How your child’s rec league turned into a $15 billion industry


AGE_ 10

SPORT_ Baseball

“I love working hard,” says Joey, who lives in southern New Jersey but has suited up for teams based in California and Texas. His Instagram account @joeybaseball12 has more than 24,000 followers.


AGE_ 9

SPORT_ Basketball

King-Riley, who is ranked as a five-star prospect by the National Youth Basketball Report, lives in L.A. but has already played in tournaments in Utah, Texas and Nevada. His parents have used GoFundMe to help pay for the travel. If the NBA doesn’t work out, King-Riley wants to be a veterinarian.


AGE_ 9

SPORT_ Soccer

Melanie, practicing in her San Diego backyard, hopes to follow in the footsteps of the superstar Neymar. “He plays just like me,” she says. Melanie plays multiple games most weekends. To save money, her family stays in a hotel only if a game is more than a four-hour drive from home.

JOEY ERACE KNOCKS PITCH AFTER PITCH INTO THE NETTING OF HIS $15,000 backyard batting cage, the pings from his metal bat filling the air in the south New Jersey cul-de-sac. His private hitting coach, who’s charging $100 for this hour-long session, tells Joey to shorten his stride. He’s accustomed to such focused instruction: the evening batting practice followed a one-on-one fielding lesson in Philadelphia earlier in the day, which cost another $100.

Relentless training is essential for a top player who suits up for nationally ranked teams based in Texas and California, thousands of miles from home. But Joey has talents that scouts covet, including lightning quickness with a rare knack for making slight adjustments at the plate—lowering a shoulder angle, turning a hip—to drive the ball. “He has a real swagger,” says Joey’s hitting coach, Dan Hennigan, a former minor leaguer. “As long as he keeps putting in this work, he’s going to be a really, really solid baseball player at a really, really high level.”

Already, Joey has

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