It’s finally summertime here in northwest Ohio.
Time to fire up the grill, head to the pool or put some miles on that motorcycle that has been dormant all spring.
It’s time to take some of those vacation days that have been piling up and take a load off. It’s time to relax a bit and step away from the hustle and bustle of the old rat race.
Well ... for some of us it is.
But for the thousands of parents of teenagers that participate in “travel ball,” summer can be more chaotic than any other time of the year.
Haven’t heard of travel ball?
Back in the day you’d spend a month of your summer vacation playing baseball or softball in your hometown with your classmates and if you were lucky enough you’d suit up for a handful of all-star games around the area. Then, the rest of the summer was yours.
Now, the emphasis on local leagues has diminished and athletes sign up and then pay up to play for traveling all-star teams that play in weekend-long tournaments.
The goal, as is the case with all teenage athletes, is to catch the eye of a college or professional scout and earn that hard-to-come-by scholarship or pro contract.
Now, I’m not here to say whether these leagues are right or wrong. Or if an athlete stands a better chance of reaching their goals by suiting up for these travel teams.
But this week, University of Michigan head baseball coach Erik Bakich let his feelings be known.
Bakich and his Wolverines not only advanced to the College World Series, but defeated the nation’s top team en route to the championship round. And in the midst of guiding his team to one the greatest collegiate Cinderella seasons ever, Bakich used the national stage to pour fuel on a raging debate among coaches, athletes and parents.
In an interview with ESPN, Bakich discussed how he goes about finding athletes to fill the Wolverines’ roster.
“We just think our roster should look like the United States of America,” Bakich said during an in-game interview while his squad was playing Florida State. “We target a lot of inner-city kids. There’s a lot of great athletes out there and (I) think it’s ridiculous the cost of travel ball and some of the showcases. It negates opportunities for a lot of kids. For us, we want to have a diverse roster and want to provide as many opportunities for kids all over the country that we can.”
Those words were not only eye-opening, but refreshing.
Refreshing to hear a coach at the top of the mountain, perched at a spot where so many high school athletes dream of being, talk about going against what has become the status quo.
I’ve always said to athletes that if you can play ball, it doesn’t matter where you play, coaches at the next level will find you. And it was great to hear a Division I coach say that he’s willing to do the work to find these athletes.
Too many athletes are sold a bill of goods about where a spot on these all-star teams can take them.
For some, sure it’s the boost they needed. But the numbers don’t lie.
According to hsbaseballweb.com, the odds of a senior male NCAA athlete being drafted by a big league club is around 10%. And for a high school athlete looking to make the bigs, less than 0.5% of you will eventually sign a professional deal.
Those odds are definitely not in your favor.
It’s pressure that all too many young athletes have to deal with in today’s society. They deal with it at a time when they’re trading all of those lazy-day summer memories that we had as children for a shot at a big-league dream.
So whether it’s travel ball 100 miles away from home, or a regular-season coach pitch game down the street, just enjoy it and tell those kids out on the field how much you love watching them play win, lose or draw.