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The national pastime that's moving past its time

May 10—I recently saw something on the internet (so I knew it had to be true) and it caught my attention. America loves to look at demographics and statistics and then try to spin it one way or another. I didn't really know what the spin would be, but the more I looked into it,it became clear it was about youth sports and expectation for our kids.

The fact was that almost one-third of major league baseball rosters are now made up of players born outside of the United States (with the Dominican Republic as the absolute leader), and with almost two-thirds of MLB All Star teams being made up of foreign-born players, it points out that Americans are not doing baseball the same way, and as the world catches up, there is no indication that this trend won't continue.

So why is this happening?

From what I can tell from some of the articles I looked at, it is how baseball players are developed as youth.

In the Dominican, kids PLAY baseball all the time in every sandlot and vacant ally they can find. Older kids teach younger kids and it is a matter of the best players being forced to survive if they want play tomorrow. The dream might be to be the next Big Papi or {span}Pujols{/span} and eventually come to America, but the goal is immediate— just to be able to participate in the next day's sandlot game with friends.

In the US, it is the travel baseball system that dominates youth baseball, and it is the hamster mill that no one seems to want to get off. Now, I love Little League and I think it is a very stable and smart way to get kids playing the game in an organized manner, but it is travel baseball (much like AAU basketball) that is the tail that wags the dog. Kids are selected and segregated by age, ability, finances, parental aspiration and rarely by a kid's desire to play simply because he loves it. It also eliminates a lot of kids from playing beyond early Little League because travel is path to success, and it just might not be available to everyone. In travel ball, they aren't playing with kids they go to school with, but often a team where they can best be "showcased."

For travel baseball costs, of the few people I spoke to who participate in travel ball, the estimate was about $5,000 a year — or about the same as the annual income in the DR for many. The cost is for team fees, tourneys, hotels, gas, food, bats, gloves and every other expense that goes into packing up the family for every long weekend is extraordinary.

There was a tweet from a guy named Ben Brewster who wrote something along the lines of: Dominican kids know velocity, home runs, athleticism and swagger will get them off that island, while American kids play for trophies.

Kind of a blanket statement but there is a lot of truth to it.

In an article he also wrote, he said much of it comes down to 'want v. need.' It's great if you 'want' to play, but most of these kids in the DR feel like they 'need' to play to escape a life where more than 40% of the population lives in poverty.

Pretty harsh, but it does remind people of basketball from a generation or two ago, when the way to the NBA was ballin' all day on blacktop or with hoop nailed up on the side of a barn.

One parent said that the up side to travel ball is spending time with family on weekends and that is part of the fun.

Some coaches love to see their kids playing travel and developing for HS, but they are trying to just fill a high school roster, not trying to change a nationwide baseball culture.

One coach told me the only thing he really likes about travel ball is that he knows that after June 1 his players will still be playing ball and it is the only way a good ballplayer has a chance to be seen if they want to play in college.

He was quick to point out that travel teams promote individualism and he fights that during the high school season.

So will this trend continue? All signs point to yes.