Even though there aren’t any concrete statistics on how many travel baseball and softball teams for youth there actually are in the country, more and more of these teams are playing in the summer.
In Cleveland alone, several teams play either travel baseball or softball ranging from ages 7 to 14. There are some players in high school that are playing on travel teams known as select teams.
Area high school softball teams such as Cleveland High and Bayou Academy have had several players over the years play travel ball at one point in their lives during the summer. Bayou Academy has won seven fastpitch state championships (6 A, 1 AA), while Cleveland High has won two fastpitch state titles (1 3A, 1 4A).
Bayou Academy head softball coach Lauren LaSuzzo, who played travel softball for the Louisiana Rippers from ages 11-18, said the experience the girls pick up in travel ball is valuable.
“I think it’s helped out a lot,” LaSuzzo said. “When players go to these travel ball tournaments, everybody that they play against is really good. They see good pitching, they see good hitting. They see people that can field, throw and catch. It makes the girls want to get better and work harder.”
Cleveland High head softball coach Bill Hatcher, who has also coached travel softball in the past, said having players that have played travel ball can make a coach’s job a lot easier.
“The travel ball girls come in at a whole other level as compared to someone that hasn’t been playing at all,” Hatcher said. “The difference is night and day. You start off your practice season ready to go versus having to teach a lot of fundamentals to the ones that haven’t been involved in it.”
Cleveland High head baseball coach Steve Wies said most players with travel ball experience are more ready for the baseball season.
“They have a better knowledge base of the game,” Wies said. “They can have a better grasp of the basics, simply by the quality of the games they’ve played as well as the ones that are coaching them.”
Bayou Academy head baseball coach Will Reed said any chance for a player to play more baseball during the summer makes the high school season a lot easier on the player.
“Summer ball is another way for kids to go out and compete against different players, and it gives them a chance to get more innings under their belt,” Reed said. “From a coaching aspect of it, a lot of times when you have kids play summer ball here and there or get extra games in, they tend to look more comfortable on the field.”
When it comes to scouting the area for baseball and softball talent, travel ball tournaments have given college coaches more opportunities to see the young talent that is available.
Delta State head softball coach Casey Charles said the players that play travel ball make a big impression when it comes to getting recruited.
“Players that have played travel ball the longest, more times than not, have developed into better athletes,” Charles said. “You can rarely fine just a solid raw athlete that maybe played other sports but hasn’t really been involved in travel softball.
“Really, these days, it’s kind of coinciding with the players who are getting individual lessons,” Charles added “I think the ones who kind of combine all of that are really the ones that stand out. I think it kind of tells the colleges that those are the ones who are serious about it. That’s not to say you have to play summer ball to go to college, but you have to be really good. What it takes at the next level is putting in the time, and that’s what summer ballers are trying to accomplish.”
In baseball, Delta State University held a tournament consisting of high school travel teams at Ferriss Field earlier in the summer.
DSU head baseball coach Mike Kinnison said travel ball has been huge on the recruiting side of things.
“It’s provided players more exposure,” Kinnison said. “Now, we can see high school players, not only in their spring high school season, but we have a chance to see them in the summer and sometimes even in the fall. It does give us extended looks, and it does give them what would be the equivalent of another season almost. It helps season them and helps their maturity. I think it helps their development. Certainly from an exposure standpoint, it’s aided recruiting.”
Kinnison said he does feel the high school season enables him to see qualities in a player that he might not see when the player is playing for his club in travel ball.
“I believe the travel teams and that summer-fall circuit is certainly not quit as intense as the high school season if you can get to the state playoff or something like that,” Kinnison said. “You’re seeing how they perform under a crowd and under pressure with a lot on the line.
“Also, I think sometimes from my prospective when you’re watching the travel ball, it’s a tools evaluation. You might not always get a good read on how well they can do the little things like how good of a teammate they are or how coachable they are.”
Kinnison feels how much a player learns from travel ball depends on the team and the coaches he’s playing for during that period.
“You have some travel programs that are very advanced and competitive,” Kinnison said. “They play through the summer, and they play into the national playoffs and things like that. You always put a big value on that if you know a kid has gone through that process.
“Some are just groups that kind of come together and play a schedule. They play 20 games and then they’re done. From a coaching standpoint, we prefer that organization where they’re there every game. They have good coaching staffs and players can improve by being under them during those summer and fall periods.”
One of the biggest concerns across the nation in youth sports is overuse injuries.
Charles said parents have to be careful when they are having their kids compete in travel ball.
“There might be a situation where a parent is pushing the kid too much where the parent wants it more than the kid and the kid ends up quitting. I’ve seen that,” Charles said. “Summer ball now has become fall ball and late spring ball, so they’re playing more year round. I’d really say that they’re coming to college with more problems, more arm problems, leg problems and knee problems. I think you have to be careful, and you have to start at a young age being careful and not to ruin your body from overuse. They have to ice, they have to rest, they need to be in proper weight programs. They need to be in programs by people that know what they’re doing.”
Kinnison said players need to do the best job they can at taking care of themselves on a daily basis and always communicate with their coaches on how they feel. Kinnison also pointed out that coaches of the travel ball team need to be aware of the amount of playing time the athlete got during the high school season.
“I do think there should be some type of plan and agreement going into that travel season about how much the guy has pitched during the spring for his high school team,” Kinnison said. “I think they need to determine where he is as far as his workload and what he can handle that summer comfortably.”