Dear SPFBL Parents:
Hello SPFBL baseball community! It is Chris Bates, Travel Director. As a follow-up to our recent exciting announcement regarding the 2015 Travel baseball season, I want to provide you with more information about the changes that SPFBL is making to our tryout process and our Age/Grade teams. This is a lengthy communication, but stay with me and the message will be clear.
Historically, we have held a tryout for the spring teams and then a separate tryout during the latter part of the spring season for the summer teams. Beginning with the 2015 season, we are moving to only one tryout that encompasses both the spring and summer seasons. We are also converting to the Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken age-eligibility model that almost every other surrounding town uses for their travel program. Right now we are on a grade-model, and it is understood that some folks may have grown accustomed to that. So, we will be allowing grandfathering to younger age travel players who played last year and wish to essentially stay associated with the older kids in their grade.
So you may be asking “why the changes”? That is an excellent question and the answer is that a lot of time, consideration, and input have gone into our analysis leading to our decision to adjust to one tryout for the year and the move to the age-eligibility model. After having reviewed your feedback and discussed the tryout topic with other local municipalities in the area, we feel that having one tryout is the most efficient process for our youth. Therefore the tryouts for the 2015 Travel baseball seasons will be held in early-mid December 2014. The teams will be formed and announced at the turn of the calendar year. Each team will then participate in Winter Training facilitated by local Professional instructors (Frozen Ropes, East Coast, Ballpark, etc.).
I encourage you to read the related Details & Travel FAQs from the 2015 SPFBL Travel Handbook as it further explains each of these two topics in greater detail. These Details & FAQs are located towards the end of this document. They also contain some specific examples to help clarify each of the tryout and age-model scenarios.
The following sections provide a detailed review of the changes direct from our updated 2015 SPFBL Travel Handbook. And then for those of you that may be new to travel baseball or simply need a refresher, some other good-to-know information about the SPFBL Travel Program.
What is Travel Baseball?
With Travel Ball Tryouts just around the corner, we wanted to give you an idea of what to expect not only with the tryout process, but also with the travel season itself. First of all, the word “travel” is a little daunting to some. A misconception is that these kids and their families will be traveling all over NJ or even out of state every weekend; paying for gas and hotels to play baseball games. Another misconception is that travel players play around 80 games in the summer.
What it ACTUALLY is, is this: (1) Winter training, (2) Spring season and (3) Summer season. Winter training will be done as a team by Professional instructors over an 8-10 week period; January thru early March. The teams will meet once a week for a 90 minute session to help their development as a player and knowledge of the game. The Spring season (Late March - May) typically consists of usually one Sunday game and one practice during the week. The Summer season follows and runs from June to end-of-July. The summer season is the prime season historically for Travel baseball. See below chart for expected time commitment per season:
Winter Skills Training
January – early March
Spring Travel Season
Late March – Late May
1 Practice + 1 Game a week
Summer Travel Season
Begins early June – late July
12-15 League games plus playoffs. Practices/games usually weekday nights. Plus tournament(s); expect 4-5 days a week commitment
A potential fourth season is the Fall season which is typically a branch of the summer season’s team. It’s “potential” due to various other sports commitments many kids have, and is ultimately based on interest.
Our focus for travel players is centered on development. We will begin in winter training focused on same it will be once a week and will focus on skill development, hitting, fielding, pitching/catching and situational defense/base running, etc.
Each age group 8U-12U will follow the above format. The 7U teams in 2015 will be formed during this same time period; but will not do Winter Training. They will start practicing the Spring in preparation of their season – the Summer season. This will allow for more outdoor practice time and hands on coaching.
Generally, two summer teams are fielded at each age group. Depending on the turnout some age groups have grown to three teams.
Travel Evaluation Process and Team formation Procedures:
SPFBL has utilizes external, independent professional baseball evaluators to assist in the player evaluations, and to supplement knowledgeable SPFBL board members and coaching staff, who will provide analysis of each player’s performance added with SPFBL Volunteers evaluations. In addition, feedback from prior year travel and house league managers are also utilized as part of the evaluation and team selection process. After consideration of all data submitted, the SPFBL Travel Committee creates rosters for the travel teams. All tryout and player evaluation information is kept confidential and is never made available publicly. Note - managers of the teams are reviewed/chosen after the teams are formed and potential/past coaches or Board members with a child in the age group will not participate in the tryout or selection process, other than perhaps administrative activities such as travel tryout registration/check-in, etc.
SPFBL attempts to field a sufficient number of teams for each age group so that as many candidates as possible are placed on a team. However the reality is that 4 things are required to have an SPFBL travel team: (a) 11-13 travel-caliber players, (b) A manager and coaching staff that has been approved by the Travel Director and the Travel Committee, all Rutgers certified, (c) An appropriate league to play in, at the right level, and approved by SPFBL, and (d) Fields to play on, which is sometimes an issue for SPFBL as we rely almost entirely on the Scotch Plains and Fanwood municipality recreation departments, and the SPF Board of Education. All of these things must be in place to have a team.
Note also that while vacations are not out of the question, absences are discouraged. Real “baseball families” know that summer vacations happen in August, for the simple reason that June and July are huge summer travel baseball months. The team and players depend on each other to be there for all games and practices. Please remember that our summer season lasts about 6-8 weeks, and in almost every case is over by July 31st. Rosters are kept to a minimum, to maximize playing time. So if a player and their family are not willing to make this full-time commitment to the summer travel program, we strongly urge that they should reconsider participation.
Commitment: The Travel program is competitive-level baseball which requires a commitment from both the player and parents alike. Commitment also covers behavior and sportsmanship of players and their families and fans. Travel Baseball is a privilege, not a right. Parents and players are expected to conduct themselves in a courteous and respectful manner. Inappropriate behavior by parents or players that is deemed detrimental to the program or the team will absolutely jeopardize a player's ability to remain on a Travel team. There are no refunds given for players or parents expelled from the program for disciplinary reasons.
Financial Commitment: This really varies by age, and will also vary based the programs that are put together each year. We will advise of the exact costs by age group closer to tryout time. Payment deadlines are firm, and are the following:
- Payment in full for Winter Training, PLUS 50% of the Spring Travel cost. DUE BY DECEMBER 30TH.
- Payment in full for Spring Travel (remaining 50%) PLUS 50% of the Summer Travel cost. DUE BY MARCH 15TH.
- Payment in full for Summer Travel (remaining 50%). DUE BY MAY 15TH.
Approximate costs (please keep in mind, these will vary by program, by age group, etc.):
- Winter Training: Cost is between $175 - $250.
- Spring Travel: Cost is between $175 - $275.
- Summer Travel: Cost is between $175 - $475.
NOTE: The reason for the cost ranges varies. In the summer, many age groups have an independent paid managers – those teams will have a higher cost. Some age groups may have an additional tournament added, which will increase the cost to the higher end of the range. NOTE ALSO: Some Spring Travel teams have elected to use an independent manager (if they are available). In those cases, the costs for Spring Travel will be more on the Summer Travel scale.
7U AGE EXCEPTION: For 7U, there will be no Winter Workouts. In the Spring, the 7U’s will participate in a clinic atmosphere – therefore the 7U Spring costs will likely be on the lower end of the cost scale above.
Other Important Travel Baseball Reminders:
Remember: God controls the weather! As a result, travel baseball schedules change frequently. FLEXIBILITY IS KEY! Schedule changes are to be expected, from weather and also changes to dates for league games and tournaments that are out of our control. Prompt and regular attendance is a must for all Travel players. Parents are encouraged to plan summer vacations for after the season ends (August) to avoid conflict with practices and games. All Travel players must a play a minimum of 60% of their house league games to be eligible for Summer Travel (will be strictly enforced per Babe Ruth guidelines).
If you have any questions on any of the information in this announcement or anything travel, please do not hesitate to contact me anytime to discuss.
Chris Bates - SPFBL Travel Director
(As excerpted from the 2015 SPFBL Travel Handbook)
SPFBL is adopting 2 major changes for 2015. They are fairly big changes, so please take note. Each is accompanied with some brief FAQs:
- There will be a single tryout for each age group for both the spring and summer season.
- The tryout will be held in early-mid December (target).
- Once tryouts occur and selections are made, the intent is for the selected teams to go into winter workout sessions together. They will be tailored by age group, staffed with professional instructors and may occur in any of a number of partner indoor facilities (depending on the age group).
- The selected teams will then play together for the spring travel season.
- The intent would be to have the teams go right from the spring into the summer season. The Travel Director and Travel Committee will conduct periodic reviews with the spring managers to see how things are going. While the plan is to have the teams stay intact, there may be reasons to shuffle players around. Player movement may occur to balance rosters in case of injury, players dropping out for the summer (i.e. part-time spring players), or if there is strong evidence that a player may be misplaced. Those decisions must be approved by the Travel Director and the SPFBL Travel Committee.
- In cases where an independent manager is introduced for the summer program, that will still take place as it has in the past at the earlier possible time (based on independent manager availability).
Q: Why is the SPFBL making this change at this time?
A: There are a number of compelling reasons for this change:
- First off from a historical standpoint, it’s important to note that “spring travel” is a new concept in the northeast. For decades, it was pretty much “summer travel” only as far as travel baseball went. It was about 5 years ago is when spring travel first started to really gain traction. At that time, a decision was made to treat the spring and summer travel teams differently. Therefore the league conducted two (2) sets of tryouts, one for spring and one for summer.
- Back to the present time, “spring travel” has become fairly mainstream. Some towns do not participate in it, but the trend has clearly gone towards “the more baseball the kids can play, the better they are likely to get”. As a byproduct of spring travel growth, is some contention with (a) the spring “house league” program, and (b) the beginning of the summer travel season. The house league always comes first for Babe Ruth sanctioned leagues, so that is something we try to make sure we schedule spring travel around as much as possible. However the collision with the summer program is one that has come about as the end of the spring travel and the beginning of summer travel meet on or about the Memorial Day timeframe. That means spring travel playoffs are likely underway at the same time that the summer team might normally have been practicing and perhaps kicking off their season. And of course the team rosters could be completely different depending on the tryout results. This has not been a great outcome for the summer teams, keeping in mind that the summer season is considered the primary travel season.
- In addition, the tryout process itself requires a great deal of planning, volunteers and administrative oversight to carry out. It is a tedious process, and it had to be repeated twice – once for spring and once for summer. It was originally thought that the benefit of 2 tryouts to evaluate whether any team movements were warranted. The unintended consequence, as previously mentioned, was the interruption and confusion caused by going through the process twice. It turns out that there are normally very few if any major movements between A and B teams in the spring and summer. The ones that did occur usually took place because there were natural openings created, not because 1 player was sent up to A and 1 player was sent down to B, although that did happen too, but on a very small scale relative to the whole program. Most major movements between A and B took place year to year (as opposed to season to season), as kids hit their growth spurts or otherwise achieve a higher skill level.
- There is a component of this that positions the travel program for our most committed ballplayers. This is similar to the postures of other youth sports in town (soccer, football, etc.) that require a full commitment from their traveling players during their respective seasons – in this case the spring and summer baseball seasons.
- Another factor was to look at what the neighboring towns in our Babe Ruth district our doing. Turns out that many other towns have already gone to this, and several others are planning to. So clearly there is a trend to this based on the common observations of many local youth baseball organizations.
Q: So what is the upside of making this change (summary)?
A: The principal upsides in our view are:
- Continuity between the spring and summer season, with teams basically staying in tact for the most part, and the winter training flowing into the spring travel season, and the spring travel season flowing into the summer travel season.
- One set of tryouts (and accompanying administrative complexity) to plan for, coordinate, get volunteers and independent evaluators for, and to execute.
- One set of tryouts for SPFBL parents to get their ballplayers to.
- One set of tryout costs rather than two, all of which is passed through to travel participants.
- Eliminates additional redundant processes that had previously been done for spring and summer, i.e. only need 1 travel parent meeting, 1 tryout per age group, 1 uniform sizing date, 1 uniform ordering process, 1 uniform delivery and payment process, etc.
- Puts the focus on our most serious ballplayers, the kids who are really committed to maximizing their learning and playing of the great game of baseball – again, not unlike some other sports programs in town.
Q: What are the downsides of making this change (summary)?
A: 2 issues that could be considered possible downsides, depending on your perspective:
- There is likely to be little to no movement between spring and summer teams. So unless the Travel Committee feels that a mistake in team placement was made for the spring season that should be corrected in the summer, most teams will basically stay intact, i.e. if you were on a B team, you’ll probably stay on the B team; if you were on the A team, you’ll probably stay on the A team – all things being equal and barring any Travel Committee concerns.
- Ballplayers who only intend on playing either the spring or the summer, but not both, will be affected. Those players will be considered “part-time” travel players. Part-time players must tryout with everyone else in December, and they will be placed on the B-waitlist for their age group for the appropriate season. The part-time process is expanded on further below.
Q: What happens to a youth ballplayer who wants to play in the spring, but not the summer?
A: That player will be considered “part time” and must:
- Declare themselves as a part-time SPRING-ONLY travel player.
- Tryout with everyone else in December.
- Accept placement on the B-waitlist for a SPRING B team.
Q: What happens to a youth ballplayer who wants to play in the summer, but not the spring?
A: That player will also be considered “part time” and must:
- Declare themselves as a part-time SUMMER-ONLY travel player.
- Tryout with everyone else in December.
- Accept placement on the B-waitlist for a SUMMER B team.
Q: What if a part-time player is a really good player for his/her age? Will he/she have to play B? Or is there a chance to move to A?
A: We are presuming that travel players good enough to make an A team will be full-time travel players for both spring and summer seasons. The times when we have a part-time player who is well into the A-caliber range will be minimal. Our recommendation would be that if a ballplayer is a dedicated A-level travel player, that he/she should become a full-time travel player so that this placement issue is not a problem.
Q: What does “wait list” really mean? I mean my kid is going to try out, only wishes to play one season (either spring or summer), but not both. But he/she really wants to play! So will he/she be able to play or not?
A: We respect the fact that there are some players, although a minimal amount, that are “baseball lovers” but only wish to play one season. We are calling it a wait list, but really what we’re saying is we will try to maximize participation in B travel baseball as we always have. However we will be giving deference to travel players who commit for full program, which includes both spring and summer. This is not dissimilar to other youth sports in town. So a part-time player is going to be subject to availability of available roster slots.
Q: Will there be any exceptions made to any of these policies?
A: SPFBL policies will be adhered to. Any exceptions would be rare, and have to be approved by the Travel Director and the Travel Committee.
- Last year, we were only one of a couple of towns in our Babe Ruth district that operated under a Grade-based eligibility system. The overwhelming majority of towns in our district operate under an Age-based eligibility system, which falls right into Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken guidelines.
- The Grade-based system has put SPFBL at a built-in disadvantage to most other towns. It’s not that we believe “winning is everything” or anything like that. But for example, the Grade-based system has all 4th graders playing in the 10U age division. However in the Age-based eligibility system that most towns use, almost ½ of those 4th graders would be eligible to play 9U. The result is teams that have 9U players forced by our own rules to play 10U. And the teams we’re playing in 10U would be a mix of 4th and 5th graders, playing against our 4th graders, some of which really 9U age per the Babe Ruth guidelines. It means we’re playing against teams where ½ of their team is a grade higher than our players.
- As a result, the SPFBL Board of Directors has approved the change from Grade-based age eligibility to Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken Age-based eligibility for SPFBL travel baseball.
- The key to understanding this is the cutoff birthdate, which is April 30th. It is used in this fashion: Whatever age the ballplayer is on April 30th, that’s the age group they are eligible for. So for example: A ballplayer that is 9YO on April 30th (typically a 3rd grader) is eligible for 9U (which means “9YO and under”). However a player who is 8YO on April 30th is eligible for 8U, even if though they are also in the 3rd grade.
- Additional Example: A 4th grader who is 10YO on April 30th is eligible for 10U. However a 4th grader who turns 10 after April 30th (like on May 2nd for example) is eligible to play 9U.
- Additional Example: A 6th grader turns 12 on March 10th. He/she is 12 on April 30th, so he/she is eligible for 12U. Had that 6th graders birthday been on May 10th, he/she would have been eligible for 11U.
- GRANDFATHERING IN 2015 (FOR LAST YEAR’S TRAVEL PLAYERS WHO ARE NOW 2ND GRADE AND ABOVE ONLY): SPFBL will allow grandfathering for ballplayers wishing to stay with the age group associated with their grade, even if they are eligible to play the next age group down PROVIDED THAT (a) The ballplayer declare in advance their desire to stay with their grade, and (b) Commit to that decision regardless of the outcome of the tryout process. Once the declaration is made, it cannot be undone until the following year.
- Grandfathering this year only applies to the current 2nd graders and above who played travel last year. Next year (2016), it would only apply to the same grandfathered group who would be 3rd graders and above, and so on.
- Grandfathering does not apply to 1st graders and below, or players who were not in the travel program in 2014. HOWEVER note that since we do not have a full 6U travel program, SPFBL will permit 1st graders who are 6U age eligible (i.e. turn 7YO after April 30th) to play 7U travel baseball, PROVIDED THAT they acknowledge that they will also be 7U age next year (2016).
Q: What are the actual birthdate ranges for each age group 7U thru 13U?
A: Here are the birthdate ranges for Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken rules for 2015:
- 7U is birthdates from May 1, 2007 through April 30,2008, regardless of grade.
- 8U is birthdates from May 1, 2006 through April 30,2007, regardless of grade.
- 9U is birthdates from May 1, 2005 through April 30,2006, regardless of grade.
- 10U is birthdates from May 1, 2004 through April 30,2005, regardless of grade.
- 11U is birthdates from May 1, 2003 through April 30,2004, regardless of grade.
- 12U example – Any 6th grader with a birthdate of May 1, 2003 or later is eligible for 11U. Anyone April 30, 2003 or earlier stays 12U only.
- 12U is birthdates from May 1, 2002 through April 30,2003, regardless of grade.
- 13U is birthdates from May 1, 2001 through April 30,2002, regardless of grade.
Q: Are there any special situations or exceptions?
A: YES, there are 3 special situations for SPFBL:
- 7U example – A 1st grader who is 6U age-eligible may tryout for a 7U team. HOWEVER that player must acknowledge that they understand that they will also be 7U next year (2016). 6U (and younger) kindergartners are not permitted to try out for 7U.
- SPECIAL NOTE FOR 7U TRAVEL PROGRAM – The 7U spring season will entail a clinic-like atmosphere, with a full season of games coming only in the summer season.
- MIDDLE SCHOOL TEAM exception – 7th graders who make an SPFBL Middle School Team who are technically 12U eligible, are required to play SPFBL 13U in the summer. We imagine this would be desired anyway as we don’t recommend high-caliber players who go to the 90’ diamond in the Middle School program go backwards to 12U 50/70 diamond in the summer. This only applies to 7th graders who make one of the two Middle School teams. Other 7th graders who are 12U age eligible may exercise their option to play 12U should they so desire.
Q: What if my ballplayer is in 3rd grade, he/she was on the 8U ‘A’ team last year, and desires to stay with his/her grade and play 9U on the same team this year. Can he/she do that?
A: Unfortunately it’s a multi-edged answer that really ends up in an “it depends”:
- Yes, your ballplayer can exercise their grandfathering option (provided that he/she played in the travel program in 2014) and declare they want to stay 9U even though they are 8U eligible.
- However if they don’t make the 9U-A team, then they will be considered for 9U-B. In other words, it depends on how the tryout goes. We can never guarantee a ballplayer will make a certain team.
Q: It’s understood that the tryout helps dictate whether a ballplayer makes an A or B team. That’s always been the case every year. What’s different this year with this change?
A: What’s different is in the above example, there may be young 4th graders also trying out for the 9U team this year, instead of 10U. And that means that the 9U tryout dynamic is going to change somewhat. So let’s say a ballplayer was in the bottom 25% of last year’s A team ability-wise. The fact that additional higher grade players will be trying out this year may push those that were in the bottom 25% of the A-team onto a B team. It’s also possible that this may not happen, and that the ballplayer makes the A-team. What we’re saying is we just don’t know until we have the tryouts, see the results and select the teams. We’re just pointing out how the change MAY affect the process this year.
Q: Okay so let’s say my kid, who is really good, doesn’t make the 9U-A team because of what you mentioned previously. But I know that he can make the 8U-A team again. Can he be put on the 8U-A team instead of a 9U-B team?
A: Unfortunately, the answer is NO. The reason is simple: All of the teams will have been selected and announced already. That’s why the pre-declaration of what age group the ballplayer wants to be in is crucial. Trying to accommodate a move like this after selection has been done would mean displacing kids that have already been notified they are on a certain team. We will absolutely not be doing that. We need to know in advance, and the commitment the ballplayer makes by declaring an age group in advance is that they will stay in that travel age group for the year, regardless of the tryout outcome.
Q: SO, my son is a young 5th grader who is technically 10U eligible. However he played 10U-A last year in the grade-based system. I’d like to see him play 11U-A travel this year so that he can move up and stay with his grade. What should I do?
A: Unfortunately, we can’t make that decision for you. All we can do is lay out the scenarios, because it depends. If he moves up to 11U this year, the risk is that there will be 6th graders trying out also. That doesn’t mean that your son will not make the A team, it just means that it’s a possibility depending on what that 6th grade 11U talent pool looks like. And we don’t know that either. In reality, even if your kid declares 10U, if the 10U age group is particularly strong, it’s possible he won’t make that A team either. And at the same time, he might be capable of making both the 10U and the 11U A teams. So really anything is possible. You should consider what your son would like to do, perhaps what you know about both age groups, and then help your son make the right decision for him.
Q: What is the upside of making this change (summary)?
A: The principal upsides are:
- Matching up with Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken age-eligibility
- Matching up with what the overwhelming majority of other towns in our district are doing.
- Our programs will become more competitive when competing against our neighboring towns because we will be on the same age-eligibility footing as they are, versus the self-imposed disadvantage we had been putting ourselves in prior years.
Q: What is the downside of making this change (summary)?
A: The principle things that could be considered downsides by some are:
- It’s not quite as clean as grade-based. The travel teams are going to end up including some older kids. Some kids who enjoyed playing with friends in the same grade, may choose to play an age group younger if they are age-eligible. ON THE OTHER HAND, it’s possible that some of those grade-higher kids who may have been B players will be A players when they go to the lower age group. There are upsides and downsides in everything I suppose. The important thing is that we’re now on equal footing with other towns in our district.
- Since there is a grandfathering option, and since some will invariably execute that option, we won’t truly be on exactly equal footing with other towns. However we are taking a solid step in this direction with the rule change.
- Since there is no grandfathering for players new to the travel program, this rule affects incoming 1st graders who are 6U eligible. HOWEVER, we are addressing this issue by allowing 6U eligible players to tryout for 7U as long as they understand that next year they will also be looking at trying out for 7U again.