It’s a new year and a new season, and it’s time to get your kids back into the sport they love the most – baseball! Will this season be travel or rec? Or both?
If you didn’t grow up around baseball, you may not know what’s best for your kid. Before you make the right decision, you’ll need to understand the differences.
So what is the difference between travel baseball and recreational baseball?
The main difference is that travel baseball teams focus on tournament play, usually requiring players to travel sometimes far distances to play multi-day tournaments at neutral ball fields. In contrast, recreational baseball leagues are usually locally-based, with teams playing nearby opponents who are a part of the same league (ex. Little League).
Besides location of games and practices, the other important factors to consider when deciding between the two are:
- Level of competitiveness
- Cost (coaching, uniforms, facilities, fees, travel cost)
- Time-consumption (both players and parents)
- Coaching expertise and player resources
Both travel and rec baseball have been huge parts of my collective baseball career and I learned so much from being a part of both. In order to decide which is best for your kid, let’s look at the most important factors each in detail.
- The competition level is high
Is your kid crushing pitches over the fence every other at-bat? Does he want to throw faster when he is pitching?
Travel baseball will allow your kid to play against athletes who are of the same skill level.
IRON SHARPENS IRON.
No doubt your kid will be a better baseball player by the end of the summer if he is playing against all-stars like himself.
- Travel teams have access to more resources
Do you want access to a pitching coach and batting facilities, or the ability to play in front of college scouts?
Many travel baseball programs either employ or can connect you with areas to practice hitting and have access to coaches for hitting or specific positions. Some high school age teams (U14-U18) may participate in or have access to showcase tournaments, college camps, or tryouts that will get your athlete exposure to hopefully play baseball at the college level.
- Travel teams are a huge time commitment
For both you and your kid, weekends will be devoted to baseball and you will likely spend a lot of Saturday and Sunday outside at a ball field. Don’t forget the sunscreen! When you aren’t watching the games, you might be driving to and from the fields which can be hours away depending on the tournament.
Editor’s note: Spending so much time with your kid isn’t a bad thing! Many wonderful memories can be made through travel baseball, but keep in mind you don’t need to be on a travel baseball team for quality hang-out time to be had.
- Travel teams are expensive
Depending on what the travel baseball team has to offer and how elite this team is, you can be looking at paying a lot each season. On top of that, paying for uniforms, tournament fees, coaching fees, gas to get there, and often hotels to stay at for multi-day tournaments, you can be looking at a few thousand dollars for the season.
- Convenient and cheap
Are your weekends already busy enough? Do you want to limit the amount of money you spend?
Rec ball is local and won’t break your bank. Teams must pay entry fees that can be as low as $50-$200 per season, split among the whole team, the price is minuscule compared to travel baseball. Just pay for your kid’s uniform, equipment, and prepare to get involved with your kid’s team by helping coach or organize.
- Rec ball is FUN and INCLUSIVE for the whole community
Does your kid want to play with his best friends from school?
Rec baseball is a great way to play with local kids and meet local families.
It’s also a great way to get your kid out there, no matter what his skill level is. You and your kid will have a blast this season, as long as you don’t take rec baseball too seriously (STOP yelling at the umpires! They are doing their best!)
Rec baseball teams usually embrace an “everybody plays” mentality and most leagues have rules that require every player to play a minimum amount of innings while travel ball teams have no such requirements.
- Can be disorganized
Teams are usually coached by player’s parents, who have varying levels of baseball coaching knowledge and ability.
(Seriously! One of my rec ball coaches was teaching us hitting while reading from a “Baseball For Dummies” book!).
Additionally, uniforms, fields to play on, team banners, team meals, practice times, and many other factors are mostly all organized by volunteering parents who may not have the time to put into making a successful and well-organized team.
- The competition level is all over the place
You may have kids on your team who will never hit a pitch all season, and other kids who will turn double-plays looking like all-stars. You may play against a team who scores so many runs against your team that they mercy rule your team, and the next game you may score 20 runs against a team. It’s a mixed bag so be prepared for both outcomes on game days.
My Personal Experience
Some of the best memories I had growing up were from rec ball and the years playing in these leagues really solidified my love for baseball. I played with some of my best friends and made many more friends on my teams. My dad always helped out coaching so it was a great way for me and him to bond.
When I eventually transitioned to playing travel baseball, we practiced much less with the whole team (maybe 1 or 2 times per month), and instead, I hit in the batting cages 3-4 times per week.
I decided to play travel baseball because I really wanted to get BETTER at baseball.
This leads me to a very important point:
ONLY DO TRAVEL BASEBALL IF YOUR KID WANTS TO!
You will be wasting a huge amount of time and money if you put him on a team where he doesn’t want to be.
Should I Choose Travel or Rec Baseball for My Kid?
Armed with the information above, you should be able to make the right choice between travel baseball and rec baseball.
Should I Join Both?
Go for it.
But I would recommend no longer than 1-2 seasons. Doing both is extremely time consuming and can leave you and your kid burnt out on baseball, which is a huge bummer.
Start with rec baseball and add travel baseball for a season to see if your kid likes the nuances that come with travel baseball. If he wants to get serious with his sport, stick with travel baseball! It will challenge him and make him better! But if he doesn’t like it, rec baseball will be much more enjoyable.
Can I Even Join Both?
The odds are that, yes, you can join both. I can’t think of a better way to spend summer as a kid than playing baseball every day.
Mom, Dad: Strap in for this one though because trying to balance both travel ball and rec ball will be quite the challenge and will most likely be quite a commitment for you as well as your son.
It would be wise to sit down and make sure that the schedules will not conflict too much if your kid must have both.
How Much Does Travel Baseball and Rec Baseball Cost?
Travel Ball: All aspects included, you can be looking at upwards of $5,000 at the minimum. Coaching fees, facility fees, travel costs, and tournament fees are all things to consider. Elite teams may cost much much more than that! Here is a great article breaking down the cost of a travel softball team: https://www.ripit.com/blogs/news/recreational-ball-vs-travel-ball
Rec Ball: Since most of the work is done by parents on the team, prices are significantly lower. Expect to pay less than $500 per season, all things included. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/16/opinion/16mathews.html
At What Age/Skill Level Should My Kid Start Playing for a Travel Team?
Recreational leagues are 100% the best place to start if your kid is new to the game. Only consider transitioning to a travel team if your kid wants to and if you are willing to pay the price.
Transitioning to a travel team is a good idea to look into when your kid has transitioned to the larger field (90-foot base paths) and is comfortable making the throw from shortstop to first base. Anything younger than that could be a waste of time and money unless your kid is already one of the best on his team before that.
Whether you choose to have your kid play travel or rec baseball, the most important thing is that your kid is having fun! Make an informed decision and do some searching for the team that best fits your family’s needs!