The Ultimate Parent’s Guide to Travel Baseball | Everything You Need to Know

March 14, 2023

49 min read


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If you’ve got yourself a youth baseball player, you’ll probably start hearing all about travel ball soon – if you haven’t already. 

Travel baseball can be rewarding and exciting for both you and your ballplayer. 

It’s a chance for your child to substantially develop their baseball skills and passion while having a ton of fun. 

And a chance for you to foster that positive growth and love for the game while joining a new social tribe yourself – that of the travel ball parent, with its fulfilling experiences, camaraderie, and norms, just like any good tribe. 

But, travel ball can also be a huge commitment. It often involves a significant financial and time investment from you and your budding athlete. 

So before deciding to play travel ball, you should carefully consider what your child will get out of it and how it might affect your entire family. 

Several factors should go into this choice of whether or not to play club ball. 

And in this ultimate parent’s guide to travel baseball, you’ll learn how travel ball works, the pros and cons of travel ball vs. recreational baseball, what to look for in a new travel team, and even how to start your own travel team.

Let’s hook-slide in together.

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The Difference Between Travel and Recreational Baseball

Recreational Baseball

Recreational baseball often refers to Little League. Although, there are other organizations around the country, like PONY or Cal Ripken Baseball, that host recreational baseball leagues for their localities. 

Local is a keyword here. That’s usually the main difference between rec and travel ball – recreational ball doesn’t require travel. 

Recreational leagues focus on players learning the basics of the game, especially at the youngest levels. Seasons run from late spring to early summer. And you can expect around two games per week.

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Travel Baseball

Travel ball, on the other hand, refers to teams that travel to other cities or states to play baseball. 

Club teams might be a single team or an entire organization with several teams spanning different age levels. 

Another major difference is that travel ball is often played year-round. Not having extended off-seasons ups the commitment levels for all involved significantly. 

A few of the biggest organizations in the travel ball world are the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), Triple Crown Sports, and Perfect Game. 

These organizations will host most of the tournaments that travel teams compete in.

Traditionally, travel ball has been a higher level of competition than Little League, meant to train elite players who had their eyes set on collegiate opportunities. 

However, as travel ball becomes more ubiquitous, the level of competition can now run the gamut a bit more between extremely high to moderate-low.   

Travel baseball, as you’ll see, is also much more expensive in terms of both cost and time commitment than its recreational variety. 

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The Pros and Cons of Rec Ball Versus Travel Baseball

Both recreational and travel baseball have their merits and drawbacks. You and your child should consider the pros and cons of both before deciding which type of team to play on. 

Little League Pros

  1. Local – If you don’t fancy traveling around two weekends out of every month, then recreation leagues might be better for your family.

    Part of this locality is time. The amount of time you and your ballplayer will spend at team practices, games, and individual workouts is significantly less in recreation baseball. 
  2. Learn a lot – Little League, PONY, or Cal Ripken Baseball teams’ emphasis on learning and having fun lets your kid discover and grow to love the game in a low-pressure environment. 

    Some children benefit more from this, especially in the beginning, while others thrive only with higher levels of competition.
  3. Less expensive The average fee in the U.S. for a season of Little League is $150, but it could vary as low as $30 and as high as $250 in some areas. 

    Travel ball can easily cost three to four times that. But we’ll get into the details and rough estimates of this cost in just a bit.
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Little League Cons

  • Dependent on your area Having a local baseball league often depends on the interest in your area. No interest could mean no teams.

    The level of competition also depends on who’s playing and how much talent your area happens to have.
  • Not a conduit for playing at the next level – Although it used to be the case, Little League is no longer a safe route to playing high school and college baseball. 

    Today, kids who want to reach these levels and find success once there, must, in most cases, find a travel team to play on at some point in their journey. 

    Of course, there are exceptions to this for ballplayers who naturally have top-tier talent. And obvious caveats must also be made to make room for how competitive or noncompetitive a particular high school might be. 

    But these unique instances aside, the reality for many parents and coaches on the ground is that playing rec ball only these days makes it less likely for a young man to be an impact player in high school or college. 
  • Coaches With recreational baseball, the coach is usually one of the players’ parents. And this person may know little to nothing about baseball, or about managing a youth team. They are exclusively volunteers after all.

    Sometimes you can get very lucky with elite-experienced parent volunteers and other times not so lucky – it's kinda a crapshoot.  
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Travel Ball Pros

  • Better competition and coaches Travel ball usually affords more competitiveness and more experienced coaches.

    Travel ball coaches might even be former college and high school coaches who’ve started a travel club.

    And larger organizations often pay monthly or seasonal paychecks to these professional coaches – many of which will not have a child on the team.
  • More games Instead of the 8 games per month during a short, designated rec season, your child can expect to play much more with travel ball. 

    It’s year-round, and the most games occur during weekend tournaments in the summer. Though some yearly tournaments are weeklong affairs. 

    At each tournament, teams play between three and ten games – depending on how well your team does in bracket play. By playing more games, your kid gets more exposure to baseball and is afforded more reps to cultivate their developing skills.
  • Nicer facilities, opportunity to travel Travel ball tournaments are usually held at nice facilities with plenty of room for parents to watch and for teams to hang out when they’re not playing. 

    Club ball also gives your kid a chance to venture outside their native city or state, which can be a valuable learning experience for them.

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Travel Ball Cons

Costly – A season of travel ball can run anywhere from $800-$28,000 per year, depending on tons of different variables.

The numbers above may be less common on both the low and high side – but both are certainly possible. 

🚨 Important Note: This price tag variance depends on things like your ballplayer’s age (are they pre or post college-recruitability), your geographic location, the regional or national competitiveness level of the team, whether your team coach is paid or a volunteer, and how many of the non-required expenses that we’ll list below you choose to avoid. 

The second number ($28,000) that’s causing your blood pressure to rise higher than Boston’s Green Monster is meant to reflect a total expenses possibility with everything maxed out. 

You may not find a number that high when you Google travel ball expenses, but the writers of those articles are likely not including every single cost into their calculations. 

Here are some things to truly consider:

You will be expected to pay base starting fees and possibly tournament entry fees for your team or organization. 

And, sometimes, you’ll also be on the hook for monthly team dues along with an annual organizational fee. 

Also, you’ll  purchase all of your ballplayer’s personal baseball equipment and uniforms if your team’s not sponsored. 

And in travel ball, the pressure to get your ballplayer the top of the line equipment in all categories is much stronger than in rec ball. 

Next, many sports complexes that host tournaments charge daily gate fees on top of not allowing outside food or drinks. 

And you and your family need to eat and stay hydrated during these all day tourneys, which leaves the complex’s overpriced snack shack or restaurant as the only option at times. 

Don’t forget the hotels, food, and transportation costs for any and all out-of-town games, too. 

Further expenses include the gas and increased vehicle maintenance that you will surely incur driving to so many practices and games within your county or state. 

Another common expense that sneaks up on parents are weekly private or group lessons that are often expected by competitive programs. 

Besides hitting, pitching, catching, or fielding sessions, many parents also opt for sport performance training and athletic optimization services – i.e. strength and conditioning classes, a physical therapist, a chiropractor, etc. 

Another cost is found by participating in team bonding and fundraising activities, where you might be expected to bring snacks and drinks or buy tickets – such small things add up during the course of the year-long travel season. 

Finally, if your ballplayer is recruiting age, this higher number above includes college camps and showcases throughout the year.

It also includes getting his professional skills video produced, so you have something great to send over to college coaches.

Do not be too alarmed. Many of these expenses are totally avoidable and up to your family's budget. 

But, you should also know there tend to be unspoken expectations and incentives for some of these activities that you might feel are avoidable once you’re actually inside of competitive travel programs.

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  • Time – Travel ball is a significant time commitment. The two weekends per month out of town for tournaments is only a small part of it.

    Your child might also have practice or scrimmages against other travel ball teams during the week.

    And, as mentioned, your ballplayer may still be expected to get professional skill and sports training lessons each week.
  • Tough The level of competition is, again, higher in travel ball.

    The players are better, and many teams take a “the best players play” rather than an “everybody plays” approach. Club baseball can be intense and challenging.

    If your ballplayer’s skills aren’t at the right level yet, then they’ll see less playing time and could get discouraged. 
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Should You Switch from Rec Ball to Travel Baseball?

Parents often have mixed opinions when it comes to travel ball. In particular, there’s disagreement over what age to switch. 

Some say you shouldn’t put your child in club ball until he is 13 years old, since many kids drop out of sports altogether by this age. 

The rationale behind this recommendation goes something like: 

Most parents can avoid paying a bunch of fees for travel ball between the ages of 7-12, when your child is statistically likely to give up the sport soon anyway. And if they’re still serious about baseball at 13 years old, then it’s worth the investment.

While some parents echo this sentiment, others strongly advise starting your kid in travel ball much sooner – if they show a real interest. 

As one parent put it online when asked about starting at the 8U level, “As long as they don’t get burned out I say let em’ play.” 

Another parent disagreed, however, saying that they saw “absolutely no value in travel ball with children that are so young.” 

Most parents polled agree that their decision to switch depended on their circumstances. 

Some said that “it is difficult to make a blanket statement” about when to switch or that decisions “are going to vary based on regions.” 

Again, the latter statement points to the raw fact that certain geographic regions of the country are much more competitive in baseball than others.

Living in a highly competitive region raises the threshold necessary for things like making a high school team to the point that playing travel to gather enough skill is an almost prerequisite.  

Often, the decision to join a travel team does come down to the organizations in your area. You’ll want to find out how many travel organizations there are in your locale and what their quality is. 

If there are no clubs in your town or city and none nearby, you’ll be looking at a bigger time commitment and more expenses to put your kid on a club team – which will include much more driving and the potential for more hotel rentals. 

But when to switch from rec ball to travel is not the most important question facing parents and ballplayers who are still on the fence about switching in the first place. 

So let’s get to the heart of the matter.

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Will Your Child Enjoy Playing Travel Ball?

The most important factor to consider when making the switch to travel ball is your child’s interest in baseball. 

Is your kid a competitor looking to sharpen his or her skills and continue playing as he or she gets older? 

Or does your child like baseball for the fun of it, and enjoy being on the field with his teammates?

🗣️ Real Talk: A kid who’s less interested in baseball – particularly on how it might pertain to his future goals – isn’t going to see the value in traveling long distances to play or sit on the bench almost every weekend. Such a young ballplayer will also be less enthusiastic about spending time outside of games throughout each week grinding away to get himself better. 

Travel baseball is a huge time commitment – but not just for you. Your child has to be willing to put a lot of personal time and energy into it as well.

Is Your Child Willing to Give Things Up for Club Ball?

Playing travel ball means your kid will miss out on many social events with friends and family.

Birthday parties, holiday celebrations, sleepovers, school events, family reunions, can be all sacrificed to time playing baseball. 

🧢 Reality Check: Schoolwork also often becomes a challenge for serious athletes who may have significantly less time to do their homework or study each night than their non-athlete counterparts after practices or training. 

Travelball players will also miss much more school each year than the average student due to traveling on Friday’s and being gone entire weeks for major tournaments. 

But they will still be expected to make up for everything that they've missed by teachers and school administrators.

This is not say that there aren't plenty of travel ball players excelling in the classroom, because of course there are.

It's just that they need to be more focused and organized than other kids to get those same high marks, and parents should be aware of these realities. 

Not only are time and special occasions sacrificed, but the money you spend on baseball – fees for the team, equipment, private lessons, etc. – is money you cannot now spend on other things your child might want. 

Depending on your family’s finances, new clothes, video games, gadgets, and other material items for your son could come at the cost of playing baseball.

Whether you switch from recreational to travel baseball is ultimately down to you and your child. There are many factors to consider, some of which, like where you happen to live, are outside of your control. 

The best thing you can do is educate yourself and your child as much as possible about the pros and cons of travel ball, and then make an informed decision together. 

And this guide is a great start. But it should be supplemented by talking to local parents in your area and possibly finding Facebook Groups or other communities to learn from parents who have been there and done that when it comes to making the travel ball switch. 

If you do decide travel ball is the way to go for your family, then your next task is to find the best team for your ballplayer’s development. 

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How to Get Started on a Travel Baseball Team

What To Look For in a Travel Team

If you and your child do decide to join a club baseball team, then you have five main things to look for when choosing a team.

1. Coaching

Here are few questions about any travel ball coach that you, as parents, will want answered right off the bat before joining their team:

  • Who is the coach, and what is this person’s experience? 
  • Is the coach someone who knows what they’re doing in terms of baseball skills and leadership?
  • Even if they know the game, are they new to the travel ball scene?

Note: this last question can become more important once your ballplayer gets into the college recruitable ages. 

If it’s your ballplayer's goal to play in college, you will want to join an established program that plays in the right tournaments to get noticed, and a coach that has built a trusted relationship with college coaches and recruiters over the years. 

But, if the current goal is just to improve your son’s skill set, then the coach’s knowledge and ability to articulate it might be more important to you than he or she being a travel ball insider.  

Some additional, related questions to ask both the travel coach directly and to ask parents whose child is already playing under he or she are:

  • What kind of coaching style is most commonly used? 
  • Does the coach emphasize skill development or college recruitment? 
  • Is the coach more like an instructor, or is the team playing to win nearly all of the time? 
  • Would the coach yell at a player for making a mistake on the field or pull them aside afterward to discuss the error privately?

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2. Cost

As we’ve explored, cost is a big factor for travel ball because it’s not cheap. Make sure you get all the anticipated, known costs for the season upfront from the coach or their team administrator.

If the coach can’t give you exact figures of what things cost on their end – monthly team dues, organization fees, uniform costs, and any additional tournaments costs – before you sign on, be wary. 

The coach may not be organized or experienced enough to help your ballplayer and you might end up paying more than you expected to. 

Some club teams have sponsors who provide equipment and uniforms, but others will ask parents to pay for these in addition to registration fees. 

You might also have to hand over a fee to help fund the coach’s stipend if they are paid for their expertise. 

For some elite organizations, coaching is a full-time job, plus the coach has to travel with the team too.

3. Location

Here’s some questions on this front that you’d want answered:

  • Do you live near a big urban center where the team plays most of its tournaments, eliminating long travel times? 
  • Or does the team regularly travel out of state for their games? 
  • It’s a travel baseball team, but exactly how much travel is involved on this particular team?

Think carefully about how much you and your kid are willing to travel and factor those expenses into the cost.

4. Structure

Structure-related questions might include:

  • How does the team operate? 
  • Will your child get to see significant playing time? 
  • Will the team have regular practices and training sessions to attend as well?

Another important question about structure is if your kid will get to pick their position. 

Meaning, will the coach let kids play where they want, or try to rotate everyone around to different positions during practices or practice games? 

Of course, this last line of questioning applies almost exclusively to the youngest levels of play. From about 14U up, there is more positional specialization and team roles are established and sustained more based on the talent and performance of the individual ballplayers. 

5. Values

Value question to get clarity on:

  • What is the mission of this travel team? 
  • Are they helping players get noticed by college recruiters? 
  • Do they just try to offer more playing time and a fun environment? 

Make sure their objectives line up with yours. Ask yourself as well how your child will develop as a baseball player by joining this particular travel team.

6. Team Chemistry

Before joining a club team you should try to gauge the team’s chemistry. 

Once you commit, your child will be spending a lot of time with these teammates, so if they don’t get along or your kid doesn’t feel like he or she fits in, it could be a problem.

Similarly, look at how the parents interact with the players and each other. Are the other parents promoting a supportive environment for everyone by being encouraging?

Or are they the types to yell at umpires, coach from the stands, or take the game to unhealthy levels? 

Not only will your kids be spending a lot of time with their teammates, but you’ll also spend time with the other parents. 

So choosing a travel team is in a way choosing friends and peers for both you and your child. 

Team chemistry should also extend to how players and coaches relate to each other. Do the coaches work hard to bolster the kids’ confidence, or are they constantly tearing them down for the sake of winning?

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Where To Look for Travel Baseball Teams

Reading up on how travel baseball works in helpful guides – like this one – is again a great start. 

Don’t be afraid to ask around in your area about club baseball, either. Word-of-mouth is often one of the best ways to understand travel ball, especially how it operates in your specific city or town. 

You can also look up registered teams in your area on the USSSA website or

Again, Facebook Groups are also a great way to find local travel teams, since many teams might not have their own website. 

These groups are filled with parents like yourself and coaches who relish in helping with your travel ball journey. 

But maybe you have lots of playing or coaching experience and want to spearhead your own travel ball team. We’ve got you covered on exactly how to do it below. 

How to Start Your Own Travel Baseball Team

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Choosing to join an existing club team is one thing; starting your own is another entirely. 

Maybe you have some playing or coaching experience and you’d like to put together a team for your son or daughter. Maybe there aren’t any club teams in your area, so you’ll be starting the first. 

Whatever your reasons, starting a travel baseball team is a rewarding endeavor, albeit a daunting one. You are basically starting an entirely non-profit business. 

And you’ll see below that you must do many of the same steps that new entrepreneurs must do when beginning an enterprise, so make sure you have the time and skills for this undertaking before you even start.  

The steps to creating a travel ball team can be broken down into four main phases. 

We’ll look at each of these in detail. 

Travel Ball Team Building Phase 1 - Finding Volunteers

Before doing anything else, you should recruit some other parents or outside volunteers to lend you a hand. 

Whether you’re planning to coach the team or to have someone else do it, committing to running all aspects of a team as a single individual for an entire season isn’t feasible. 

To make a strong team, the internal team of coaches, team managers, or recruiters needs to be strong first. 

Call on parents you know and trust, former coaches, former teammates from your playing days, or current older players to help you out. 

As you’ll see in future steps below, it’s highly recommended these days to have at least one person on your team who knows marketing, graphic design, or website creation. You’ll save a lot of time and money this way.

And instead of having 2-3 full-time volunteers, it can be helpful to eventually amass a network of people who are willing to pitch in semi-frequently. 

That way, you’ll have coverage if one of your coaches or volunteers can’t make it.

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Travel Ball Team Building Phase 2 - Planning Your Budget

After you have a group of people to help out, you should focus on the financial planning for the team. 

Make a list of the expenses that you’ll have to cover, along with sources of funding. 

💰 Basic Travel Team Expenses: 

📍 You’ll need to rent a decent practice facility or field, or both. 

⚾️ You'll need to purchase durable jersey uniforms and basic team equipment, like balls, buckets, tees, and popup nets. 

✈️ You also need to project how much it’ll cost to play in the tournaments you’re interested in, as well as traveling expenses for however many players you plan on carrying. 

Next, you should approach local sponsors about paying for some of the things you need, like uniforms and equipment. 

Now’s the time to think about fundraisers as well. Any the money you raise helps lower your player fees. 

Fundraisers are an important aspect of many teams, especially those without established sponsors. 

Raffles, silent auctions, casino nights, bingo nights, trivia nights, and paid dinners can all make great fundraising events. 

Look around at your volunteers and support staff. Do they have any skills, jobs, or relationships that can help raise funds to send your boys to the best tournaments? 

Company tickets to sporting events, like box seats or concerts, make great raffle or silent auction items. And if someone owns a restaurant, a paid dinner fundraiser is a no-brainer. 

Take this budget phase seriously, and it’ll save you a lot of headaches down the road. 

Travel Ball Team Building Phase 3 - Getting Your Players

Once you have some people to help and a balanced budget, you need to find some players. 

It’s possible you already have a group of interested players and that’s why you’re starting the team in the first place. 

But your initial seed group may not be big enough to field an entire team. So you’ll likely need more. 

There are two slightly different journeys at this point in the process. One for people wanting to start a travel team by joining an already established organization and another for those starting a new team completely from scratch.

Of course, joining something that already exists is a bit easier, because they'll hopefully have team processes and even recruiting relationships in place that'll allow you to hit the ground running. 

If you are joining an already established travel ball organization, then you'll want to leverage their name, social media accounts, website, and email list to help you recruit your new squad of ballplayers. 

Even if this is the case, you will likely still want to create your own social media accounts that use the established organization's name alongside either the age group or grad years of your team and your last name as the username.

Here's a template for what we mean when applied to an Instagram account name:

{Established Organization Name} {The Age Group: 8U, 10U, 12U, 14U, 16, 18U or Graduation Years} {Your Last Name}

Example: LA Pioneers 12U d'Aranud

But, if you're starting a new team or organization from scratch, there will be some additional steps. To make people aware of your team, you'll want to do the following:

  • Pick a name
  • Create a logo
  • Set up all of your social media profiles
  • If possible, create a simple website. 

A website can be a major differentiator between your travel team and others, as most teams still only have social media presences and no official site in the current year.

For social media, you need Facebook and Instagram profiles at minimum, because these are the first places interested potential parents in the current year will check you out. 

If your logo design and website developer skills are not where you’d like, we recommend outsourcing these things to freelancers on Fiverr, UpWork, or 99 Designs. 

You can find incredibly talented people who are reasonably priced and can do whatever you require quickly. 

But always first look into your new network of trusted team helpers and see what skills they possess before outsourcing anything. 

Once these fundamental online presences are established, you will want to make some social posts that give parents looking into your program feelings of trust. 

Post about your playing or coaching experience and about everyone on the awesome team of helpers that you’ve assembled. Seek to post images or videos that convey your values as a new team. 

Tell everyone you know about these new profiles, so you can build a bit of social proof for your team and encourage all of your helpers to do the same. This step alone can get you your first one hundred to a thousand followers. 

Once people in your community know your team exists, you can hold tryouts for skilled players. 

Seek out travel baseball message boards and Facebook groups, and post all the details of your tryouts – making sure to include a link to your shiny new website or social media profiles. 

There are even Instagram profiles dedicated exclusively to posting the details of travel ball tryouts, so take advantage of these as well.

However, if you’re still not getting enough interest through these free methods, you might consider setting up paid Facebook or Instagram ads. Just make sure that the video or graphics you use for your ads are top-notch. 

Again, if you’ve never created such assets or set up Facebook ads before – and they can be overwhelming to the uninitiated – lean on outside professional help in the beginning. Experts in paid media creation and management can be found all over the web.

Next, you run your awesome baseball tryouts. These we’ll leave to you, coach. 

When putting together your roster though, hedge toward a bigger team rather than a small one

Summer is an active time for kids – they have family vacations and other sports or activities to do in addition to baseball. You may not have your full roster attending every tournament at the start. 

So having a team with at least 14 or more players covers you for when other commitments come up. 

🫠 P.s. We know that all this digital marketing and technical rigmarole is not what you signed up for when you decided that you wanted to make an impact in the lives of young ballplayers with a travel baseball team. 

But checking these necessary boxes will help you reach your real goals, so they’re worth taking very seriously. 

And it’s part of why assembling your all-star volunteer team is step one – find someone that can expertly handle this online presence stuff, if that person isn’t you. 
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Travel Ball Team Building Phase 4 - Registering Your Team

Once you have your team put together, you’ll need to register your players with at least one of the major travel ball associations in the country. 

Again, these are USSSA, AAU, Triple Crown, Nations, Perfect Game, but there are others. 

These associations host the travel ball tournaments that you’ll be competing in. Make sure you follow the regulations and register your team properly. Each organization has their own unique guidelines for registering.

Once this phase is complete, you still have all the practices, travel logistics, and dues collections to worry about – but you will have laid an amazing foundation for your new travel team. 

Now you can enjoy the honor of helping the next generation of ballplayers find success in the game you love. 

Wrapping Up Our Ultimate Parent’s Guide to Travel Ball

As you’ve undoubtedly realized – because we repeated it more than once – travel baseball is a big commitment. 

Switching from recreational baseball to travel ball shouldn’t be done lightly. 

It should also be a joint decision between you, your ballplayer, and the rest of your family. If you or your kid is interested in club baseball, then make sure you both understand the impact it’ll have on your lives. 

Once you know what you’re getting into, you can make the best decision together.

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About the Authors

Courtney Withrow

Professional Writer

Originally from the U.S., Courtney is a Brussels-based freelance writer with a Master’s degree in International Relations. She grew up playing softball and still loves the game.

Chase d'Arnaud

Chief Talent Acquisition Officer & Baseball Business Ops

Chase d'Arnaud is a 7-year veteran of Major League Baseball. He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres, and San Francisco Giants.

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