Travel baseball’s mission focuses on playersJune 13, 2019
BY JONATHAN SAXON
JASPER — It’s old news to those around the town just how big the baseball tradition runs in southern Indiana. One doesn’t have to look any further than the historic teams that line the halls of Jasper High School or even the more recent success of the Southridge Raiders, who are in the hunt for the state title for the second consecutive season.
But the fever for America’s favorite pastime doesn’t stop when school lets out. Instead, it shifts into another gear as travel baseball picks up for the summer and kids from the ages of 8 to 17 have a chance to hit a few more bombs over the fence. To that end, Jason Stamm and Cort Luebbehusen have been working for more than a decade to maintain a local opportunity for playing and development in the form of the JCards.
Stamm, who serves as the JCards league president, has watched the travel baseball program grow to nine baseball teams and three fastpitch softball teams that encompasses about 150 kids during his tenure. But it’s hard to please everyone all the time, and despite the growth and support the JCards have experienced, there are still pockets of critics who have their takes when it comes to the subject of travel baseball.
Whether it concerns the costs, scheduling or even competitive balance, Stamm has heard it all in one fashion or another.
“People just assume that we run our organization like the bigger ones,” Stamm said. “They charge big-time money to play, and those coaches are paid. Our organization isn’t anything like that. They don’t understand the way we do things. And from that, instead of going out to find the truth, they just want to talk about how travel baseball is awful and how things shouldn’t be the way they are.”
Stamm said he has heard the criticisms and has bitten his tongue long enough.
The first issue that receives a lot of attention is the cost of playing travel baseball. It can cost anywhere from $300 to $700 for a season. But, according to Stamm, those funds all belong to the individual teams and are used to pay for team uniforms, tournament registrations and insurance for the team.
“Their money is their money,” he said. “They collect it from the parents, it goes into an account for that team only, and that coach is in charge of that budget.”
Another misconception Stamm has heard tossed around the campfire deals with concerns related to the team’s game schedules and playing the kids too hard to the point of injury. Stamm once again refers back to the individual teams he says set their own schedules and choose how much action they want to get in during the summer.
“They think that we tell these coaches they have to play six tournaments a year, and we don’t do any of that,” he said. “We leave that up to each coach. It’s up to him to dictate how much he wants to play. This year, we had a 9-year-old team that only wanted to play two or three tournaments.”
As for concerns related to overworking the kids during games, Stamm acknowledged those instances as a broad issue that affects other teams, but not something that has been a concern for the JCards during his time as both an administrator and coach.
“You hear a lot about travel baseball ruining kids’ arms because they play too much,” Stamm said. “You get some of these guys and they’re hellbent to win, they don’t care about the health of the kids they have playing for them. I’ve coached for 10 years, and for me, the kids' health is the most important thing. For the most part, all of our JCards coaches are that way. They’re not going to lose their job if they lose. They're concerned with keeping the kids healthy, not trying to win a game and pitch a kid that shouldn’t be out there.”
The final big complaint Stamm is tired of hearing deals with competitive balance, but not in the way you may think. Tryouts for travel baseball attract kids from all over, and the JCards happily welcome anyone who wants to try and make one of the travel teams. But with this comes a murmuring from some parents who are worried about kids taking all the coaching and experienced they earned from the summer play back to their respective high school teams in the spring, effectively strengthening the competition.
“If you’re a dad from Jasper, you might help kids from Dubois, Southridge, Heritage Hills or wherever,” Stamm said. “Now, all of a sudden, you bring in those kids all winter, you’re working with them, and they’re getting better. A lot of people don’t like that idea.”
Stamm has a couple of points to counter those critics. First, he said, that they don’t tell coaches how to pick and choose the kids for their teams, which ultimately determines the final roster. If a coach just wanted kids from Jasper, that’s his prerogative to make that decision. Second, the bit about helping kids from other cities works both ways, since better competition also means better experience for Jasper players. But Stamm ultimately points to the mission statement of the JCards to answer any critics that may still take umbrage with letting kids from the surrounding towns play in the travel league.
“The main thing we’re out here to do is make kids better baseball players,” he said. “And that opportunity is out there. We’re open to any kids who want to play, it doesn't matter where they’re from.”
Because, in the end, it’s all about helping develop the kids and make them better ball players for however long they choose to pick up their glove and bat. Stamm is proud of the fact that the JCards have hung around for 14 years and would like to see many more in the future. Despite the ever-present naysayers, Stamm points to the league’s growth as a sign it’s filling a need for the community, and that’s enough for him to see travel baseball as a positive thing for Dubois County.
“It’s not a total dislike,” he said. “We have people who support and agree with it, but it’s the others that you hear. It serves its course and its had some good things with it.”