Good report on travel baseball via the Sun Sentinel -
The nation’s newest elite baseball players are courted like free agents, flown cross-country for big games and featured on TV. Bidding wars break out over the most coveted stars, who resemble Major Leaguers in many ways.
Except for their age.
At the highest levels of 8- to 14-year-old travel baseball, schoolboy superstars are plied with privileges and showcased at pricey events while less-gifted players and their families try to keep pace by spending a fortune — as much as $24,000 annually — on tournaments, equipment and lessons.
Big League dreams, ambitious coaches and massive tournament profits have fueled a youth sports phenomenon that bears little resemblance to the local Little League.
This big-money version of the youth game is thriving in South Florida, home to hundreds of travel teams.
“Kids 9 years old … are professional athletes right now, because this stuff is so unregulated,” said Ron Filipkowski, a former federal and state prosecutor in Sarasota who was a travel ball father, coach and director. “Travel ball at the elite level is the Wild, Wild West of sports. There are no rules, no laws.”
Scant regulation combined with an endless stream of money-making tournaments have created a high-pressure world of non-stop, year-round baseball, where youngsters driven by coaches, tournament organizers or their parents may play in more games than some adult pros. Some will end up on operating tables before they are out of high school, or get burned out and quit, medical experts and others told the Sun Sentinel.
“Some parents feel if they miss a tournament, their [child] is falling behind,” said Alex Fernandez, a former Florida Marlins pitching great who coaches the Pembroke Lakes Bulldogs 14-and-under travel ball team. “A lot of people live through their kids. That’s where the trouble comes.”
Advocates counter that travel ball instills expert skills in America’s pastime at a younger age than ever before, and offers children and their families extraordinary competitive opportunities — such as at a mid-February tournament at Pembroke Shores Park in Broward County.
The four-day event drew top-ranked teams from California, Texas and Florida — and aired to a national audience on ESPN3.
“Travel ball is as close as you can get to real Major League Baseball,” said Anthony Russo, coach of the Lantana-based South Florida Stealth. “By 12 years old, we know everyone who is [any]one.”
Gotta say, I have seen the mercenary side of this one. And, it is scary…but happens all the time.