[updated for 2023]
Reno Dads receives a bunch of questions asking about Reno travel baseball after reading our Reno Dads Guide to Youth Baseball. If you are looking to start out in youth baseball, check out that guide first as this guide is the next step. If you are disappointed that your Spring season is ending right as your kid is finding his stride, then continue on!
With four large organizations, and a few independent teams that pop up every now and then, Reno Dads is here to give you a run down on travel baseball in the Reno area. I will provide an overview of what “travel baseball” is in Reno and what you can generally expect when joining an organization. This guide is mostly meant for parents whose kids are between the ages of 8 and 13 as the baseball scene in Reno gets a bit more complicated for the older kids as they approach high school.
What qualifies me to write this article? My two sons have been in travel ball for five seasons, 9u through 13u and currently play in the 13u/10u divisions and also high school prep. They have played for two of the “Big Four” organizations and have played Little League from tee ball through the Majors division, including All-Stars. My oldest son also guest played regularly with an independent travel ball team and plays for his local high school prep team, so I have a bit of perspective on the full range of youth baseball in Reno.
I’ve also seen both the good and the bad of travel ball. My family has been heavily invested in travel ball for over five years and we have made amazing friends and have had some amazing vacations because of travel ball. But my five years has also given me a lot of insight into the bad aspects of travel ball that I believe exist culturally across the industry with our area being no exception. Feel free to hit me up if you really want to get into it, but this will be a general overview of the good, which massively outweighs the bad if you are paying close attention to your kid’s organization, coaching, and fellow parents.
Reno Dads Guide to Travel Baseball
Rather than write a full article on “What Is Travel Ball?”, which has been done many times, I’ll send you over to this fantastic guide at The Hitting Vault. My guide will focus on what is different in Reno when it comes to travel ball and what to expect.
The hitting vault perfectly covers what travel baseball is, how it is organized, and how to find the right team and coach for your kid and your family. Not just your kid, but your family will be involved heavily in both time and money and finding the right fit will ensure long-term goals are met without much conflict.
Why Travel Baseball?
To me, “why travel ball” is easy to answer: in my opinion it produces the most competitive baseball players. Look at the competitive all-star teams locally…almost entirely travel ball. The competitive high schools? Most played some level of travel ball. Many folks point to its negative impact on Little League and high school. I get it, which is why I advocate strongly for both. Others complain about the overuse of arms. I get that, too. I see it all the time in Little League, and especially travel ball. The best I can offer is to educate yourself on these concerns so you can properly advocate for your kids. Trust your gut. Get outside opinions. Check your ego. Ensure your kids get a break from pitching. Keep them in other sports.
If you want to discuss how I manage these concerns to ensure my kids are safe and not being over thrown, hit me up. I zealously track every pitch my kids throw, every inning on the mound. I have strong opinions on pitching and am always on the same page with the coaches. And I usually have coaches who care as much as I do.
Part 1: What Is Travel Baseball in Reno?
Travel baseball is a nationwide phenomenon that arrived a couple decades ago in the Reno area to take kids to the next level of baseball playing.
For the purposes of this guide, I will be focusing on the operational aspects of the Big Four travel organizations in Reno and some of the general practices of the independent organizations I am familiar with. The “Big Four” are: Muckdogs Baseball Club, Northern Nevada Baseball Club, Reno Mustangs, and Scorpions Baseball Academy. The independent teams are usually built around a gifted group of kids, typically an All-Star team or a regional team outside of the Reno area. They often have only one or two age groups. At the moment, the two most competitive local independent teams are Battle Born Baseball and the Gladiators Baseball. Then there are the teams local to Fallon, Carson Valley, Carson City, and a few scattered throughout Northern Nevada.
Is there actual travelling?
Well, yes and no. Reno, well, technically Sparks, has one of the single best baseball complexes in the region (maybe the entire West?) so many teams travel to Reno to play and our organizations typically just travel across town. One or two times a year during the winter most organizations will drive over the hill to the Sacramento area or beautiful Manteca for a two day tournament, but the vast majority of tournaments are held locally against both local and regional teams from Northern and Central California. Often times our tourneys bring teams from Arizona, SoCal, Hawaii, and other states across the nation so there isn’t a really great reason to travel too often to see great teams.
During the summer, some local teams will go down to Las Vegas or San Diego for a tournament. It really depends on how competitive the team is, how interested the parents are in additional travel and expenses, and how ambitious the organization is to compete against talent outside of our region.
Travel ball in our region is focused on developing baseball players as individual teams and competing against other organizations in tournaments every few weeks. In our area, travel baseball still operates around the tournament structure rather than running travel ball leagues as some larger areas do. A tournament is typically a couple games on Saturday and a single elimination tournament on Sunday where they can play up to three games. It’s almost that simple, minus three day holidays and some summer events.
Competitive In Nature
One major difference between recreational/community baseball and travel ball is that travel ball is competitive in nature. Kids have to not only earn their roster spot, but also their playing time. It isn’t unusual to see a kid sit the bench the entire game or not even make a roster. One downside is that kids at the bottom of the roster rarely get an opportunity to play in desired positions until they have the ability to compete for those positions.
However, most coaches and organizations in Reno have a system to balance playing time among their organizations by having “B” teams or “developmental” teams entered into tournaments so that more kids get a shot at earning a coveted roster spot on the A teams or at the very least get an opportunity to play.
Playing baseball year round is not cheap. It is definitely cheaper than having a daughter do gymnastics, dance, or cheerleading! But travel ball will still give you a little sticker shock at first. Generally speaking, each of the Big Four have three different fees.
The first is a monthly fee that varies organization to organization that every player pays. This goes to facility and field costs, technology expenses, payments for the coaches, and equipment for practices.
The second fee is to cover the costs for a tournament for rostered players only. Tournaments are hosted by a completely separate organization and this organization charges each team to participate in the tournament. In addition to the costs for tournament registration, some money is tacked on to pay the coaches to coach each game.
The third fee is for lessons and is typically optional. Each organization has in-house instructors for hitting, pitching, catching, and general skills. I am not aware of anyone required to take lessons from the in-house instructors, but everyone is definitely encouraged as that is how the coaches supplement their income and kids get individualized attention. There are also independent coaches throughout Reno that offer private lessons, typically for around the same amount and arguably the same quality.
Other costs also add up. Equipment, cleats/pants/socks, and apparel. Kids destroy their cleats, uniform pants and socks very quickly in a short Little League season…now imagine playing year round. Plus kids will get stronger and move up bat sizes quicker, need training equipment for home, and apparel to show their team pride.
Independent teams typically are volunteer ran and have little overhead, so they are run at minimal cost.
Reno’s Big Four
Reno’s Big Four are privately ran, have their own large facilities, and have a team or two for nearly every age group from 9 through 14 years old and a couple organizations (Mustangs and Muckdogs) play through 18u and college. They typically have paid coaches at every level. These organizations have a purpose to develop players over time and eventually help them compete for college visibility in large tournaments, called “Showcases”, often reserved for 15u through 18u players. These organizations operate year round with some having an off-season training program in the winter.
Each organization’s youngest competitive group, 9u, is coached by the organization’s owner. As the kids advance through the ages, they typically move on to a new coach who gets them for a year. The kids learn to play under different coaching styles and methods while still part of the philosophies of the owner. There are variations to what I said above for each organization, but generally speaking, this is how it is set up.
Due to the volume of kids these organizations can handle, they often put together A and B teams for tournaments, when possible. The A team rosters are very competitive to earn a spot on. However, with two teams entered into each tournament there is plenty of opportunity for the kids to earn playing time on the B team. B teams, or more often labeled, developmental teams, do take a lot of patience as their competitiveness is considerably lower. Frustratingly lower, but worth it for parents and kids with a long-term development mindset. The purpose is to develop the kids and give them an opportunity to earn a spot on the main team and not just start because you pay.
Every year or so an independent travel ball team or two pops up in Reno, often just an all-star team looking to keep the boys together or a very competitive travel team branching off from one of the Big Four organizations for whatever reason. These teams are almost a hybrid of a recreational all-star team and travel ball. The talent is absolutely there, as is the coaching, but the teams are typically smaller with less resources, different goals, a year-to-year vision, and a less structured organization centered around one age group. The coach always has his son on the team, which is his impetus for starting the independent team, and the team often has played together at a competitive level for a few years. The families are often more tight-knit and the kids are very close.
Each organization typically only has one, sometimes two age groups. The roster is pretty tight and highly competitive with occasional tryouts to fill very limited vacancies. If your kid is an exceptional talent, there is always a spot available – just like in the Big Four. As roster capacity might be capped at a certain number, kids not making the one roster will not have an opportunity to play on a B team.
These teams are very competitive because they are built around a very talented group of kids and dedicated dad coaches. They often struggle over the long-term because each family and ballplayer eventually wants or needs a different experience and there isn’t a lot of wiggle room to just take a break or play other sports because the team counts on each kid for their success. Once a team loses a couple key players or a coach or the inevitable internal drama occurs, they struggle to remain competitive and eventually disband. It happens every time, unfortunately, it’s typically a matter of “when” rather than “if”.
I don’t mean to disparage any of these organizations, rather, I’d love to encourage more of them. My oldest son regularly guest played for a really awesome independent team, the Gunslingers with amazing coaches, while active in the Big Four and I’d happily let both my boys experience this different type of baseball again as guest players. I just bring up these issues more to manage expectations on how these teams play out over a few years. If your son has an opportunity to play with an independent team with their friends, absolutely jump on that opportunity! If a smaller, independent team is more your style, I guarantee they are all happy to have a conversation and I’d be happy to connect you.
Part 2: How to Select a Team
First, you have to know what you are looking for and many folks often don’t. The Hitting Vault goes into details on finding the right fit for costs, locations, coaches, and everything else you need to know before starting this journey. Read their article on the 9 Things to Consider Before Joining a Youth Baseball Team and be mindful that travel ball is ran like a business rather than community baseball.
And before investing in one team, ask around among other parents in your Little League to see what other folks involved in travel ball think about the various options. You may also reach out to me here for a fair assessment of the various organizations for each age level. I’ve been around it for over five years and am friendly with each coach and organization, have friends in each organization, and I coach kids who play in each organization during Little League and All-Stars.
Then make sure to attend a local tournament and check out the teams for yourself to see if the game management and style meet your expectations and also to see where your kid stacks up. Attend a practice or two once you settle on a couple teams you’d like to check out. You know your kid, you know what coaching style and environment is most effective for their growth. You’ll be investing hundreds and upwards of thousands of dollars a year on a program, so do your homework beforehand! I say this knowing everyone pretty much sticks to the first organization they visit, but it is worth encouraging finding the right team prior to selecting a team!
Already on a Team?
If you are already on a team and finding the experience isn’t great, feel free to check out another organization. Your kid has to come before loyalty to a travel ball team. Not every team is for everybody and each organization knows that. You have to find what works for your kid.
If your kid is the worst on their team and not getting good game reps, he is on the wrong team. If your kid is the undisputed best on the team, he is also on the wrong team. Find a team where he is challenged at the skill level he is at if you truly want your kid to get better. I’ve watched too many amazing and average athletes linger for years on the wrong team not developing appropriately for their skill level out of loyalty to an organization more than to the child.
The goal is to improve and to compete to get better…you can’t do that when your kid isn’t good enough to get the opportunity to play or, conversely, when he is too good for his own team but stays because it is comfortable. Ensure your amazing kid is always chasing someone better than them otherwise they will not develop the work ethic to compete against the kids fighting for every inch.
Differences Between Organizations
Now that we have a baseline of what the actual goal of travel ball is, you need to realize that each organization has their own track record of success, defined by metrics they each value on their own. Some organizations show their track record for success by their wins or how many medals and rings they earned, others brag about their kids playing in college or drafted to the pros. But for the most part, they are much more similar than I’d imagine any of them would like to believe.
However, their approaches to teaching the game are each different. Their beliefs for team and individual development even varies from coach to coach inside the organizations. Some organizations rely heavily on technology, others are a bit more old school. Some coaches teach new age mechanics while others stick to what has worked in the past. Do be mindful that just because someone gets paid to provide lessons or has a fancy resume doesn’t mean they are truly qualified. Grifters and Gurus run rampant across this industry and Reno is no different.
The best way to find out more is to ask around and then check them all out and see what interests you and your kid.
Part 3: Travel Ball Organizations
** If I am missing a team, please let me know and I can add them.**
The Muckdogs Baseball Club, Northern Nevada Baseball Club, Reno Mustangs, and Scorpions Baseball Academy are the four “main” organizations in town. Their players just come from all corners of the region, they have year round teams using their own facilities, they consistently put together a team (or more) for each age group, and they have been the most stable and competitive organizations over the last few years. Most other independent teams are built around a couple age groups or they don’t have a website to communicate otherwise.
- Muckdogs Baseball Club – Facebook: The Muckdogs practice in Spanish Springs at Golden Eagle and have a facility on Vista Blvd in Sparks. They take kids as young as 7u through college age.
- Northern Nevada Baseball Club – Facebook: The NN Aggies practice at Jack Tighe Park off of Moana Lane in Reno and have a facility behind the airport on Rock Blvd. They take kids through 7u through 14u (right before high school), but also are developing the older age groups with private training with professional ballplayers.
- Reno Mustangs – Facebook: The Mustangs practice at the Terrace Little League Fields in northwest Reno up the street from McQueen High School. They have a facility near Patagonia. The take kids as young as 7u through college age.
- Scorpions Baseball Academy – Facebook: The Scorpions practice at Jack Tighe Park off of Moana Lane in Reno and have a large training facility near Rock/Glendale. They take kids from 7u through 14u.
Some of the independent teams below have Facebook pages to contact the teams for more information. I have included a general area where the teams practice or pull from, but kids can generally play anywhere they are willing to drive to. If you want me to add more information about your team, just reach out.
- Battle Born Baseball – Facebook: (new in 2023! Reno/Sparks area, 12u for 2023-24 only)
- Gladiators Baseball – Facebook: new in 2023! Reno/Sparks area, 12u for 2023-2024 only(?))
- Rawlings Tigers – Facebook: (new in 2023! 9u and 10u)
- Nevada Bandits – Facebook: (new in 2023! Spanish Springs, has 13u and 10u for 2023-24? possibly others?)
- Fallon Hornets – (Fallon area, has 14u for 2023-24, possibly others like 9u)
- Cap City Baseball – Facebook (Carson City area, unknown age groups – there might be another similarly named team, might be loosely affiliated with Carson LL)
- Douglas Dirtbags – (quasi-new in 2023-24! Douglas County area, has 14u and 11u for 2023-24, possibly others)
- South Reno Bulldogs – Facebook
- Nevada Gunslingers – Facebook
- Reno Bombers – Facebook
- Velocity – Facebook (Spanish Springs area)
- Mavericks – Facebook
- Thunderbirds – Facebook
The author is on the board of Washoe Little League, coaches his two sons, has both sons playing for the Northern Nevada Baseball Club, and his oldest is playing for Galena Forest Prep.
If you enjoyed this article, check out A Coach’s Promise To Your Kids and Help Me Coach Your Kids, both based on the author’s experience coaching community baseball. As always, thanks for your support.