My youngest kid played a combination of 9U Rec and 10U Travel ball this year and my observations were that there is a huge difference in the hitting ability between the two (and not just because of age). Legitimate travel ball players can all hit, and they can all hit the fastball. To repeat a common quote… “the art of hitting is timing. The art of pitching is upsetting timing.” Unless your kid is an absolute freak of nature and is throwing 10MPH faster than any other 10 year old, the kids in travel will time his fastball and hit it. Its that simple. My kid enjoyed some success pitching travel, but only had a couple fastballs (2 and 4 seam), so it was obvious that as he continued to work on location, he also needed to develop an off speed pitch. Our travel commissioner made a suggestion to play rec fall ball and to use it as an opportunity to work on his changeup. That is exactly what we did. There was no pressure, so it was the perfect setting. My kid turned 9 in August, so he played 9U rec fallball, and to be honest it was almost unfair, but it definately helped him prepare for 11U travel next year. Anyone that thinks that a changeup will not be effective at that age should have watched. When you see kids gearing up for a 50mph fastball, only to see a 37 or 38 MPH changeup at 45 ft, it looks like a bugs bunny video. The kids were either swinging when the ball was barely 1/2 way there or completely freezing and not swinging at all since their timing was thrown off so much. There were other travel kids in the league as well sharpening their skills, and it was equally effective against them. Only one made contact, and he pulled it way foul because he was so far out in front. I’m not saying this to brag about my kid. He still needs a lot of work, but my point is that a changeup is a good pitch for that age because it is thrown just like a fastball and doesn’t put any extra stress on their arms, but can be a fantastic weapon for a young pitcher since the young hitter’s timing can be thrown off so easily.
As for the earlier argument about travel versus rec baseball. I won’t bash rec ball, but there is a HUGE difference. And you don’t need to think your kid will play MLB ball to get him or her into travel. Travel baseball is for kids that want more competition in order to prepare them for High School and possibly college baseball, and there will be a huge disparity in the development of a kid that plays rec and one that plays travel. The travel kid is playing with (hopefully) an entire team of kids that have skills and a desire to play baseball, whereas rec teams do not. Sorry, but I have coached both. Every rec team has several kids with limitted or no skill or desire to really play baseball. Kids that show up, look at the planes, play in the dirt, etc. and they hinder the development of the kids that have skills. One example from fall ball this year: Bases loaded and two outs. My kid is playing SS. A grounder is hit slightly to his right and he comes up firing the ball home. the ball arrives in time and on target, but is dropped by the catcher. I then hear a couple bewildered parents ask out loud why he threw home in that situation. I could not tell them, but the asnwer was because he knew that was his best chance for getting the out. The kid at 3rd was not paying attention and could not catch, the kid at 2B was not covering the base (and probably would not catch it either) and the kid at 1B would not have been able to catch the hard throw that he would make across the infield. The catcher was the kid most likely to catch the ball. When he came in I asked him privately why he made that decision, and he told me what I already knew. Kids, even at that age, that can play, know who can catch and who can’t. So by being in that situation, my kid made the wrong play to try to make the out because he can’t trust several of his team mates. In order for a kid to develop, he/she needs to be able to throw full strength to team mates knowing that they will catch it, and be able to have team mates that can throw to them. They all need to be playing their positions and ready. Travel ball offers that. Travel ball also pushes the kids because they face better talent. As I wrote earlier, every travel ball kid can hit, therfor pitchers have to work harder. They can’t get away with getting through 3 or 4 batters then gliding through the rest of the lineup. They need to work hard against every hitter. Rec ball has its place. And for the kids that either don’t live in a community with a strong highschool program or who don’t plan to play in high school and just want to have fun, rec ball is great. But in communities that have very competitive high school programs like ours, where there are 600+ kids per grade and only 15 or 16 roster spots on the varsity team, if your kid wants to play on that team when he or she is 16, 17 or 18, then they need to be facing the best talent they can when they are 10, 11, 12… That is not arrogant, it is just being realistic and prepared. And travel ball is the best option for those kids. If you think about it, there are 11 - 12 kids on a travel team. Most big high schools have a freshman, JV and Varsity baseball team. Therefor 4 travel teams (one for each age group) are feeding only 3 high school baseball teams, so some of the travel kids may not even make one of the teams. What chance do you think a kid that played rec his whole childhood will have of making the team?