Stan Anderson, Josh's father, views travel ball as an investment whose risks must be balanced against the potential payoff -- a college scholarship or a professional contract.
"We started doing this because we saw Josh had some talent, and we were seeking the best competition for him," he said. "As he goes on, you don't want to put pressure on them. But you tell yourself, 'Let's stay at this high level. There could be some good things coming down the road.'
"The growth of travel ball has a lot to do with all the money that is being paid to the major leaguers," he added. "[Parents] think, 'I want to get my son some of that.' "
The odds of landing a scholarship or making it to the big leagues are long, even for exceptional players. The 30 major league teams each carry 25 players for most of the season, for a total of 750 roster spots. That figure has not increased since 1998, when two new franchises, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, fielded teams.
The number of college baseball scholarships has remained stable over the last decade.
Are travel ball parents fooling themselves?
"It's an absolute longshot," said Craig Ciandella, state director of the United States Specialty Sports Assn., the largest of travel ball's four national governing bodies. "I think the parents get delusional sometimes about the ability of their kids, but I think travel ball exposes these kids to reality. Once you get on a bigger stage, you realize your kid is just another player."
Travel ball has been around in one form or another for years. But lately it has been growing both in reach and intensity. Today, nearly 1,500 teams in Southern California and about 30,000 nationwide, mostly in Sun Belt states, play travel ball. The prime years are ages 7 to 14. After that, participation drops off as players join high school teams.
Bob Zamora, who has coached baseball at Capistrano Valley High in Mission Viejo for 28 years, said travel ball makes a difference.
"The kids come into my program more polished," he said. "Their mechanics have been honed. Their arms are in shape, and they know how to field a ground ball. I know if I'd have spent 10, 11 months a year playing baseball, I'd have gone farther in my career than high school."
In recent years, most of the players chosen during Major League Baseball's amateur draft have been alumni of travel ball. Of course, many might have stood out without playing travel ball; and many draftees never make it to the majors.
Still, Ciandella said, the travel ball experience could provide an edge. "Did travel ball give kids who are being drafted their natural abilities or their size? No," he said. "But did it give them a bigger stage, get them involved in personal training and improve their skills faster? Certainly."
That might explain the jammed parking lot one Saturday afternoon at the Big League Dreams Sports Park in Chino Hills, one of three Inland Empire parks used by travel ball teams. The publicly owned, privately managed facilities feature scaled-down versions of historic baseball stadiums.
That day, the Chino Hills park was holding a tournament that attracted teams from Northern California, Nevada and Arizona. During the daylong schedule of games, parents lounged in booths in one of two restaurants and watched college football on television, sipped microbrews and ate chicken Caesar salad.
The players, meanwhile, refined their swings in batting cages, fielded ground balls on the artificial turf or scouted their opponents from the stands.
On one of the fields, a 12-year-old from Las Vegas smacked a fastball 300 feet against an outfield wall meant to look like Fenway Park's famed Green Monster.
The boy, Bryce Harper, stands 5 feet 10 and weighs 170 pounds. He has played on five travel ball teams in the last year -- the Redwings; the Southern California Aztecs, in south Orange County; the San Diego Stars, the Southern Nevada Bulldogs, and the Colorado Steel.
Like many top players, he's a kind of traveling all-star, moving from team to team in search of the best competition and the greatest exposure. Most recently, he's made the Redwings his primary commitment.
Three weekends out of four, he is on the road.
"I eat, sleep and drink baseball," said Bryce, who will represent the U.S. this year in the Pan-American youth games in Mexico, the Goodwill youth games in China and a tournament in Australia. "I love it. It's my dream to play in the pros. I haven't stopped thinking about it since I was 5."
His father, Ron, an ironworker, said he doesn't need to push his son. "I've had to say, 'Look, we're taking today off.' Sometimes, he just drives me crazy."
The players at the Chino Hills tournament were 11- and 12-year-olds, the same ages as those who compete in the annual Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. But that's where the similarities between travel ball and Little League end.
Little League combines all skill levels, guarantees playing time to everyone and relies on volunteer coaches.