By Mark Moore
Associate Pastor, Worship, Third Baptist Church, Murfreesboro
A few summers ago, my son attended a baseball showcase in Lebanon. The stated goal of the showcase was to be chosen for a larger event in Atlanta — one that would be attended by college coaches and professional scouts.
The cost was minimal and only involved about two hours of our time. It was more evaluation than anything, and since my son would need to do these kinds of events in the years ahead for college exposure, he participated.
The following week I was contacted by a representative from the sponsoring organization who was impressed with my son’s skills and wanted him to play on an age 16 and under team that would play tournaments in Arizona the following month. The cost? $3,500. I politely refused his offer and told him it was way too early and way too expensive for us to participate.
Youth baseball has changed
Baseball is a game — a boy’s game. It’s best enjoyed on a sandlot with friends, at a big league ball park with your family, or the local ball fields, where the Dodgers play the Giants in the 10-year-old recreation league.
There’s a problem though with the game. It has evolved into a business and a culture that promises exposure and scholarships and the fulfillment of every boy’s dream. What was once a simple game involving a ball, bat, and glove has transformed into significant financial commitment and a culture of narcissism and entitlement. It’s out of control and it will continue as long as players believe the hype and parents pay the bucks.
As parents, we want the best for our children. We want their lives to be rich with every experience and we want them to have every opportunity to be successful. For those parents who are Christians, and whose lives are saturated with matters of faith, the tension between success and faith is sometimes burdensome.
We want our children to profess faith, and we want them, as adults, to grow in their faith so everything they do in their lives is seen through the lens of the gospel. Yet, we want them to be — according to the standards of this world — successful.
Lifeway Research looked at the role of faith in parenting (March 2009) and found that “The vast majority of parents hope their children grow up to live good lives, but for many, parental success does not include faith in God — even among parents who are evangelical Christians.”
Travel baseball promises success. Play for a particular team in the right tournaments and, by the end of the summer, you’ll get a scholarship, maybe even go pro. Add to that allure the demanding schedule that travel baseball requires, and you can sense the tension that church-going parents have. All too often, we place our faith on the shelf and go “all in” to pursue success for our children.
I can hear the critics shouting. I’ve heard it every time I’ve talked or written about the problems of travel baseball. They say, “We do it differently,” or “We keep everything in perspective,” or “We’re just out here having fun,” and on and on.
I used to say those things, too, but as time passed, I was washed away with the current of the travel baseball culture.
In 2002 when my first son started playing travel ball, he played for about $200 for the summer and most of that cost was for tournament fees.
Now, teams charge anywhere from $1,200 to $2,000 or even more to play on a summer travel team and that doesn’t include the cost of travel and meals for the parents. Coaches are paid and tournaments make money. Summer baseball has become big business.
Lest you think I’m a bitter parent whose sons didn’t get to play, I’m not. My oldest son combined an athletic scholarship with an academic scholarship at a Division I program. My youngest son played on a junior college team this year that won a championship. Both had success on the field.
I played the game, too. When I was finished, I stayed involved as an umpire at the high school and summer collegiate level. I’ve coached many teams, the rosters of which included several players who were drafted and one who currently starts for a major league team.
What I learned, though, with travel baseball is that there are people involved who take advantage of gullible parents who believe their player will go on to the next level. They prey on your desire to want success for your child, as well as the guilt you’ll have when your player’s friends are playing and you chose not to do it.
As a parent, we need to be aware of some facts.
According to a survey by the NCAA, updated in April 2016, only 7 percent of high school players will play any college baseball, only 2 percent of which are Division 1. Of those that play college baseball, about 2 percent will actually play professional baseball.
Regarding faith, research by the National Association of Evangelicals (Spring 2015) shows us that most people who become Christians do so before the age of 14. These facts reveal the importance of making sure you and your family are committed to your faith and the church.
Resolving the tension
Parents who are Christians must be realistic when confronted with the choices in front of them regarding travel baseball. The tension that exists can be resolved if matters are kept in perspective.
The years that you have with your child are important. As a parent, you are tasked with the responsibility of child rearing. As a Christian parent, your first Great Commission task is to share the gospel with your children and live it. While not impossible, it’s very difficult to do if you’re chasing a 2 percent dream.
Travel baseball has become the proverbial “tail wagging the dog.” The commitment of finances and time are significant while commitment to church and matters of the faith suffer.
As you think about the balance of travel baseball and commitment to faith, let me encourage you to do a few things:
(1) Take a stand. The secularization of our society demands that we, as Christians, take a stand. Keeping church commitment in balance with baseball will not be easy, but it can be done. The bottom line? Your child’s faith.
(2) Be skeptical. Ask questions. Playing for a team or program needs to benefit your child in some way. Paying a large fee for uniforms and a coach’s salary gets you nothing.
(3) Use this opportunity as your platform to share the gospel. You’ll create significant relationships during a summer. Use that to be a witness.
(4) Protect your child. You, as the parent, are the only one who knows what is best for your child.
(5) If you choose to play travel baseball, wait until your player is 15 or 16-years-old. Travel baseball at younger ages is pointless and benefits no one but the ego of the parent.
If your child throws in the 90s, or has a Ted Williams swing, or can run a 6.3 second 60-yard dash, they will make the high school team and continue playing after high school. Travel baseball has no effect on that.
If your child hears about the gospel and sees you committed to live it every day in-and-outside the church, I’m certain that will have an effect. In the end, that’s what is worth pursuing.