Around the country, the game of baseball at the youth level is trending more and more away from traditional Little League and towards the influx of new travel ball programs.
Little League itself is actually a nonprofit. All “Little Leagues” around the country are a part of this national tradition that dates back to 1939. Little League was founded in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where the famous “Little League World Series” is held every summer. Travel baseball programs on the other hand are for-profit baseball programs that offer kids opportunities to play more baseball games in addition to simply playing Little League in the spring.
In many areas, travel programs are often pressuring kids into picking travel ball over Little League, but in Santa Clara that isn’t the case. As a Santa Clara Briarwood Little League alumnus himself, Jim Greco, founder of the travel ball program Living Legends, purposefully tailors his travel ball schedule to allow his players to continue playing Little League.
“I scale it back, we’re not a full-time program in the spring for our younger kids,” remarked Greco, who previously coached at and served as Vice President at Briarwood. “It’s just a part time thing, one tournament a month. We have them focus on one tournament so they can still spend their time with Little League.”
One of the current noteworthy 12-year-old stars for Briarwood Little League is Toby Esqueda. He plays for the Briarwood Pirates and for Greco’s Living Legends.
“We have Toby Esqueda in our program and he’s the home run leader right now for Briarwood,” added Greco with a smile. “He has seven or eight home runs, the next highest in the league is about three. He plays in my program doing the part time thing, one tournament a month. When he comes back out to our travel ball games he’s locked in at the plate. He’s not missing a beat with the kids in our program doing full time.”
Unfortunately, with money on the line, that’s where some travel ball programs are only about the bottom line, and pressure kids into choosing them or Little League.
“The programs that are pushing kids to just do travel ball full time and don’t worry about your rec league, I understand it a bit,” admitted Greco. “Sure, some rec leagues are not that good. You want better competition. But with Little League and rec league, you are representing your neighborhood. And those traditions are still important for communities. If there weren’t money involved in any of this, nobody would be pushing kids in either direction. I would prefer that kids could hopefully do both.”
Travel ball offers kids an opportunity to play year-round and develop their skills. That’s a positive, but Little League offers kids a tradition and community vibe that travel ball cannot replicate. Current Major League Baseball players Kyle Barraclough and Mitch Haniger both played at Santa Clara Little Leagues. Regular kids, perhaps some who maybe just picked grass in right field, can look back and say they played on the same team as a Major Leaguer. Travel ball doesn’t offer those same memories and community inclusivity.