One road better left untraveledGravel sponsor Al Oremus (left) and coach Sam Sorce during a tournament at Eastern Michigan University. | Steve King - For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 25, 2012 7:03PM
There was a time, I’d say the mid-1990s, when travel baseball pretty much exclusively was for players with advanced skills.
The studs, if you will.
The vast majority of players were relegated to their in-house community team.
Then, around the turn of the century, travel ball exploded. Not in a good way, mind you, but in an “if my son can’t make your team I’ll start my own travel team” sort of way.
Disgruntled Daddy Syndrome now has reached plague-like levels — and with a few exceptions, it has severely hampered the quality of Little League, Pony League and Pony-Colt baseball.
That’s my biggest fear concerning Gravel Baseball’s decision to form a full-time, April-to-October 16U travel team in 2013.
If families view Gravel Baseball’s way as the most sure-fire path to college scholarships — misguided or not — similar organizations surely will follow. It’s all about keeping up with the Joneses.
And if that means high school baseball suffers the way community leagues have, and, most important, kids are robbed of the experience of competing in prep sports, so be it.
Gravel Baseball’s 2013 16U team, its members preparing now to begin their sophomore year in high school, will travel the country competing in various tournaments, some as far as California.
The 14-player roster, hand-picked by Al Oremus and manager Sam Sorce, is loaded with talent. So much, in fact, that Gravel, 35-6 this summer despite competing against older teams, will schedule mostly 17U teams. Depending on the team’s success, it may play upward of 80 games.
There are four kids from Mount Carmel on the team. There were four from St. Laurence, until they transferred to their local public high schools this summer.
Players will be outfitted with gear. They’ll travel by airplane to some tournaments and stay in nice hotels.
The cost for each player? Monetarily, nothing.
That’s right. Oremus will pick up the entire tab. Very generous, indeed.
Oremus and Sorce told me they’re doing this to provide the players with as much exposure to college coaches as possible, and to allow them to test their skills against the best competition.
I will agree, to be the best, it helps to play the best. But they lost me on the exposure thing.
The one thing high school kids don’t lack these days is exposure. With travel and high school ball and the never-ending showcases and college camps, players have an abundance of choices to flaunt their skills. It’s virtually impossible for a skilled player to fall through the recruiting cracks.
This may come as a surprise to some parents, but if your son is not being recruited by a Division I school, he likely doesn’t have the chops.
I know it’s a major blow to the ego, but there’s nothing insulting about playing D-II or D-III college ball.
“Playing on a year-round travel team is an unnecessary risk,” Mount Carmel coach Brian Hurry said. “You’re getting all the exposure you need playing in the Catholic League Blue and in the college showcases. They’re robbing kids of the experience of playing high school sports. They’re cheating the kids out of an experience they’re going to treasure the rest of their lives.”
I couldn’t agree more. Gravel players, because of their schedule, can’t play high school baseball or play a fall sport.
The atmosphere in many high school games is second to none and prepares kids for the pressure of playing in college.
This remains a free country and Oremus, a generous man, is free to spend his money how he wants. Sorce, a knowledgeable baseball mind, can coach year-round if he so chooses.
If the success rate of local high school players playing in college weren’t so sky-high, I’d say year-round travel would be a viable option for families.
But there isn’t enough space in the sports section to list all of the local players who are playing at various levels of college baseball.
Yet, there’s a need for more exposure? At the expense of kids giving up their high school sports careers?
Sorry, I don’t buy it.