I started my son in the Little League® Tee Ball program when he was four. I had worked with him quite a lot prior to that. I know that may sound weird working with a kid at such a young age, but his older brother played baseball, so he was always around. The sport came natural to him, and he loved it. While I wasn’t thrilled he’d be hitting off a tee because he could already hit a pitched ball, I figured we had to start somewhere, and Tee Ball was all that was available.
The coach was great! While I can’t say my son progressed all that much during the Tee Ball season, other kids definitely did, and he had a ton of fun. I was glad he played Tee Ball, and I looked forward to the following year when I assumed there would be some kid pitching. Well, there wasn’t.
My son had the same coach as the year prior. He followed the Coach Pitch program, which focused on fundamentals – fundamentals I felt my son already had. Mid-way through the season, I asked the coach if there would be an opportunity for some kid pitching. He politely said there wouldn’t be.
The following year was about the same. While my son made a ton of new friends and had fun, I felt he needed more. I stayed with the Little League program because I was told that for my son’s 7-year-old season, there would be kid pitching. I was excited not just for him to face pitchers his size and age, but for him to also have a chance on the mound. Well, at registration, I learned my league’s Board of Directors decided to use a pitching machine for 7-year-olds, and that MAYBE toward the end of the season, there MIGHT be some kid pitch. I was told pitching machines are good because they pitch a consistent ball, and help with hand-eye coordination. That was it! No more! It was time for him to play real baseball! I left registration, and pulled him from the Little League program.
I found a local travel ball organization that was offering tryouts for several 10-U teams. Written on their website was ... High Level Competition For Competitive Kids. Perfect! The guy running the program told me he was going to have a 7/8-year-old team. My son tried out. The kids were really good, but he made it!
I thought I had found the answer. What I got was disaster. I traveled an hour each way for three days a week for practice. I had to pay a sign-up fee of $750. That covered SOME tournaments and a bat bag. I was forced to purchase team-designed cleats and helmet. Batting cage time and sessions with the pitching coach came with additional costs. I learned I would have to stay in a hotel for out-of-town tournaments. After looking at the tournament schedule, I realized I’d miss days at work and the expenses would pile up.
After a few weeks of intense practices, it was clear my son would not see much playing time. But, the worst part of it all was that my son was clearly not having the same amount of fun he had in Little League last year. He wasn’t laughing with his buddies, and the kids on the team who were already part of the travel ball program viewed him as a kind of an outsider.
As expected, my son got limited playing time during the season. He did see some development as a player, but nothing major. He looked great in his fancy uniform and matching cleats, but that didn’t matter. To make matters worse, I learned his old Little League team did incorporate kid pitch mid-way through the season. Despite the beautiful fields the travel ball team played on, the grass wasn’t greener. Heading back to Little League!