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Travel ball is doing more harm than good

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POSTED July 18, 2017 11:56 p.m.

“To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose.”
The previous sentence was lifted from “Turn, Turn, Turn,” a song from the Byrds back in the 60s. And the season for me now is Little League playoff baseball.
The teams from Manteca have done pretty darned good this season, sweeping the District 67 Tournaments of Champions and All-Star tournaments, which makes my job a lot easier having to write about wins as opposed to losses.
But for the vast majority of Little Leaguers, the season is over. In years gone by, focus would shift to summer vacations and football on the horizon.
But not so fast.
I have seen two posts on Facebook — and heard of others — for travel ball and fall ball for kids. And I know some of the people I see involved in this sort of thing are very responsible, but for the life of me I cannot understand why anyone would allow their child to play baseball from February through September or even later.
While not even talking about pitchers at this point, young bones and muscles need a chance to rest and refresh, and to continue to work the same muscles day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out on growing bodies is simply not smart. There have been numerous articles and papers published on this subject by those who know a heck of a lot more than I do.
As for pitchers, forget it. Even high schools are going to pitch counts now.
I was covering an out-of-area Little League tournament one year and there was a woman there from Orange County who was a name dropper when it came to the Los Angeles Angels and all they do for her league.
One day, the subject of travel ball came up, and she said — again, she loved to hear herself talk — that the head of scouting for the Angels came and talked to her league and told them that when he goes to scout a pitcher, the first question out of his mouth is if the kid participates in travel ball. If the kid does, the scout closes his book and walks away. Believe it or do not, but it makes perfect sense to me.
The travel-ball mentality goes much further than youth sports. Private high schools to our north and our south routinely siphon off the best football and basketball players from all over the area to form the equivalent of high-school travel-ball teams. Think for just a minute how good the local public schools would be had those cherry-picked athletes not suddenly found religion.
(For the record, this broad brush does not cover Ripon Christian. The vast majority of those kids start in kindergarten and graduate high school, all on the same block).
As good as the Manteca’s Little League teams were this year, I did notice that some names from past years were missing. After inquiring, I was told they were playing travel ball instead, and in some cases, their parents were paid to have their children pay on certain teams. That is disgusting. No, it is nauseating.
I see a lot of kids who are good, and every so often one comes along that catches my eye and I think I will be following that kid for a long time. Such was the case with one who left Little League ranks this year for greener travel-ball pastures, but I hear he may be back next year.
Years ago — heck maybe more than a decade at this point – there was a girl who was tearing it up at the youth ranks. She was a lights-out pitcher, totally dominating. I filed her name away and then when I thought I should have seen her on a high-school diamond, she was nowhere to be seen.
She never played a day of high-school softball. Come to find out she had been playing youth softball long before I saw her, and by the time high school came around she was finished.
I can hear the outcry now about how travel-ball showcases afford college scouts the opportunity to see multitudes of players at once, and in cases of soccer how some kids just do travel ball and not play for their school.
But for every success story with this new way of doing things how many burnouts are scattered along the way? How many repetitive-motion injuries have curtailed or ended careers?
More from “Turn, Turn, Turn.”
“A time to build up, a time to break down, a time to dance, a time to mourn, a time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together…and a time to every purpose.”
I have raised my children, now I chronicle the children of others. I hope that the pre-teen phenoms of today do not end up more broken down than not in a few years because they had been built up too much. 

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