Sixteen and seventeen year old high school baseball players who want to play summer baseball have to make a choice between American Legion baseball versus travel baseball. And quite often there is some heavy recruiting from the American Legion coaches. Over the past few years legion coaches have seen a drop in the number of players wanting to play American Legion baseball. They now have to actively pursue players. Let’s take a look at why American Legion baseball numbers are dwindling.
Little League Baseball Explodes
The little league baseball scene exploded about fifteen years ago for ten through fourteen year olds. World Series tournaments went from just a few organizations with eight or ten teams to many organizations with tournaments of one hundred or more teams. And over the last six years this expansion of teams and tournaments has carried over to the fifteen through eighteen year old age groups.
Previously the baseball choices for these high school age players were limited to a few AAU teams and American Legion teams. Now there many teams called travel baseball teams. These teams do just what their name implies; they travel around the country playing in tournaments or showcases. Some sporting goods manufacturers help sponsor many of these traveling teams.
With this expansion of travel teams, college baseball coaches have figured out a new way to scout and recruit high school players. Rather than travel all over the country and chase summer teams, they now have these traveling teams come play at their stadium. Many college coaches will organize a couple of tournaments each summer. They make a little money on the tournament and get to see lots of players without having to travel.
For the players the exposure to college coaches is invaluable. And they get to play on college baseball fields and see college campuses.
Other Sports Demand Summer Time
Another reason for the drop in players wanting to play legion baseball is other sports. It seems like every high school sport has a summer long training program or other activity forcing kids to play only one sport. High school football and basketball players do not want to go lift weights and workout every morning, and then go play a baseball doubleheader that doesn’t end until eleven pm. It is sad but true that many high school players are forced to choose one sport.
Legion Age Limit Raised
A few years back American Legion raised the age limit of legion players from eighteen to nineteen. This increase has helped teams keep their numbers up. Many freshmen in college like coming home and playing another year of baseball. And recently American Legion has started promoting their Jr. Legion baseball program. They feel that the sooner they get players into the legion program the better. It is too early to know if this feeder program will be successful or not.
What to Do?
So what should a high school baseball player do? Should he play American Legion baseball with his high school buddies, or find a travel team to showcase his skills to many college coaches?
I can speak on this subject from both sides of the fence. I have a son who played four years of legion baseball and another one who is playing travel baseball. American Legion baseball is an old and proud program. Players on the team all come from the same town or city. You wear an American Legion patch on your shoulder. Typically legion coaches stay with the program for many years. You play lots and lots of games, and your home games are played close by. And usually the cost is reasonable. But from my experience not many college coaches or recruiters come to legion games.
Travel teams are usually made up of players from many different high schools. They will practice a lot and it may be far away. Quite often travel teams have hired coaches. They may travel three out of every four weekends. Many tournaments start on Wednesday or Thursday during the day. Lots of car pooling becomes necessary. There can be many college coaches and professional scouts at their games. The cost of travel teams can be very high.
I believe both types of teams are needed and will survive. Travel baseball is not for everyone, nor can everyone afford the cost. However, if you or your son is good enough, there can usually be something worked out. Travel team coaches want to win, so they will find a way for good players to be on the team. If you are a good player it is worth your effort to find a travel team. The college and professional baseball exposure is substantially better with travel teams.
But the American Legion program will continue to be a great choice for many high school players. Many professional and division one players have come out of the legion program. There are just a little fewer coming from legion baseball now.