Diamonds Are A Mom's Best Friend
When I was asked to write a story about being a traveling baseball mom, my mind exploded into many different memories. Over the past 15 years, I have been a travel ball mom for softball and baseball, and although both are very different, the sacrifice is the same. I can not put a number on the many miles we have traveled for practices, camps, and tournaments; the towns have blurred together along the way. And while the money we have spent is most definitely substantial, the relationships we have gained along this journey are more than a blessing. The many lessons and hours of family time are irreplaceable.
Welcome to a travel ball mom's perspective.
It all began when my daughter, Ashlyn, was eight and my son, Brenton, was one. Our first softball tournament was in Little Rock, Arkansas, just two hours down the road. We left the night before so Ashlyn could get a good night's sleep before playing three long days of softball, but we did not account for a wreck on I-30. We sat on the side of the road for six hours and finally arrived at the hotel around 2:00 a.m. Did I mention they had given our hotel room away even though I called much earlier to explain our dilemma? The weekend began on a bad note, but we forgot all about the previous 48 hours when Ashlyn received her first-place trophy. Our family continued to support our daughter's aspiration of being a left-handed pitcher like Cat Osterman and pitching in the Olympics. She practiced and threw several hundred pitches per week. It did not matter what the weather was or how bad anyone felt. We always squeezed pitching into the schedule.
The following year, Ashlyn and her team, Arkansas Wildfire, went undefeated and won the nine-year-old World Series in Branson, Missouri. From that point on, we were hooked. We traveled around the country every weekend for the next six years to play softball. Looking back, you do not realize how wrapped up you are in the world of travel ball, how many games your child is playing, or how much you are traveling. You just continue to travel weekend after weekend, wherever ball takes you.
My daughter and her team continued to travel for several years and played countless tournaments across the United States. They won many of those tournaments, but it came at a sacrifice for the family. Our family always traveled together: my husband, Doyle; my mom, Rosie, otherwise known as Nana; my daughter, Ashlyn; and my son, Brenton, who was one year old when this journey began. Many nights we would take turns sleeping in the car with Brenton while Ashlyn played late-night games, or we would get back in town at 6:00 a.m. on Monday to turn around and get ready for school or work.
Our daughter gained many special memories, and the challenges have helped shape the person she is today. Still, she sacrificed so much to play softball. She gave up slumber parties and trips to the lake and skipped activities before a tournament to get in extra pitching practice. Even though Ashlyn began being noticed by college coaches during middle school, she was taking on other interests, such as volleyball. Later she had a sports-related injury which led to several surgeries, so she decided to hang up her cleats and not pursue a career in softball.
Our son was six when our daughter decided to end her travel ball, and we had already decided not to get caught up in this web of travel ball again. Since Brenton had grown up watching his sister play ball, he was advanced for his age. Even though he was still tee-ball age, he moved up and played PGYA machine pitch. After his season, his old tee-ball coach, Mark Bledsoe, called and asked if he wanted to play a couple of tournaments. Brenton was excited, and we thought, "It is just two tournaments. What is the harm, right?" Well, we did not realize that one of the tournaments was the Tee Ball World Series. I did not realize this existed, but it does, and this is like no other tee-ball you have ever witnessed.
Brenton decided he liked travel ball so much that we entered the world of travel ball once again. When Brenton was seven, his year ended with his team winning the World Series in Oklahoma. After reflecting on the season, we were shocked when we realized he had played 93 games that season. Once again, when you are in this world, you have no idea what it looks like from the outside, how much you are traveling, or how many tournaments you have played. After our 93 games that summer, we decided to dial it back a bit. Brenton continued to travel from the ages of 9-13, but our travels would find us closer to home until the large World Series tournament at the end.
We thought we had a good handle this time around, but of course, Brenton had big dreams of college and going as far as baseball would take him. So, at 14, he began playing for the Arkansas Sticks National teams to get noticed by coaches. COVID hit the same year, and everything shut down, which made for a very interesting summer. We traveled, but it looked much different as our baseball schedule and locations changed faster than the hands on a clock. We often did not know where we could find a meal because restaurants and grocery stores were closed. Somehow, we made it through and were so thankful we had a reason to leave the house that summer. Baseball helped us survive.
When Brenton was in middle school and entering high school, he had a list of college coaches he called every other week. He had some offers, but we quickly learned out of all sports, baseball takes travel ball or camps to get noticed by colleges. As a freshman in high school, Brenton played 43 games and helped his high school team, the Pleasant Grove Hawks, win the 4A State Championship, and we never saw one college coach. That year he received All-District, State, and All-American honors, and he still never saw a college coach. Brenton ended his high school ball on Friday and joined his travel team, 15U Sticks-Drabble, on Saturday. He had a great outing his first game back and ended up talking with the University of Arkansas hitting coach that night. Eventually, he accepted an offer to commit to the University of Arkansas for baseball. Brenton continued to travel the rest of the summer and began flying by himself to tournaments that year. Sometimes he is lucky enough to get on a flight with Ty Wade, another local Sticks player, but it is often just him. We usually communicate through Facetime daily to get caught up on the day's events or watch the game on Game Changer. Thankfully Chase Brewster, his wife Alisha, and the older Sticks players take care of him when he is not with us.
This summer, Brenton plays for the 16U Sticks-Slayton and 17U Sticks-Brewster teams. The tournaments he attends not only have college coaches but sometimes pro scouts, and he is required to travel several weeks out of the year. This year we have traveled to Atlanta, Georgia (multiple times), Hoover, Alabama, and Memphis, Tennessee. Brenton will fly to Ft. Myers, Florida, to finish the summer with the 17U Sticks-Brewster. The few days we are in town consist of batting practice, rehab or cryo, and getting things ready to leave for the next tournament. During this school year, he will travel to Florida for two weeks for one of the biggest tournaments of the year to play with the 18U team for Brewster and to Scottsdale, Arizona, for the MLK tournament in January. Unfortunately, we will rely on Life 360, Facetime, and Game Changer to stay connected with him while he is away. Brenton has many friends who are home schooled so they can travel to play ball year-round. Brenton loves baseball, but he also loves his school, friends, and teachers. We are thankful they help keep him grounded and work with him so he can stay caught up when he has to travel during the school year.
As I reflect on all our sacrifices, my family is actually one of the lucky families. Ashlyn and Brenton were almost seven years apart, so they were never in travel ball together. We could concentrate on one child at a time. Several of our friends have more than one child in travel ball, which means mom and dad split up every weekend to take turns going to two different cities, two different tournaments, and two different sets of expenses.
We were also lucky that Doyle and I are both coaches, so we are off a good portion of our summer. We have friends who pulled their camper to a lake in Atlanta, Georgia and lived there for a month while working from the lake. In one month, their son had three tournaments in Atlanta, Georgia, and it was less expensive to camp out and work from home. We were also lucky to have a young son who idolized his sister. He was the official bat boy and helped with the beginning coin flip for each game, so he looked forward to his sister's tournaments as much as she did. He would get his chair and sit right behind home plate to watch his sister pitch. Because Ashlyn's teams won many tournaments, we were normally there for the championship game. I would look up, and Brenton would be playing on a nearby empty field by himself, playing an entire game by himself: bat, field, talk smack to the other team. It was quite entertaining since he was the only one on the field at the time, but he loved being there, which was a blessing because no one had to stay home with him. We have several friends who are not so lucky because they have other children in other activities or hate being at the field for countless hours. So the parent will sacrifice to stay at home instead of getting to travel or attend the ball tournaments. We were the lucky family because we traveled together.
No matter how much time, money, and resources we have used over the years, we would not change any of the times spent together or lifelong friends we have met on this journey. No matter the sport, if travel is included, there will be many sacrifices from the child playing and family members who are either attending or at home. Although the sacrifices are great, I have cherished every moment in my role as a travel ball mom. I am thankful for all the smiles, hugs, skills learned, and daily lessons. My heart is full when I witness all the love, support, and encouragement poured into my children from coaches, family, and friends throughout the years. My kids and family have learned so much from our travel ball time, and I know my kids would not be where they are today without those life lessons.