Failure to Evolve has Doomed Dizzy Dean

Recreational leagues are dying and it's their own fault.

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There were 4 teams in our district tournament this year - 3 from our own park.

My younger son plays for the Ooltewah Owls, a local 7-year old All-Star team that has been affiliated with Dizzy Dean baseball for years.

We just finished our Dizzy Dean District and State tournaments last week, but the experience was a bit underwhelming.

The good news is we won them both. The bad news is there were only 4 teams in our District and 7 teams in the State. 3 of the teams in each tournament were from our own park.

When I played growing up, everyone played in their recreational leagues and then moved to All-Stars at the end of the season. “Select” or “Travel” ball didn’t start until we were 13 years old and even then there were only one or two teams per age group in the area.

When my older son (who is now 16) came through, it was rare to see a select team earlier than 9 years old. In fact, that’s when we took his team out of the local rec league and started playing in select tournaments.

Since then, almost every good team goes Select when they’re 8 years old, and there were quite a few 7 year old teams this year. We actually played in almost all select tournament this summer just to play a little better competition.

While I have very little interest in traveling every weekend for my 7 year old’s baseball team, the little leagues have over-regulated to the point of pushing people away. They’ve failed to evolve with the game, and ultimately won’t last much longer in their current state.

Select baseball at the younger ages is just a fancy way of saying “de-regulated youth baseball.” It’s no more expensive in most areas, and much easier to play.

Here’s why more and more teams and players are going that direction just based on what I’ve seen.

⚾ Over-Regulation

Many rules that were created with good intentions have turned into barriers and silly restrictions. Here are some examples.

Player Restrictions

I’ve seen more than a few times where players were ineligible to play all-stars because they played at a different recreational park the previous year. The intent of this rule is to keep teams from recruiting players away from other parks to create the best teams.

In reality, it works about like our infamous TSSAA (Tennessee Secondary Athletic Association). Not very well.

Kids who actually are recruited find ways to beat the system, and kids who truly have reasons to switch parks have been penalized and not allowed to play due to missing a deadline or form. In worse situations, this happens because coaches, park directors, or organizational officials can’t get over themselves and do what’s in the best interest of the child.

Nobody wins in that situation.

No Walk-up Music

I’ll be the first to say I was slow to come around to this. But then I think back to the hundreds of Major and Minor League baseball games my brother and I attended as young kids. Every time we heard the starting lineup or our favorite player introduced, we longed to be in that ball park some day with our own walk up song and a crowd cheering for us.

Now there are services like Ball Park DJ, Walkout Song DJ, and Baseball DJ that you can pay for and have your starting lineup professionally recorded by a minor league baseball announcer. The app will add the music of your choice and the kids love it!

There is no harm in this as long as the sound isn’t being played during live play where it can be distracting or interfere with coaching.

During our State tournament, the Dizzy Dean officials made multiple teams quit playing their music. Yep, that’s an important rule…

Only Four Coaches in the Dugout

Really? Who cares!

Our team has 5 dads who coach the team. 3 of us are there all the time, while 2 others sometimes attend the games of their other children. All 5 of us are there on occasion, and we all stay in the dugout.

By the way, if a dad gets held up at work and can’t make an official tournament game…heaven forbid another dad out of uniform step in to help do the dugout. I guess you’d have to forfeit.

Again, during out District tournament, one of the Dizzy Dean officials mentioned this and told us we could only have 4. Another really important rule for the kids…

Matching Coaches Uniforms

I believe in being professional on the ball field. I believe in acting in a professional manner win or lose. I believe in all the players and coaches looking the same.

But to tell a coach they cannot coach in a game because their shade of khaki shorts is lighter than the other 3 coaches? No thanks.

Just another example of over-regulation that doesn’t matter.

⚾ Lifetime Leaders

The National Directors and State Board from Tennessee Dizzy Dean are essentially the same ones from almost 30 years ago when I played.

The best volunteer organizations have succession planning built in to their long term plans, and are intentional about rotating leadership.

I’m not attacking any current or former Dizzy Dean official on a personal level. I’m not saying they’ve acted in a selfish manner or have done anything wrong.

But the whole point in rotating leadership is to bring in fresh ideas and get more people involved. When you shut out others, intentional or not, they lose interest.

⚾ Long Tournaments

I love baseball as much as anyone reading this, but Thursday through Tuesday tournaments are just too much.

First, it’s just youth baseball. As a family we need to spend time doing other things.

Secondly, there’s no time to practice. If you play Thursday through Tuesday you only have Wednesday’s off.

Most select tournaments for younger age groups are two day tournaments, weekend only. Two days of games, not rushing to get to the ball field on a work or school day, and then a practice or two during the week. And you still have more nights off.


I hear people all the time that say Select Baseball is killing the local recreational leagues. It’s actually the affiliated organizations of the local recreational leagues killing the local recreational leagues.

Failure to evolve, look at things differently, and accept change has gotten us to this point.

The park where we play is located in the largest growth area of the county, so there are still quite a few teams in most of the younger age groups. It won’t be that way for long though.

There are many many good people involved with youth baseball that sacrifice their time and money year in and year out. Unfortunately that’s not enough to keep all these parks alive in their current form.

Bottom line: Select ball has better competition, fewer crazy rules, lots of different tournaments and affiliations to choose from, doesn’t really cost any more, and is just plain easier to play.

Do you agree? Disagree?

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About Kevin

Kevin Burke is a dad and coach, having coached baseball at all ages tee ball through varsity high school over the last 18 years . He currently coaches his younger son’s 9U “travel” team, Tennessee Prime, based out of Chattanooga, TN.

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