travel ball

Travel Baseball 101: Everything You Need To Know

Table of Contents

travel baseball

If you are an engaged baseball parent and have a child with decent skills, you’ve probably grown frustrated with the level of play in the laid-back rec leagues in your towns. I mean, how is your kid going to get better if the other players on the team don’t understand the game and don’t have the desire to improve? This is probably the most significant reason we’ve seen explosive growth in the travel baseball leagues and tournaments. 

The transition from Little League to AAU comes with many questions, but the good news is that these travel leagues will provide a support system and structure to help your child succeed in highly competitive baseball. 

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about travel baseball and help answer any questions that will help you determine whether or not these types of leagues make sense for your child. 


Travel Organizations

Let’s not beat around the bush. Travel baseball is a business. This market has exploded over the past decade, and the youth sports industry expects to grow more as travel teams become more popular.

This $15b youth sports market in the US rivals that of the $14 billion NFL, so you know we are talking about big business.

However, this business presents kids as young as eight with opportunities to team with other skilled players to play against better competition in their area. Teams will compete with other travel teams within the state and participate in regular tournaments. 

When people hear “travel baseball,” they immediately think the team goes all over the country every weekend to participate in different tournaments. In some cases, that may be true, but when I think of travel baseball, I think of some of the better local players coming from all over and trying out for the team. If you are on more of a showcase team, you will often have players come from all over the country. 

There are thousands of travel baseball teams throughout the country, and most play in tournaments or leagues organized by AAU, USSSA, and Perfect Game.

Playing in one of these leagues is almost a requirement if you are a talented ballplayer and are serious about your baseball career. While expensive, these leagues will help players develop their skills and play against some of the area’s best competition.  

how to slide in baseball

If your child is on the younger side and is just getting started with travel baseball, most of the games will be local, with a few longer-distance tournaments mixed in. Once you get to that 16u-18u range, the tournaments become more about exposure and getting recruited by colleges so that you might travel to Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, etc.


Tournament travel

You won’t go to all these travel baseball tournaments every year, but the WWBA, for instance, is one of the biggest tournaments in youth baseball and is located in Georgia. Many college coaches attend this tournament, so it’s an excellent opportunity to showcase your skills and gain exposure. 

If you are a player from one of the colder states and are interested in playing down south, these tournaments provide a great platform for you to make some new connections and show some of these coaches what you can do. 

When I think about travel baseball, I don’t think of it as being seasonal. Some teams will have their regular season in the spring, and some even play in the fall.

During the winter, especially in the Northeast, my son’s team had bi-weekly practices in one of the local indoor facilities where they could train. This allowed the team to build chemistry while also keeping them fresh. Travel baseball will allow you to practice all year round if you want to while you play other sports. 


How Is Travel Baseball Organized?

All the travel league games my son has played in have taken place on the weekends. We typically have a doubleheader against the same team to squeeze in more games with a short break in between.

The tournaments usually consist of the top 8 teams in the League and are set up in a pool format. Those tournaments can be held anywhere, but we’ve traditionally hosted them at a local sports complex with multiple fields.

Suppose your tournaments are made up of more than ten non-local teams. In that case, they will usually take place in a central location with the infrastructure to accommodate traveling families for the weekend.  

With pool play, teams are guaranteed a certain amount of games before moving into the single-elimination games. Depending on the size of the tournament, a team may play between 2-8 games during the weekend. 

When signing up for travel ball, part of what you are paying for could include participation in a certain amount of tournaments. I know we were guaranteed at least one tournament, and everything else would be at an additional cost.

Each team will decide which tournaments to participate in and how many they’d like to do. The coach will need to look at age level, skillsets, and how many families can afford the additional cost.  

When the players enter high school, they may start participating in player showcases or tournaments where coaches and scouts come to watch and evaluate players. 


How Much Does Travel Ball Cost?

I’m not going to lie, when I first saw the cost of playing travel AAU baseball, there was definitely sticker shock. Our League tries to keep it affordable for families, so we were apparently on the lower end at $1700.

When you break it down, though, it wasn’t too bad. The kids got home and away uniforms, sweatshirts with their names, two sets of hats, helmets, Easton bags, and a batting warmup jacket.

The team had access to an indoor baseball training facility twice a week starting in the fall through April to practice. The fee also included a spot in a local tournament.

Other travel teams near us were upwards of $4k for the season. When I heard that, I stopped complaining about our price. Many of these travel baseball teams come with exorbitant prices that, unfortunately, eliminate many families and kids who can compete at this level.

When it comes down to travel baseball teams, the price can be pretty shocking to most parents, so you must decide how big of a financial impact this will have on your family. The League’s overall cost will differ but typically ranges from $500-$5,000 a year.

That amount is only the fee to play on the team. When you put together a potential budget, there are many additional costs to factor in. 

Additional costs:

  • Equipment – New bat rules may require you to buy your child a new bat. There are USSSA leagues that require USSSA bats, USA bats, BBCOR bats, and wood bats only. If you are lucky enough to be on a sponsored team, sometimes equipment such as bats, gloves, and other baseball gear is included.
  • Travel costs – Even if you aren’t flying to a tournament, you will most likely be driving considerable distances, so be sure to factor in the price of gas. 
  • Are the coaches being paid? Most likely not if you are on a younger team, but some older, more competitive travel teams pay their coaches.
  • Facilities – We lucked out because practice time was included in our league fees. Teams who may not have access to public fields and practice off-season will have to rent space.

These are all the costs associated with your player and the League. Now, what about the stuff you will need as a baseball parent? Team gear, comfortable camping chairs, coolers, wagons, heaters, and fans.


What’s A Good Age To Start Playing Travel Ball?

Over the past twenty years, travel baseball’s popularity has exploded. Initially designed for teenagers, younger age groups have also taken over the sport.

Our first taste of travel ball was when our son was eight years old, playing on our town’s summer travel team. We didn’t have to travel far, but it was a fantastic experience.

It was a little more competitive than rec ball, so it gave us a good idea of where our kids stacked up compared to other towns. While eight sounds young, the kids improved during the month-long season. They knew who to back up, where to take the cut-off throws, and when to tag up on the bases.

It was so nice to see them begin to understand the little intricacies of the game, and they would not have received this type of instruction in town ball. While we had a great experience with our eight-year-old’s summer travel team, it is still pretty young.

I’d say the best time to start competitive travel baseball is around 9-10. It’s sad, but any later, you and your child will fall behind. Many kids have played years of competitive ball by then. 


How Do I Find A Travel Team Near Me?

If you have decided that travel baseball could be a good fit for your son or daughter, it’s time to start looking for a team. If you think your child would benefit from joining a travel baseball team but have no idea where to start, there are many resources to help you find some squads in your area. 

Facebook

Facebook is a great place to start. In the search box, type in travel baseball near me or travel baseball ga for example. You will see a feed of many local teams advertising for upcoming tryouts or even established teams looking for a player to fill in for a tournament.  

Other parents

After watching rec ball for a season, you will recognize who the best players are. Talk to their parents and ask them if their child is doing travel ball. If they are, ask them what their experience has been. Talking to other parents can also be helpful because if their child isn’t already in travel ball, they may know someone else who is. Word of mouth is huge. 

Organization websites

Many organizations, like USSSA, provide a list of active teams on their website. You can filter by age, location, and overall skill level to find potential groups that might be a good match for your child.  

A few other helpful resources for finding a travel team are Select Baseball TeamsAAU, and Field Level.


What To Look For In A Team

  • Does the program win?
  • What is the team’s location, and how far do they need to travel?
  • Do they develop their players? What is their team mission?
  • What is their facility like?
  • Who are the coaches – read their bios on the website 
  • How many games/tournaments do they play each season?
  • How often do they practice
  • What is the total cost for the season?
  • What does the offseason training schedule look like
  • Do they encourage multi-sport athletes?
  • Do other players enjoy being on the team?
  • What’s the reputation of the organization?
  • What’s the skill level of the kids?
  • How is playing time determined?
  • Do they protect the pitcher’s arm by adhering to pitch counts?
  • How many kids are on the team

When it costs thousands of dollars, money will always be an issue but try not to make your decision solely based on cost. Pick the program where your child will have fun and where they will develop the most. 


Travel Baseball Pros And Cons

Pros

  • Competition – Competition tends to be better. Players take the game more seriously and seem to want to improve. It’s not cheap, so unless the parents have money to throw away, they will only pay the fees if their child is serious about the game.
  • Development – There’s a bigger focus on skill building. You practice much more than Little League, so your child will likely improve. 
  • Coaching – Travel teams will often have multiple talented baseball coaches who are more qualified and have more knowledge of the game and how it should be taught.
  • More exposure for the kids when they play in regional tournaments.
  • More games played 
  • Travel – more opportunities to travel as a family and see different parts of the country

Cons

  • Cost – The price of playing travel can be high, sometimes up to $5k per year. 
  • Time – Playing travel ball takes up a lot of time, so hopefully, you don’t like your weekends free in the summer.  
  • Competitive – Travel ball can also be a lot of fun, but it’s way more competitive. There is more of a focus on winning and advancing in tournaments. 
  • Playing time – The best players will rarely come off the field, so if your child is average, there might be a lack of playing time. 
  • Lack of diversity – Aside from the high cost, many argue that the lack of ethnic and socioeconomic diversity is what is wrong with travel baseball.
  • Overdoing it. Is all of this playing too much too soon? There’s been an enormous increase in Tommy John procedures over the past decade amongst young pitchers.

Travel Baseball vs Little League

The debate about travel baseball vs. Little League has been a popular topic in US youth baseball for some time. The two organizations have different philosophies on the game and how it should be played. 

We all came to love the game of baseball by playing Little League. For that reason, it’s easy to be biased toward the more laid-back rec leagues where the mission is to foster community, volunteerism, sportsmanship, and fair play. With Little League, whether you win or lose, each ballplayer should have fun, make lifelong friends and grow their love for this beautiful game. 

Travel ball is much more competitive, and fans of these types of leagues prefer the more “advanced” brand of baseball that comes along with it. In AAU and other travel ball associations, these leagues provide a level of instruction, coaching, and competition that Little League cannot match. 

If your child has shown true talent on the ballfield, considering “travel” should be an option. Many high school players and beyond have played in some competitive travel leagues.

I don’t want to give off the impression that these leagues have no similarities because they do. In any league, the kids should learn about teamwork, sportsmanship, respect for their opponent, work ethic, and dealing with and bouncing back from failure. These are excellent life lessons that extend well beyond the baseball field. 

The differences are around the competition level and the time commitment. Little League doesn’t always offer the type of coaching that will take your game to the next level. That is why many families are supplementing with travel ball.  

So, if your child is serious about playing at a high level, you should transition to travel ball at around 11-12 years old, if not earlier. 


What Is The Best Travel Baseball Team?

Take a look at travel baseball rankings to see who the best performing teams were this year. This site is an excellent resource because it lets you filter by age and either state or national rankings. It even allows you to see historical data to see who consistently ranks at the top.  

Some of the top 16u national teams for this past year are listed below. You will see that most originate from the baseball hotbed states of Texas, Florida, California, and Georgia.

16u Rankings

  1. USA Prime National(TX)
  2. Top Tier Roos National(FL)
  3. Exposure Under Church(TN)
  4. TBT National(FL)
  5. Power Baseball Marucci(FL)
  6. East Cobb Astros(GA)
  7. Knights Nation Baseball (LA)
  8. Alpha Prime National(CA)
  9. MCBC Hit Dogs(MI)
  10. 5 Star National Black(GA)
  11. Burn Scout Team(FL)
  12. Top Tier Roos American(FL)
  13. Canes National(VA)
  14. BPA(CA)
  15. CBU United(FL)

When Should I Leave A Travel Baseball Team?

Let’s face it; every child will not have a fantastic experience with their travel team. There are so many different factors that go into whether or not a kid has a positive experience. 

  • Are they getting enough playing time?
  • Are they developing their skills?
  • Is the team winning?
  • Do they get along with the other kids on the team?
  • Is it getting too expensive for the family?
  • Are they mad about the time commitment, missing birthday parties, sleepovers, etc.? 
  • Are the coaches compassionate and caring about you as a person, or are they only worried about winning a cheap plastic trophy?

It won’t be the same experience for everyone, so chances are, you and your child will know when it’s the right time to leave. It may be one of the reasons listed above or something completely different. Still, the bottom line is that if your child is not enjoying the experience and is not improving, why continue wasting money? 


Fundraising Ideas For Travel Baseball

  • Calendar
  • Super Bowl squares
  • Yeti Cooler raffle – 1 ticket for $10 or 3 for $20
  • Lottery ticket basket raffle
  • Stand in front of Dunkin Donuts or the grocery store with signs and helmets to collect the money. Have a sign that says we take Venmo!! Do it in 3 hours shifts and watch the money roll in. 
  • Golf tournament – although more complex to plan
  • Solicit donations from local businesses
  • Hit-A-Thon – They hit 15 (or whatever # of balls you choose). Each ball has a number on it. You sell each number for $10-20. The ball he hits the farthest wins a GC. The rest of the money you keep! Stream it live on Facebook for everyone to watch. Use the 99 Pledges site to set it up. I read about one League that raised $44k in one season. 
  • Car Wash
  • Purse bingo
  • Meat raffles
  • Wreaths at Christmas
  • Scentsy
  • Popcornmania
  • Pampered chef

Final Thoughts

Baseball should still be fun. As good as it might feel, do not try to relive the glory days if you even had them in the first place.

Many parents see baseball or any other sport their kid is playing as the only realistic path to college, and these youth games are treated as training grounds for an athletic scholarship. No wonder why you have adults screaming at umps and other kids. Unfortunately for some folks, every game feels like life or death. 

So, is travel baseball worth it? It can be a rewarding experience for your player and the entire family. You must select the right travel team to ensure you have that fulfilling experience.

Depending on when you start, you will be with this coach and these players and their families for the next few years. Committing to a travel team will turn your life into absolute chaos, but you will learn to love it. If you are lucky enough, you will join a team where you click with the other parents, and your kid becomes lifelong friends with his teammates.

Chris F.

Chris F.

Chris Forbes is the founder and editor of BaseballMode.com, a leading blog in the youth baseball space. As a lifelong baseball player, coach and fan, he decided to team up with his young son to offer advice and share their experiences with the sport they both love. Chris lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children.

Table of Contents

Shopping Cart