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Baseball travel teams not all alike

By Staff | Jul 8, 2016

Like weeds and poison ivy after a soaking summer rain, travel baseball teams sprout from everywhere.

It’s almost like any athlete with remaining high school eligibility can find a travel team willing to give him a playing home for the short summer baseball season.

However, finding the right fit for those scads of players can be difficult . . . and is always expensive.

There are travel teams located like ant hills in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas. Scratch the baseball surface in Montgomery and Baltimore counties and you’ll find teams playing in 17U, 16U, 15U, 14U and 13U circuits. Move out a little farther from those areas to Frederick, Purcellville and Fairfax County and the teams are just as densely packed and just as numerous.

Parents want exposure for their budding private high school, junior college, four-year college or even future professional Sons of Summer.

For soon-to-be freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior high school players there is no shortage of places to play.

And do the teams travel… many going to North Carolina, Delaware, New Jersey, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania for long weekends of tournament games.

These teams can charge parents $1,500 for a summer where exposure to college coaches is one of the main selling points. Others charge about $800 to be seen in many of the same tournaments.

Additional costs come from uniforms, lodging and meals. If the parents want to follow their sons to the various tournaments, they will pay the same sort of freight.

For five Jefferson High players, there is a measurable difference between playing for the Cougars and performing for a summer travel team — losing games come far more often.

Mason Steeley, Bailey Dodson, Dalton Jamison, Cole Walker and Dalton Dodson play for a team based in Purcellville, Virginia. There are five other members of that travel team . . . so finding adequate playing time for each Cougar is no problem.

But none of the 10 players’ main forte is pitching and the opposition can score often and keep on scoring.

Only Walker, who moved into Jefferson’s state champion lineup in the last two weeks of the season, was a starter for many games. Bailey Dodson did catch some toward the close of a season that ended with a 36-3 record and a second straight state championship.

The Purcellville team was in a multi-day tournament in Lynchburg, Virginia that began on Friday, July 1.

They played doubleheaders at the spacious and luxurious baseball home of the Liberty University Flames of the Big South Conference.

Steeley was stationed at shortstop where he will likely take over from Paul Witt, now off to Virginia Commonwealth University. Walker was in center field for all but one inning where he pitched. He did not pitch at all for Jefferson in 2016 but could join with Cougar returnees Austin Cross, Austin Bulman and Dylan Carroll to give the 2017 team a solid starting rotation.

Bailey Dodson did some catching and was in the outfield for some innings in Friday’s doubleheader. His injured wrist hampered him at times.

Dalton Jamison played right field for the most part and also pitched an inning for the team that lost both its decisions that baseball-perfect day. Dalton Dodson was in the outfield and at second base for the pitching-thin team of travelers.

Steeley, Jamison and Dalton Dodson were finding innings they need to improve significantly in the high school off-season.

Cross, who will probably sign a binding letter-of-intent in early November, is with another travel team and Bulman is also a member of such a team this summer. Cross, Bulman and Alex Tennant all played on the same travel team in the summer of 2015.

“Travel baseball” is all the rage these days. The quality of coaching varies greatly. There are few practice dates where the athletes can receive individual instruction and getting to know much about teammates can be all but left to chance.

It’s expensive and at times is expansive, but some see it as a necessity because Jefferson County does not have any Senior American Legion teams.

The competition is usually not overpowering but finding enough quality pitching is often like trying to hit a dancing Phil Niekro knuckleball.