Travel Ball can be very very expensive. And it seems like everyone and their Grandma is starting a Travel Program these days. A vast majority of these teams are filled with future D3 talent and they play other teams filled with future D3 talent, and the programs cost $2500+ plus gas & hotels etc. if not more
Travel Ball can be fun, no doubt. Staying in hotels with teammates, fancy uniforms, playing tournaments etc. If money is no object, then the "fun" aspect of Travel Ball might be worth it regardless. To me it is only worth the expense if you are playing on one of the top travel teams that features mostly D1 talent and plays against mostly D1 talent.
For the rising Freshman or rising Sophomore, if you are not good enough to make a top team of future D1 talent, then the $$$ you would have spent on a D3 level Travel Team would be much better spent on training to help you have a better chance of making a Top Team at tryouts a year later. Focus on your weaknesses that prevented you from being selected for a top team whether that be Speed & Agility training, strength training, hitting, pitching etc. You will have money left over to spend on an academic tutor or two. Great grades and good Baseball skills can get you noticed at a Showcase such as Headfirst much more than good grades and great Baseball skills at a local D3 Travel Ball Tournament.
I wouldn't advise taking a summer off if you love the game. Play in a local summer league, play Legion Ball, go to some college camps, go to a Showcase or three and do the training, all for the same cost of playing 2 months worth of local/regional tournaments and weekly winter practices with a lower level team. You'll be in a better position to compete for a spot on a higher level team a year later....
If you get to your rising Junior year and especially rising Senior summer and the game is continuing to tell you that you just are not a D1 talent, well that is different, then play for a 17U team that plays more D3 level tournaments, but earlier on in High School I think it can be a waste of money playing for lower level Travel teams
Good points. This is close to my experience and general observations after my son, just graduated HS and enroute, he hopes, to play club baseball at an ACC D1 school, but after going through travel baseball from 2009-2016.
My son played on local, then semi-prestigious, then a prestigious travel program. Fall 2015. Great team, loaded with several low-D1 and rest D2 and D3 players. But Summer 2016, before his senior HS year, my son got demoted to the program's B team when the former B team catcher got promoted to the A team. Pretty much because the other catcher had a cannon arm...and it turned out...that's about it.
The B team had several D3 players and 1-2 D2, but was a cut below and 2-3 cuts below on coaching and college connections.
So, we spent a lot of money on travel teams, uniforms, lessons, hotels, food, gas, etc. over the years. But those were mostly GREAT times on the road with my son, and we could afford it. In the end, my son got D3 interest but at the end of the day, he's 5'10" 180 with a 2 to 2.1 pop-time. Strictly D3-level, and he wants the big in-state D1 experience. I'm very happy for him.
After that somewhat bad B team experience, he "dropped down" to a local travel program that was full of very good HS/D3 players, and about half are not pursuing baseball in college. Cheaper and more fun. His mens summer wood bat team is playing in the league championship this week.
I've heard, and would agree, that the tippy-TOP talent does not need travel baseball. But outside of the top 2-3%, travel baseball is probably needed for both exposure to coaches at tournaments and connections. I think the latter is under-valued and often lacking. If you are a great HS player with great metrics, there are oodles of you out there and oodles of college camps and showcases to choose from. So choose and spend wisely. For example, don't go to a college camp unless it is a viable option from a baseball, academic, financial, commute/travel, and social perspective.