might be frustrated playing on a highly-competitive team.
It doesn’t matter how competitive a team is if a player doesn’t get playing time. Travel ball teams typically have 13 players on them. It’s not advantageous to be the 13th best player on a team, because you won’t get very much (if any) playing time. And playing time is important for development and exposure.
One of the main reasons players sign up for travel ball is to eventually go on to play baseball at college or in the pros. Therefore, you want a team that has a strong development program and practices regularly.
Different teams travel different amounts, and it’s important that the amount fits in with the player’s schedule and the player’s family’s schedule.
If your goal as a player is to play in college or go pro, then it’s important to get adequate exposure. To do this, your team needs to play in the right tournaments where scouts will have the opportunity to see you play.
How to start your own travel baseball team
- Find a mentor
- Recruit players
- Hold tryouts
- Determine a budget
- Find a space to play
- Register your team with the travel baseball organizations
What are the benefits of travel baseball?
Travel baseball allows kids to play with and against the best players in the area, state, or—in some cases—the country. This can drastically improve their game.
Getting to visit locations like Branson, Missouri for a vacation and baseball experience is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. Families can experience a traveling together and enjoying competitive baseball at the same time.
For those hoping to play baseball in college, travel baseball offers more exposure opportunities. Tournaments are a great way to get noticed by a scout or college coach.
Better Player Development
Travel baseball teams often provide better player development than recreational teams. Compared to rec teams, travel coaches tend to be more experienced, better connected, and more serious. Some of the most competitive teams actually employ former professional coaches.
More Playing Opportunities
Select baseball teams play a lot more games a year than an average rec team.
What are the downsides of travel baseball?
Some critics have argued that the increase in elbow injuries among major-league players may be caused by youth travel baseball.
Compared to Little League teams, travel baseball is quite a bit more expensive.
Due to the cost, travel baseball tends to exclude players in lower socioeconomic brackets.
Large Time Commitment
When it comes to travel baseball, the time commitment is significant. During the season, be prepared to give up quite a few weekends.
The goals of travel baseball are to develop players and win games. Sometimes the focus on winning can overshadow player development. Typically, the best players will get the majority of the playing time.
How do select baseball tournaments work?
Each team chooses how many and which tournaments they will participate in every year. Tournaments are typically held on weekends and can take place all over the country. There are also week-long tournaments held during the summer. Teams choose which tournaments to play in based on a variety of factors—distance, cost, age level, potential exposure, and skill level.
Depending on how well they play, a team can expect to play between three and eight games during a tournament. Tournaments usually start with pool-play, where teams are guaranteed to play a certain number of games. If they do well, they then get to play more games which are single elimination.
How much does it cost to play travel baseball?
According to USA Today, on average travel baseball costs families $3,700 per year. However, some families pay upwards of $8000 per year. These numbers include fees, equipment, training, and travel.
Traveling to weekend tournaments versus weeklong tournaments, like what Ballparks of America hosts, can also have an affect on costs as well. Food, hotels, gas and more are additional factors when deciding where to go with your travel baseball team.
How many travel baseball games are played in a season?
It can vary, but during the summer seasons, players typically play between 50-60 games.
What to expect at travel baseball tryouts
Although every tryout will progress differently, tryouts typically adhere to the following structure.
To start, either a coach or a team captain will lead you through a warm-up. It’s important to warm up properly so you don’t injure yourself during the tryout.
Next, you’ll most likely be asked to do a 60-yard dash. One of the things coaches are looking for is to see which prospects are athletic and fast. You might be asked to run it more than once.
Then, you’ll have a chance to warm up your arms by playing catch.
The next set of drills will focus on position-specific skills. For example, if you’re an infielder, you might be asked to go to shortstop to ground balls. If you’re a pitcher, you’ll be throwing in the bullpen.
You’ll take turns hitting. You’ll only get a few chances to show off your batting skills, so you want to make this count.
In some cases, tryouts may end after batting practice. However, some tryouts end with a scrimmage.
Tips for travel baseball tryouts
It’s important to make a good first impression. Showing up on time demonstrates that you’re reliable. You also want to make sure you’ve dressed appropriately and have all the necessary equipment. And, right when you get there, go up and introduce yourself to the coach.
Beyond just looking for talented players, coaches are also looking for athletes who can help lead the team. Stand out as a leader by helping organize drills and cheering on your potential teammates.
Whether you’re huddling up with the coach or heading out to your position, put some pep in your step. Coaches like to see that you are taking tryouts seriously and putting in the effort. Try to make sure you’re one of the first players to get where you’re supposed to be.
You might not realize it, but the coaches are watching prospects the entire practice, so don’t slack off. Even when you’re playing catch, you want to be sure to put your best foot forward.
Arm strength is one of the things coaches will be looking for. So, no matter what position you play, when you’re in the specific skills portion of the tryout, make sure to throw the ball hard and fast.
Don’t try to get too fancy with batting practice. Instead, try hit line drives and keep them in the middle of the field.
It can be tempting to try and play the way you think the coaches want you to play. But don’t. If you do, you won’t be at your best and you’ll end up making silly mistakes. Instead, wait for your moment and seize the opportunity.
Yes, coaches are looking for talented players. But they’re also looking for players with potential who can be coached. Show that you’re coachable for listening to advice and implementing it. And it can’t hurt to ask questions that show you’re open to feedback.
Ballparks of America offers premier facilities for travel baseball tournaments
We live and breathe travel ball at Ballparks of America, and we can’t wait for the season to start. Sign up for one of our tournaments today and take advantage of our amazing facilities, dedicated staff, tons of amenities, and fun local things to do. Give us a call or contact us online today. We can’t wait to hear from you!