The high stakes world of travel sports has long peaked with sneaker-sponsored basketball tournaments which draw players from across the nation and elite 7-on-7 football tournaments. At that level, and the top of the AAU pyramid, most expect significant travel commitments.
That’s not the case among 10-year-olds. Or at least it wasn’t before the evolution of the Texas Bombers.
The Bombers are a program based out of Flower Mound, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It is helmed by Lale Esquivel, a former Miami Hurricanes star who went to high school near where he now hosts his program. He has shown a dedication to winning at all costs, including extravagant travel expenses for Mullica Hill, N.J. native Joey Erace, Los Angeles native Jordan Rodriguez and Compton, Calif. star Bryce Morrison. All three fly in to take part in Bombers events, whether they are in the DFW region or at another far flung tournament.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram produced an in-depth report on Esquivel’s recruiting techniques and rather elaborate budget. These were some of the more jaw-dropping findings:
- The 10-and-under Major Bombers are ranked No. 2 in the country, 81-5, since January. They’re a favorite to win the nine-day Wilson DeMarini Elite World Series at Walt Disney World in Florida this month.
- Six of the 20 Major Bombers players are from outside the state of Texas; three are from California, one from New Jersey, one from Florida and one from Mexico.
- Esquivel claims to have paid for all or nearly all of the travel costs for four of the six out-of-state players in the program.
- Fees and dues for Bombers players who aren’t among the uber-elite recruited to the team typically run $1,500-$2,000 per season.
- The father or Joey Erace, Joe Erace, spent $30,000 on his son’s travel bills, as well as $1,200 per month on a flight of personal trainers to help him develop.
- Esquivel works for a company owned by his father, a former Mexican League player, which allows him to travel with and focus on the Bombers, psuedo full-time.
If you got the impression that the Bombers must be a family push for Esquivel, well, you’re right. Lale Esquivel has two sons: 9-year-old Luke and 10-year-old Lale V. He describes both of them as elite prospects among the best at their age and position. He also makes it clear that he will go absolutely anywhere to try to find another elite prospect.
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“I search profiles, I get on the phone, internationally. I got kids on a 15-year-old team from Panama, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic,” Esquivel told the Star-Telegram. “I got this 9-year-old kid, I haven’t used him yet, from the Dominican Republic. I’ve seen video, talked to the father and we’re trying to see if he can get here one weekend.
“We’re talking about special, special kids. That’s what we get, that’s what I want. You can look at me and say I’m cheating or it’s not right; I hear it every weekend. We play to win the games, period. These kids, before every weekend we play, I look at them in their faces and say, ‘What do you want to do?’ Every one of them tells me they want to be in the big leagues.”
Of course, the odds are not in these players’ favor, even those who do show such promise in programs like Esquivel’s Bombers troop. Only 2.1 percent of the 489,000 who play high school baseball then compete at the Division I level. Even if the Bombers serve as a bona fide select team that centralizes the top talent in a region — or maybe even the country — the best 10-year-olds on the team are still eight years away from high school graduation and either a college scholarship or spot in the minor leagues.
In the end, while Esquivel will front fees and expenses for talented players, the stress placed on his best athletes is often counterproductive to the point that its considered detrimental to develop by many parents and psychologists.
“With Lale, if you stay with him, everything is free,” Brandon Emerson, a Trophy Club (Texas) parent told the Star-Telegram. “The parents are the problem. You’re selling your son’s soul for a six-dollar trophy every weekend.”
Added University of California, Berkeley professor of psychology Dacher Keltner: “The two most important things kids have to do, is do well in school and get along with their friends. This kind of extreme sports is counterproductive to that.”