Forget about choosing baseball versus football or baseball versus basketball.
When it comes to summer sports conflicts, baseball versus baseball is hard enough for many area athletes.
As travel baseball programs continue to gain traction – some consider it a must for players who want to develop into varsity starters, let alone college prospects – high school programs are often becoming a casualty of the summer calendar squeeze.
Take St. Charles North, which won for the second straight day Tuesday in the Phil Lawler Summer Classic, minus arguably its top returning player, pitcher/first baseman Cory Wright. Wright maintains an extensive travel schedule with his summer traveling program, Elite Baseball.
North coach Todd Genke said he used to be upset when players missed time with the high school’s summer program to play travel ball, but the trend has grown so commonplace, his attitude has softened.
Genke would prefer being at full strength, but said top players’ absence helps cultivate depth for the main, spring season.
“You get to see some of these guys step up, give them opportunities, and a lot of them are [taking advantage],” Genke said after the North Stars rallied past West Chicago on Tuesday, 7-6.
The reliever who recorded the final six outs of Tuesday’s win, Frankie Farry, won’t be available in today’s regional semifinal against St. Charles East or Thursday’s regional title game, if the North Stars make it that far.
Farry, who plays travel ball with the Top Tier travel program, planned to make a 10-hour drive today to compete in a tournament in Tennessee.
Farry badly wants to play college baseball, and thinks missing high school games like today’s are a necessary evil.
“I’m just trying to get as much exposure to try to get to the next level that I can,” Farry said. “High school’s good, high school’s fine, but my travel team really gets kids to the next level, so I’m just trying to get as much exposure as I can.”
The approach taken by Wright and Farry isn’t for everybody – not even on North’s own team.
Senior Joe Kuczek plays travel ball with the Express program but said he remains committed to summer ball with the North Stars. Kuczek said he’s usually able to fit in weekend travel tournaments around North’s weekday-intensive summer schedule but, if there is a conflict, he chooses the North Stars.
“I’d pick these guys [at North] any day just because I’ve been with them for four years,” Kuczek said.
Thinking ahead to the next four years can be a powerful lure, though. East coach Len Asquini believes families often have an unrealistic take on the upside of travel baseball.
“There are two good tournaments [that provide] good exposure – one in Atlanta, and the other one in Indianapolis,” Asquini said. “You’ve got to be in a top-tier program to get in those anyway. They don’t just let any rinky-dink travel team in there. … If you’re in one of those, you can get some exposure, but that’s about it.”
Asquini makes a forceful case to Saints baseball players and their parents, letting it be known how high of a premium he places on having the whole team together during the summer for what he called “a ton of developing, a ton of teaching and a ton of camaraderie” that can’t be duplicated elsewhere.
“Last year was a problem,” Asquini said. “This year it’s a small issue, a small problem. Last year it was a big problem. This year, not very much at all, and I think that tells you what direction we’re headed and how our people are embracing it. I hope that continues, for the sake of the kids.”
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.