Written By Guest Contributor Eric Byrnes
My kid is six years old and plays on an 8U travel ball team called the Half Moon Bay Pirates.
I was hesitant to let him play travel ball at such a ridiculously young age, but my dude, Leo, is the coach and Colton’s best friend from his Little League team, (Leo’s kid) Jackson, who is also six years old, was playing as well.
I didn’t play organized baseball until I was 8 years old, and that was tee-ball. I then tried out for the majors and made it as a 9-year-old on the best team in the league.
Great question …
Obviously, travel ball for 6-year-olds wasn’t an option in 1982, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t PLAYING BALL.
Ever since I could remember, my neighbor Tony Castleman, who was several years older, and one of the best pitchers in Little League, would come over to the house and chuck one ball after another against our garage.
While he was working on his pitching form, I would either grab my mitt and be the catcher or I would get in the makeshift batter’s box, drawn with chalk, and take my whacks …
Also, from kindergarten on, after school, we would head to Joe Kavanaugh’s house and either play tackle football on the Kavanaughs’ front lawn, a game of hoops or a nasty Wiffle ball game with his older brothers, John and Bob.
Of course, there was a rotating cast of characters that joined, including Andrew Garcia, Bryan Sidensol, Luke Clebch, the Krefetz brothers, Kevin “Chops” Quellmalz, Gabi Erdi and Ryan Hayes …
As a matter of fact, the more I think of it, all we did was PLAY BALL …
Hours and hours of ball, that didn’t stop until Kavanaugh’s parents, Ginny and Jack, waved the surrender flag and we all had to go home.
So, in a day and age where pick-up games are way less common and travel ball is dominating the landscape of youth sports, I have to pose the question …
Is this a good or bad thing?
There is no simple answer because each program, each coach and each kid is incredibly unique …
Let’s look at the cons …
It can be bad if a coach is running the program because he is holding onto demons from his unfulfilled athletic career, which ended when he struck out with the bases loaded in the city championship game and then immediately got dumped by his girlfriend, which then set him off into a deep depression, which he somehow blames his fictitious shoulder injury on, which apparently cost him his shot to play D1 baseball, get drafted and play 10+ years in the show …
It can be bad if baseball is the only sport the kid plays. Kids build and develop athleticism through participating in a wide range of different sports and activities. Becoming single-sport focused at a young age will undoubtedly limit the kid’s potential in that particular sport … Worse off, he or she inevitably will peak way too early and get mentally burnt out on the sport by the time the kid hits high school.
I know several MLB scouts and Division 1 head coaches that make it a point to recruit dual-sport athletes and it’s f*cking brilliant. I would do the exact same thing.
Let’s look at the pros of travel ball …
Kids are developing at a faster rate than ever before. The skills that these kids perfect at a young age is ridiculous. My kid has a better swing than I had when I was 31, my best year in the big leagues!
Looking at it from a broad international perspective, American youth ball players are finally playing closer to the amount that is played by youths in Latin American countries including the Dominican Republic, where I played winter ball for 5 years. In the DR, kids play other sports, including soccer and basketball, but as mi amigo, Jorge, from the hamburger stand across the street from the old Plaza Naco Hotel would say, “Siempre es la temporada de beisbol, SIEMPRE …”
Translation: “It’s always baseball season, ALWAYS …”
The single greatest thing about travel ball, or any other form of ball in general, is the fact that the kids are PLAYING BALL.
We now live in a time where youth activity is at an all time low … Obesity rates for children are triple from where they were in the 1980s; everyday PE has been taken out of 97% of public schools; almost 70% of kids participate in zero after-school youth activity programs and kids are spending an average of 7 hours a day in front of a screen …
So, do you think I give a flying f*ck if there is anybody out there who wants to shame me for putting my kid in travel ball at age 6?
As a matter of fact, my wife called the other day when I was back in NYC and said she had just picked Colton up from his 8U Pirates practice…
Me: “Yo, buddy, u there?”
Young Go Hard: “Hi, Daddy”
Me: “How did it go?”
Young Go Hard: “GREAT”
Me: “Awesome! How long did you guys practice for?”
Young Go Hard (in his 6-year-old Boston accent): “F O U R H O U R S”
Me: “Four hours?!?!?!”
Tarah then interjected…
“Yup, and he cried because he didn’t want to stop playing.”
(Insert long pause because I was absorbing all of the information just tossed at me.)
Me: “That’s the sh*t I am talking about, young GO HARD.”
Tarah: “Eric!!!!! Don’t you cuss in front of your 6-year-old!”
Me: “Sorry honey, I couldn’t help myself… I am gushing with pride.”
Copyright © 2018 Eric Byrnes, All rights reserved.
Eric Byrnes is an 11-year former Major League Baseball outfielder. Byrnes is a television analyst for the MLB network. He is an endurance athlete frequently competing in triathlons and the father of three children. He is on a new mission to bring awareness to the lack of physical education programs in public schools, through his recently launched Let them play foundation. His website is https://www.ericbyrnes.com