When it comes to youth baseball in Santa Clara, some kids play both traditional Little League and travel ball. However, many in the community are debating whether or not travel programs are truly good for the overall health of the sport at the youth level.
According to Wilcox Athletic Director and Baseball Coach Paul Rosa, an entire team’s worth of top players at Santa Clara Westside are not playing Little League this year. With that in mind, it sounds as if there will not be a three-peat championship. The past two seasons Westside’s 11-12 All Star team has won District 44 and had strong showings in the following Section tournament. Rosa, along with many other local coaches, have mixed feelings on travel ball.
“As a baseball purist, the way travel ball goes, is not good for the game. If you really wanna grow the game and have as many people playing as possible, the soccer model has proven that’s not the way to go,” remarked Rosa, referring to youth soccer club teams that have taken players away from high school soccer. “Baseball is slowly turning that way. It hasn’t really hurt our area as much because a lot of our travel ball teams in the past and even now, they do encourage kids to play Little League.”
“What people don’t understand is what if I’m a kid who doesn’t have a lot of money, I go to the local Little League and play and I’m 10 years old and can’t play travel ball. If you take travel ball kids out of that Little League, well me as that 10-year-old kid, I don’t get to play against the best players, so my game doesn’t get better because I’m not playing against good quality competition. I wish Little League and Pony baseball season would be untouched, that travel teams can’t touch those players during that time, but then they can play travel in the offseason.”
Santa Clara Bruins Assistant Coach Pedro Martinez, who played himself at Wilcox in the early 2000s, also isn’t sold on travel programs being good for baseball.
“Pay to play really does create the haves and have nots. It’s becoming an elitist sport, in my opinion,” said Martinez. “I’m glad the people like Jim [Greco] push kids to do Little League, but Living Legends, Mission City, all these [travel programs], they run Pony. Pony isn’t what it used to be, Pony used to be kids who signed up for free and got to play on the teams. What I grew up with isn’t there anymore. The overall numbers of players are dwindling, and these travel teams are funneling players towards certain schools.”
Archbishop Mitty Assistant Coach Jeremy Advincula coached the 2017 Westside Little League team that was one game away from winning the Section 5 Championship.
“Travel ball is great for kids who don’t play other sports and baseball is their passion,” said Advincula. “There are pros and cons to both sides. I love rec ball because it brings the community together. At the same time, I love travel ball because it gives kids an experience that rec ball wouldn’t give them. As a rec league coach I’m frustrated, because we are losing players and that sense of community, but at the same time, kids who want to get better and want tougher competition aren’t restricted to what they have in rec league, so it’s kind of a give and take.”