In defense of travel ball

by Coach Derek Leppert, Mac n’ Seitz Baseball

I recently put out a tweet…

Lately it has become en vogue to mock or call out summer baseball for a number of reasons:

“Coaches do it for the money”

The amount of money continues to grow, but please remember the money required to play in certain tournaments are flat out crazy. Tournaments charging thousands of dollars for entry fees, parent passes and parking has driven costs for travel organizations through the roof. We try to keep costs down as much as we can.

“Lack of accountability”

We have pulled players for not running out routine pop ups to first, for ‘hotdogging’ fly balls and for disrespecting umpires, and we are not the only ones. Many of us coaches expect our kids to hustle and play the game the right way; I tell our guys ‘you never know who is watching, so you better play your hardest.’

“It’s all about wins and losses”

If that were true, we would put our guys in local leagues and tournaments and dominate. Our schedule challenges our guys and takes them out of their comfort zones. We have played well at times and we have struggled at times. Those moments are my chance to teach not only the game of baseball but more importantly, the game of life. I truly believe that I have spent more time talking about life and mental approach with our players than I have swing paths and release points.

“Lack of respect”

I can’t stand walking into a dugout after another team has left it a mess. How as coaches can we allow our kids to leave their own trash sitting around and not clean it up? I’m an OCD-clean freak to boot, so you better believe we are leaving every dugout in better shape than we found it.

As a baseball community we have always been great about finding solutions. Here are some that I propose:

  1. If you don’t like the way summer ball is going, then please come coach it with us. It’s legal per NCAA regulations and we could use you.
  2. Tournaments must allow more than 15 minutes for our players warm up. Give us time to take in and out, especially at the bigger tournaments, where we are generally playing a more hectic and competitive schedule and where more coaches are watching.
  3. Start tournaments on Friday to allow teams more time to travel/practice/work out on Thursday.
  4. A call to arms at the ABCA Convention, where summer ball coaches can meet and discuss a way to make this better.
  5. Require an online certification course to be completed by all summer ball coaches.
  6. College coaches of all levels: e-mail me your players’ 60 times, pop times, exit velocities, throwing velocities and any other measurable. This can better help me communicate to my players the level(s) they need to achieve to be on your radar.

For summer ball coaches:

  1. Find a way to hold more practices. If this requires missing a tournament or two over the summer, so be it.
  2. Hold your players accountable. For example, we give our guys 12 seconds to get on and off the field. Make them hustle!
  3. Stop allowing players to show up in shorts and sandals. When you get out of the car, you should be wearing game pants and turfs along with your jersey and hat. Look like you’re ready to play not like you’re ready for the beach.
  4. Be honest about your guys. No one has an in-game 1.8 pop time. Let’s be real about this. If your guy sits 82-84 on the mound and touched 88 once, don’t tell coaches he pitches at 88. This not only ruins the credibility of yourself and your organization, but it casts a negative light on all of us.
  5. Teach your kids respect. As I previously mentioned, nothing infuriates me more than when coaches allow their teams to trash a dugout.  If you can’t teach your players this simple thing, then you have no business being in the dugout or in the field.
  6. Stop telling every kid they’re a Division I-caliber player. Give your players honest answers to their questions and provide them with clear and candid evaluations. Your kids can have a great college baseball experience at any level.
  7. Let’s stop over coaching. We can’t overanalyze every swing and pitch. Games are for mental development, practice is for physical development.
  8. Have a roster with pertinent information (player name, high school, graduation date, contact information, GPA, test scores, etc.) printed out and available for every game you play. If you’re down to your last copy, have coaches take a picture of it. One of the biggest parts of your job is promoting your, so be good at it! And make sure the player’s cell phone numbers are on the roster, coaches don’t recruit parents!

Speaking of parents, here are a couple pointers to remember:

  1. Let the coaches coach, the players play and the umpires ump- you’re not a fan in the stands at an NFL game. My players, my coaching staff and college/pro scouts can hear most of what you say out loud during games. We (players, coaches, umpires) will all make mistakes over the course of the summer. Please be supportive of your son and his teammates, they are all doing their best (and if they’re not, the coaches will handle it!).
  2. Speaking of doing their best, it’s a luxury to have a scoreboard operator who is locked in for every pitch! Remember that regardless of what the scoreboard says, the umpires and coaches are keen to what is going on and what the count is. Anyone who uses the excuse that “the scoreboard said ___” is not paying enough attention in the first place. Even if the score itself is wrong, let the umpires/coaches handle communicating to the scoreboard operator.
  3. There is nothing you can do from the stands to improve your son’s chances of getting recruited. There are, however, many things you can do to keep them from getting opportunities. When in doubt, ask yourself if what you’re about to do or say is in support of your player and their teammates. We are always asking today’s youth to be accountable for what they put on social media posts, why can’t we hold ourselves to the same standard with our words and actions?

We may coach in shorts, and I know that many of my suggestions require time spent from our end and money sacrificed on the tournaments’, but our main focus must revolve around setting up our players for success.

I would love to hear your responses, so please feel free to e-mail me at the address below.

Yours in Baseball,

Derek Leppert
Mac N Seitz Baseball