My son has played Little League® for the last four years. My son also plays travel ball, and I know there is some level of discussion among parents out there about the pros and cons of both types of baseball and softball. I don’t want to get into the debate about what brand of play has more talent, or what program is better structured, and respected, but rather the most important difference to my family.
One day last month, I was walking through our complex on a path that separates the fields to our car. My son was with me. We were heading to his travel ball practice. There was a Little League game on one of the fields. Parents, most I knew well, were hanging out near the outfield fence. They were talking, laughing, watching the game. Me and my son said hello to my friends, each one having a kid on the teams that were playing. We stopped to talk, and one of my buddies asked if I was going to the cookout at his house later that day. I said my family would be there. Another parent told me that he was taking his son’s Little League team for pizza after the game, and that my son was invited. So, on the spot, we made plans for pizza and then the cookout.
We continued walking, saying hello to others on the path, and came up to the batting cages. Our town’s mayor, and a Little League coach, was pitching to his daughter. He waved, and gave me a quick update on the swim team fundraiser at our ambulance building the following week.
When we pulled into travel ball practice, I saw a much different picture than the one at the Little League field. Parents were on their cell phones, sporadically spread out, not talking to each other. There were a few kids I didn’t recognize – kids that were not on the previous year’s team. I asked my son who they were. He only knew they were from a few towns over, and that they had just been added to the roster. My son said he and his friends hadn’t gotten to know the new teammates yet.
When my son went to warm up, I walked over to the manager, who had been hired by the travel ball team earlier in the winter, and tried to start up a conversation. I found the only common ground was baseball. He was friendly, but we only talked about where he was thinking about playing my son. He concluded the conversation by reminding me that the opening tournament’s registration fee was due. On my way to the car to get the checkbook, I passed a few of the parents. We simply exchanged head nods.
Travel ball has some good qualities, if parents and kids get involved with the right team and play the right way. My son loves playing baseball, and his travel team gives him more time on the field. But, walking through our town’s baseball and softball complex, that message I see time and time again from Little League really hit me – it’s more than the play that happens on the field. Little League is about community. It’s about neighbors socializing with neighbors. It’s about kids playing with their friends. It’s comfortable, and for me, my son, and my wife, Little League feels like family.