The Ugly Side of Upper Dublin Travel Baseball

The travel baseball program in Upper Dublin needs to change.

In recent years, many say favoritism, questionable selection practices and contracts for young players that practically require a lawyer’s explanation have become part of the world of Upper Dublin travel baseball. In a community where sports and recreation programs are often touted as exceptional, many believe its travel baseball program falls short and leaves a black mark on an otherwise stellar reputation.

Over the past several years, some involved say that the program has been taken over by an overzealous group of dads with questionable motives. It’s now largely understood throughout the local baseball community that kids with no connections need not tryout.  In just one example of this, it’s now become common to have three parent coaches per team which assures that their kids will make up 25% of those selected before a tryout has even been held.  Leadership denies that coach’s kids are given an automatic spot on the team but a closer look at rosters over the years says differently.  And, with leadership overlapping between travel baseball and UD football programs, kids who excel at football are getting a free pass onto travel teams thanks to their coach connection. Even though excelling at football doesn’t necessarily translate into superior baseball skills, this is another way kids with an insider get the upper hand over their peers.    

Once the coaches’ kids and other favored athletes are on the team, despite their skill level, parents say they are often given unprecedented playing time and first pick of positions to the detriment of others and the team’s performance. And strangely enough, in a township of four public elementary schools and two private schools, it’s questionable why some teams so heavily favor kids from certain schools. In one case nearly 50% of the roster attended the local Catholic school along with the coach’s son, while some schools were not represented at all. In another policy that smacks of unfairness, some kids are able to try out for two teams in the same year. If their age qualifies them for an older and younger team, many will attend the advanced team tryout and when they don’t make it they’ll try out for the younger team as well.

It’s no wonder that as word of growing dissatisfaction amongst travel parents has spread; the negative experiences have discouraged many talented players from even trying out. Overtime the program has suffered with both participation and performance at very disappointing levels. At this point, many of the teams aren’t even competitive (finishing below .500) and yet the same coaches remain in place and team rosters remain virtually unchanged from one year to the next.

If you happen to get past the flawed selection process and your child is lucky enough to make the team, it’s largely understood that parents must beware of questioning playing time, positions played or anything at all. An unofficial code amongst travel leadership assures that parents who inquire about or challenge decisions ruin future chances for their child to participate. Some coaches openly admit the unofficial policy and warn parents to back off in advance. This stance is not in an attempt to control extreme parents but rather to send the message that this is their party and your son was lucky just to be invited.

Upper Dublin is truly a great place to live with so many opportunities for kids to participate in sports at a high level. It’s a shame that one organization seems to have an agenda that is focused more on the benefit of a few than the development and participation of the many talented baseball players in the area. Let’s hope travel baseball can get its act together, fix some of these inequities and make the program and the teams a source of community pride in the years to come.


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CSmith October 19, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Thank you "JLo," for proving some of the points I was trying to make in my blog. First, it's clear that when you have something to say that the baseball bullies don't like they immediately want to stifle those opinions, even criticizing the Patch for posting my blog. Next, when a parent does voice their opinion, you go right for their kid. What do my opinions have to do with how my child would be coached? That, Mr. Dianno, is why I am not interested in broadcasting my name, because these guys would make my child suffer. And, for the record, my son has been on the travel team for the last two years (not going to say which one) and I've never heard any complaints. So, I am not an outsider looking in, rather an insider who has been privy to much of the process and I say again its time for a change. I've been to the tryouts where the impartial evaluators pick a kid for the team just to be overruled by the coach or commissioner. So, "Anonymous", it's no wonder your child is heartbroken, because the chance of him getting a fair shake was already against him before the batting cage evaluation took place. I am sorry for that. I want that to change. I would also say that I am sure there are some parents who have had positive experiences. I am happy to hear that, but that does not discount the other kids and families who have not, and there are many. These guys don't like it when you call them out, but it's about the kids gentlemen, let's get our priorities straight.
Chad October 19, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Having had a similar experience with the Upper Dublin league, I am glad to see this issue brought to light. My son, (who had previously made the team), was told he had an exceptional tryout yet did not make the roster. When he asked what he could have done differently, he was told that his play in the fall season needed improvement. At this point, I inquired as to why the tryouts were even being conducted considering that they were apparently not the deciding factor. In response, I was told by a coach that the evaluators wanted to place my son on the roster but that he overuled the descision due to the fact that he had seen him play before in the fall league. When I questioned the fairness of this judgement, I was told that "a kid with difficult parents will never make the team regardless of how good a player he is". The message was clear. I had been warned not to question things. While the volunteerism of coaches and assistants is admirable, we should remember that this is not a license to be unfair or slanted in judgement. After all, what values are we trying to instill in our children about work ethic and fair play? Thank you CSmith, for bringing this issue to the forefront.
mgraham October 19, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Right on CSmith. I have been in contact with the new commissioner recently about another legitimate concern and he totally skirted around it. I found out recently that one of the coaches has moved out of the area but has decided to continue to coach. That is admirable, for sure. However, my question was regarding his son and he refused to answer it. I wanted to make the point that since there are only 12 coveted spots on the team I didn't think it was right for his son to take one from a local kid. I have nothing against either the coach or his son but I thought the point was valid given the boundary restrictions we all live by. If there were more opportunities for kids to play competitive ball in the area then maybe it wouldn't be such a big deal but there are not at the elementary level. I like the idea of a B team or even a second A team but for now we don't have it and the kids in UD should get priority. For this year anyway, my kid skipped the tryouts...with all this drama, lacrosse is looking mighty good.
Karen Klein-Baker October 19, 2012 at 05:17 PM
I am so glad that someone is finally dealing with this organization in a truthful way. Our family has experienced so much of what CSmith said first hand. The contract, the warnings, the favoritism and ultimately the disappointment. I looked into having my step son play elsewhere but we are restricted from playng on every surrounding team because we don't live in the town. I also agree that often the best kids are not chosen for these teams. I had first hand experience when my step son was asked to play on a tournament team in Roslyn this summer. The team was made up of a bunch of 11-12 year olds, many who hadn't been "good enough" for the real 11U travel team. Wouldn't you know, in the first game of the tournament they had to play that same 11U travel team from Upper Dublin. Our team was thrown together at the last minute with only a couple of weeks to practice. The other team had been playing together, many kids for two years and practices for them had started in January. Guess what, our team beat the UD travel kids, hands down. So, yes, I question the selection process and many of the decisions being made in that organization. I hope CSmith bringing this to light will help make things better.
joe gentile October 19, 2012 at 05:59 PM
I have been chomping at the bit to get in on this conversation. CSmith, you are right on! It's the classic case of giving people a little power and watching it go right to their heads. I definitely don't think that all of the coaches are bad guys but some of them at the top definitely use the organization as a launching pad for their friends and family to get ahead in local sports. I saw it with my own eyes. My son was part of it all (and so was I) until I got him involved in AAU. Mr. Dianno, I don't know how you can say that everything changes each year. I remember it being the same core group of kids on the roster with maybe one or two exceptions and the assistant coaches were definitely on board before the tryouts were complete. Maybe each team is run a bit differently but that is what I saw. MGraham, I'm not sure how I feel about your concern. I think it has merit because there is a boundary rule for a reason. That is what limits our kids from playing on other teams. Maybe that should change. But I also appreciate the coach that wants to stay on with UD. Maybe he is concerned his son won't make the team in his area, who knows. I definitely think the commissioner should have addressed your question honestly. My son is past the age of participation in this league but I hope things get better for the young guys who just want to play ball.
CSmith October 19, 2012 at 06:27 PM
"Chad," that should have never happened to your kid. If they had no intention of putting him on the team, why make him try out? And, fall ball should have nothing to do with his evaluation. That is suppossed to be purely for fun for kids who can't get enough baseball. Plus many kids play other sports at the same time in the fall, baseball being the second sport. Maybe this applied to your son or others who were not at full strength and thought they were just playing for fun, not being judged. Totally unfair. Why have these evaluators at all if they are just going to be overruled anyway? "Karen," I heard about that upset. Good for those kids. It just goes to show that there are not enough outlets in UD for talented baseball players. I hope it was a major confidence boost for them so they know not to give up their love of baseball just because their talent hasn't been recognized by a small group of individuals. "MGraham," I think you have a point but I hate to single out a kid. The boundary rules are there for a reason though. "Joe," Thanks for your support, glad to hear your kid was able to continue with baseball and be successful in the sport he obviously loves.
JLo October 19, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Thank you CSmith for proving some of my points, as well. First of all, let me just say that your assertion that because I take offense to your article I must be a coach in the Upper Dublin travel baseball program is completely false. This proves that the "woe is me attitude" with which you wrote this blog is the driving force behind it. I have, however, played and coached baseball at every level, from T-Ball to Professional baseball, and I take offense whenever anyone implies that coaching young people is an easy undertaking. When I inferred that I would never want to coach your child, it had nothing to do with him, and everything to do with you. As a matter of fact, it is about the kids, and for you to imply that the kids on these travel teams do not deserve to be playing, is a slap in the face to each one of those kids...and their parents. It is always easy for parents to sit back, evaluate their own child's performance, and decide that, because of the rose-colored glasses through which they watch, their child is so much better than those that make a team. As someone who has had to make those difficult decisions, cutting young athletes, it is the most painful part of coaching at any level. It cannot be taken lightly, and from what I've observed of the coaches in Upper Dublin, it is not taken lightly.
JLo October 19, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Baseball is the greatest game in the world, and one I have dedicated the majority of my life to playing and teaching. The most difficult thing about it is the fact that everyone, because they watch baseball on t.v. and can quote meaningless statistics from decades past, is an expert on coaching baseball. I am writing to defend my sport and those who willingly give up their time in leagues such as this, to prepare kids to move on to the next level where I may coach them. It is never a perfect system when so many kids wish to try out for a town sponsored team, simply because there are so many kids.
John Tralie October 20, 2012 at 12:31 AM
If anyone has a concern they would like addressed you can contact me at baseball@udjaa.com and I’ll be happy to discuss it with you. I have been running this organization (intramural and travel) with the help of many for 10 years and can talk to any aspect of it. John Tralie UDJAA Baseball Commissioner
UD Parent October 20, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Agreed. My son was one of the last cuts, which is cool, but he is a good player who would benefit from travel coaching and experience. A second team for age groups with interest and enough players seems fair and doable. That's how UD travel soccer works.
David Franklin October 21, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Upper Dublin has long been a cliquish community and always will be so. I'm not the least bit surprised by anything the parent (CSmith) in editorial says.
Stop with the Taxes October 22, 2012 at 02:08 AM
The issue is the leadership of the UDJAA. You got to wonder why those grandfathers are still hanging around running things. As a baseball parent you should also be concerned about why the UDJAA is taking your money to pay for another turf field you guys will never use. The basketball parents should ask the same thing. UDJAA makes a profit of about 120,000 a year or about $60 a player. That is half of the fee? Why do they charge so much. Power for one, Danher loves to be able to be the big man who throws other people's money at the township and school district. Coahing your kid to make sure they play the sport you want them to has been going on in UD for years. Team sport results at the HS level show where this had got us, not very far. If you look, our best HS players usually got their start playing for teams outside UD.
tex October 22, 2012 at 12:13 PM
how does the Patch post an actual piece without an author??
Steve Melick October 22, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Interesting perspective, Karen, but your quest for the truth is more than a bit dubious. I coached the 11U team and the other team "thrown together at the last moment" (yet practiced a few weeks in advance as you correctly stated) was something I created after finding more kids looking for games. I could have just entered my team but instead I personally fronted the fee before confirming a full roster, arranged equipment and uniforms, coordinated schedules, and found coaches so we could give those kids a chance to play. Sorry if the accommodation was not appreciated. Secondly, though I applaud a good effort by coaches and players, you did not beat my team. We went undefeated and didn't even face each other in this tournament. So your claims are completely without merit but why allow facts to ruin a good story, right? http://upperdublin.patch.com/articles/ud-11u-baseball-team-wins-championship#photo-10695639
Curmudgeon October 22, 2012 at 03:02 PM
@Stop with the Taxes: AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!
KRichman October 22, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I think it's time for term limits. It is obvious that UD continues to run the leagues as they have always been run. Perhaps a change in leadership is needed at the top as there appears to be abuse of power. As for our experiece, the old adage of, "You live and learn." is appropriate. We have lived through the tryout process, spring season and tryout process again. We have learned that our son will NOT be undergoing a process in which backroom politics and deals are negotiated before he even stepped foot at the first tryout. Thanks for a great learning experience: life is not fair.
Karen Klein-Baker October 22, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Wow Steve Melick. If you read my post carefully I did not say that we won the tournament, just a game. Congratulations on finally winning something. I know getting beat by kids that you thought weren't good enough for your team was embarrassing for you but hey, that's how things go. Let the kids feel good about it, ok? Also I happen to know you were the one who forced that ridiculous contract CSmith mentioned on the kids while you were in charge. Maybe that's why a new guy has taken over. Finally, maybe things will get better for the kids.
CSmith October 22, 2012 at 05:49 PM
The same way you were able to publish under "tex."
CSmith October 22, 2012 at 06:02 PM
I appreciate your dedication to the game of baseball, but since you aren't a coach in UD then you don't really know what is going on here. It's amazing how you will so strongly defend this system when you have no first hand knowledge of the facts. But as I said, baseball bullies stick together. Also, I wanted to let you know that my son was just told he made the travel team for the third year in a row. They are happy to have him and me... no complaints at all. But as you do, I do have some complaints. Unfortunately for us, if my son wants to play competitive baseball and lives in UD this is all we have right now. I was simply trying to make it better and a system that will benefit more kids (even if they aren't my own.) So, having said that, I will continue to watch from the "inside" and report back as needed.
joe gentile October 22, 2012 at 06:30 PM
The intent of your post is unclear to me. Did you have a good experience or a bad one? You suggest a change in leadership but seem to imply you got a fair shake at the tryouts. Please explain.
Jmo October 22, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Karen-I think you misread the reply and misunderstood the fact. First Steve Melick was the one who organized the second team. Why? Because he loves baseball and Upper Dublin baseball even more. Secondly, your statment that the second team beat Steve's travel team is wrong. Thjey never played each other in that tournament and Steve's team did not lose to anyone in the tournament. Parents volunterer for these coaching positions. UDJAA is always looking for more parents to volunteer. The new 9 U team that will begin in the Spring only had 2 parents volunteer for the position. Some years it is only one person that steps up and makies the commitment.. It is not easy to analyze kids talents to determine who should and should not make a team. However theses coaches try the best they can. There is turnover on every team, every year. Coaches sons have been cut at every level. There simply is no "back-room dealing" as someone posted. The process is the best we can do to try to field the best team of young ball players that can represent UD.
KRichman October 22, 2012 at 07:57 PM
If there are 12 spots on a team and 4 coaches, what is the probability that your son will be chosen? Really, why not just have 7 coaches, one for each day of the week. It was clear that at least 10 boys were hand-picked prior to the tryouts. If that's the case, fine, but don't represent it to the children and parents that no one is guaranteed a spot on the team, because that is not the case. My son could see through the smoke and mirrors. The fact that he was not chosen this year is fine. The "good ole boy" network is alive and well in UDJAA.
KRichman October 22, 2012 at 08:00 PM
I would love to know the coaches who sons did not make the team because thus far, that is not the case.......AND...........at least at my son's level, there were back-room deals. Think what you want, but this process is not fair and equitable. What are we really teaching our children?
Jmo October 22, 2012 at 08:14 PM
KRichman-I can tell you that a current coaches younger sons (his older son is on the team he coaches) made one of the travel teams and then was cut the following year. He has tried out since then but he has not made the team. Another father was an asst coach and the following year his son was cut. Both were tough decisions for the coach involved because the two father's had become his friends. Nonetheless, the boys were cut because other boys simply had better tryouts. None of the coaches enjoys cutting kids. It is the worst part of what they do. The have cut kids whose families they know very well. The idea that kids are "on the team" before tryouts is simply untrue. There is a reason that some of the kids make the team year after year. It is because they are talented ballplayers. That is not to say that some kids are talented at 9U and then by the time they are 11 or 12 other kids have caught up in talent and/or size. That happens. But some of the kids continue to excel and continue to make the team. Some do not and they are replaced by kids who have grown bigger and/or have become more talented ball players. There are several new kids on each team every year. Those are the facts.
JLo October 22, 2012 at 08:45 PM
CSmith, I did not mean to get in to a back and forth about any of this. I am very happy for your son, and I hope his experience is better than yours has been. However, it just seems a little strange that the entire article is about how unfair these tryouts and the selection process is, yet your son has made the team 3 years in a row. Unless you too made a "back-room" deal, that means he was selected on his athletic ability. It seems to contradict the points you are trying to make. As far as the "baseball bullies stick together" comment I'll take the high road, and let you play the victim. I just wanted to make the point that coaching is not easy, and those who think differently should "step up to the plate" and give it a try. You will soon find out that is a thankless undertaking...at least in terms of the abuse received at the hands of parents who always know how to do it better.
T4E1 October 22, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Perception is reality.
fed up with sports in UD October 22, 2012 at 09:04 PM
i know at the U11 try outs this year, kids were cut without ever holding a bat after the 2nd night b/c the 3rd night of try outs is by invitation only. tell me, isn't batting a pretty important part of baseball? how do you narrow down to 14 kids from 30 without ever seeing any of them bat?
CSmith October 23, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I don't mind answering that question, it seems fair. My son and I got involved a few years ago under a great coach who really loved the game. We didn't know him before we started to play. We did have some friends in the organization but they were not in leadership roles and on different teams. I was unaware of any issues with the organization. My son was good and he wanted to play ball. Our experience was initially good but as time went on and I got more involved I saw how things worked behind the scenes. There are some good guys in this organization but there are some that need to go for all the reasons I mentioned in my blog. I have seen that the issues mentioned are getting worse not better, which is what happens when those in power go unquestioned. And, like it or not, many people don't feel free to ask questions and there are many people who have been treated unfairly - some don't even know it. That bothers me. If there were more opportunties to play competitive ball for UD residents that didn't cost a small fortune, we would be gone. My son loves baseball, he loves his team. I don't want to take that from him so I set out to make the system better. You may not agree with the things I said, but I wrote what I saw. I hope the legitimate comments on this blog will at least be considered so things can get better. That was the point, nothing more.
CSmith October 23, 2012 at 04:48 PM
I agree that for some coaches, cutting kids is extremely tough, as it should be. But just because you say that kids are not picked for the team before tryouts doesn't make it so. It is so. Just because you say that your points are "the facts" doesn't make them so. Others have had different experiences and would like to be heard. And it is also incorrect to assume that the most talented players always make the team. Complaints like this are not always just sour grapes. I know for a fact in the most recent tryouts that the evaluators had agreed that a particular kid was outstanding in hitting and fielding, basically everything but the coach overruled their decision to put him on the team. Again, why have the evaluators at all if you don't plan on listening to them? This happened just a few days ago. I don't know how to get around this type of random input that robs a kid of a spot they deserved. It bothers me. There has to be oversight of some kind because the process is flawed and kids are getting the short end of the stick.
Chad October 23, 2012 at 05:22 PM
That is exactly how they do it. I agree, that is a ridiculous way to compare kids. The crazy thing is that my son has a friend who made it to the batting tryout this year and then was told he didn't make the team because of a play he botched in the first tryout. Why would they even make him go through the batting portion in that case? Also, at school my son found out that one kid made the team that didn't show up for the second tryout. He had an advantage because he had one less opportunity to "botch" a play than the others. By the way he is an assistant coach's son. What a disgrace. The more I hear, the sorrier I am that my son ever particiapted in these tryouts.


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