Paying to play

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, July 8, 2017

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Growing up, I was consumed by baseball.

I lived, breathed and even dreamed about it. Throwing dozens of balls daily through a tire in the backyard, I was convinced with enough practice that I could be the next Roger Clemens.

Richard Greene

Richard Greene

The problem was I eventually only reached 5’10” on my tippy toes and my fastball topped out around 80 instead of in the 90s. After an average high school career, some club ball in college and a season in an adult league, I was on to softball to live out my glory days.

But as a portly youth player with a stronger arm than most kids my age, I had a lot of opportunities to take the mound in local leagues and on all-star teams. I even toyed around on what may have been considered select teams at the time, playing in multiple leagues and tournaments on the weekends.

With that background, I took special interest in the last Friday’s Star-Telegram article by Jeff Caplan, who I shared a press box with back in the day covering UNT football, “Youth baseball gone wild: ‘You’re selling your son’s soul for a six-dollar trophy.'”

With that headline, how can you not read it?

Caplan chronicled the Haltom City Bombers and coach Lale Esquivel and how he will fly in players form California, Florida and Mexico to play on a his select 10-and-under team. Of the 20 players on the team, six didn’t live in Texas. Another shocking side note was the team was 81-5 since January. Bear in mind, these are 10-year-olds.

Esquivel and the Bombers organization was footing the bill or part of it for some of the top players. Players for some of the lower teams in the organization were paying $1,500 to $2,000 for a season. One parent admitted to spending $30,000 on his son’s baseball travel plus $1,200 a month to work with four trainers.

Overall, it’s hard for me to get my head around, especially on the money end. That $30,000 would go a long ways toward a college education; especially since Division I baseball programs only receive 11.7 scholarships to divide between a maximum of 27 players. Getting the 25 percent scholarship that Decatur’s Bryce Elder received from Texas is a home run.

But college may not be the only goal, as Esquivel pointed out in the Star-Telegram article saying he cut players whose ambitions topped out at making their high school teams. Getting drafted by a major league team is a goal, but it’s a long way from the 10-year-old diamonds to draft day. A lot will and can happen. It will be determined more by physical attributes – 60-yard dash speeds, arm strength and height. Your genes will determine more than paying thousands of dollars to play youth baseball.

Also how many kids do you remember seeing playing in the Little League World Series that eventually make it to the big leagues? Former Ranger bullpen hand Ed Vosberg and a handful of others are the only ones I can think of.

Baseball is not the only sport where select leagues and clubs have become the norm for many young athletes. They have been a part of youth soccer for decades and have grown in size tremendously for volleyball and basketball, with parents paying thousands for kids to play. The desire to play against top-level talent is understandable and admirable. We’ve featured articles about them in our paper.

But like baseball, buyers beware if considering it to land a college scholarship. Only 2 percent of all high school athletes are awarded some form of athletics scholarship to compete in college, according to the NCAA. Only NCAA Division I and II schools can offer athletic scholarships. Division III schools can only offer academic grants or need-based scholarships.

Games at Disney World and other exotic locations are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and can produce many memories. I hope most parents and players look at these games as what they are – a chance to play and have fun. Sports are an escape and give us a chance to all dream. But they shouldn’t be the only means to an end.

Richard Greene is the Messenger’s sports editor.

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