TAMPA, FL - There are so many great things about travel baseball - and there are also a few bad things.
One such thing is how travel baseball has actually hurt work ethic and attitude in young, aspiring baseball players. (Like any blanket statement, this is not true for everyone!)
How could travel baseball, which basically promotes playing baseball year-round, actually be hurting work ethic? If anything, it seems that it should improve it. Year-round baseball is somewhat of a new concept that has caught on this past decade.
But with that year-round baseball comes lack of commitment to a specific team. If a player isn't starting or getting the playing time he wants, he simply goes to a new team and bolts for greener pastures. No playing time on his new team? No problem. Team XYZ just surfaced that needs a starting shortstop. Now the player bolts there.
Basically, if a player is unhappy these days, he just goes to where he is happy - never getting that reality check that he really isn't that good and he needs to work hard(er). The phrase "cracking the starting lineup" is on the endagered species list in favor of a new breed called "bounce around until you are starting".
Many players struggle when they first get to high school, as they don't understand how they aren't starting as a freshman or sophomore. After playing years of travel ball and never riding the bench, they tend to think varsity baseball is some kind of birth-right. So what do they do? Transfer. I don't have any statistics to back this up, but I would easily guess that there are more baseball-related transfers today than there ever have been before in all levels of amateur baseball.
Riding the bench has always played a major role in sports. But travel baseball has all but eliminated that. As long as you know how to write a check you can start every game. Every player needs a different kind of check though at some point in this game - a reality check - to ensure his work ethic and attitude are in the right place as he strives to accomplish something in this game.
Don't get me wrong: players need playing time against quality competition to develop. But instead of facing this competition head-on, competing with a teammate and pushing each other to become better, players leave altogether. Their brief stint on the bench? A distant memory. Never happened.
Some players never figure out where they stand in the big scope of things. Eventually, it hurts their parents in their pocketbook when they spend thousands of dollars attending major D1 baseball camps when they have no business being near one. The recruiting process plays on, and while a quality D2 program may have been the best fit, the player never sought one out. Instead, they end up deep into their senior year unsigned, and baffled because they have hit .400 as the starting shortstop on every team he has ever been on and he has no college offers.
Meanwhile, a little bench time may have been just what the doctor ordered to keep things in perspective.
Blame travel baseball.