Friday, August 04, 2006

The Answer Man (Part I)

Taking a few questions from the peanut gallery . . .

Question: Everything I have been reading tells me that the Little League field is too small. Why are the bases only 60 feet apart (compared to the standard field size of 90 feet)? Why is the pitching rubber just 46 feet from the plate? Isn't Little League afraid that some kid's going to get killed?

Answer: The basic dimensions of the Little League field were determined by the founder, Carl Stotz, back in 1938. There was nothing scientific about Stotz's approach -- just a few afternoons of trial and error with the kids in his neighborhood in Williamsport.

The problem is that kids have gotten bigger and stronger in the nearly seven decades since then. The mound, originally 44 feet from the plate, is now 46 feet back. But that's not very far. With bigger and bigger kids smashing the ball off aluminum bats, it's only a matter of time until a serious accident occurs.

Little League officials say retrofitting the fields would take too much money. But maybe the organization should consider allowing local organizations to make their own decisions about whether to expand their field sizes. PONY League gradually increases its field sizes as kids get older. Why not at least get the process going for Little League?

Ultimately, it might be best for Little League to create two brackets for the traditional 11- and 12-year-old age bracket (which now, because of the change in age regulations, also includes a lot of 13-year-olds). Maybe the bigger kids should play on 70-foot bases and the smaller kids should play on 60-foot bases. Other sports -- like wrestling and football -- break up age brackets by the size of the kids. Kids' sizes vary so much in Little League these days, it's worrth having a debate.

Question: Is there any way to prevent young pitchers from hurting their arms?

Answer: The short answer is: Don't throw too many pitches in a game or a week, and avoid throwing the curveball altogether.

Pitchers usually hurt their arms by overusing their arms. It's fine to throw 50 or 60 pitches. The arm can recover from the small tears in the shoulders and elbows, and the grinding and pubbling of bones and tendons. But once the pitcher throws 70, 80, 90, or more pitches, the ability to recover declines.

But it's not just the collective trauma of throwing that's damaging. As a pitcher gets tired, his body's mechanics develop flaws. When a pitcher is tired, he his pitching motion suffers. He might not lift his leg high enough. He might lose his balance. He might bring his arm back too far -- or not far enough. He might release the ball too soon or too late. He might land in the wrong way. Any of these mechanical flaws can wreak havoc on the arms, back, abs, legs.

Little League Baseball adopted a voluntary pitch count rule this year. But there are no pitch counts in any of the summer tournaments, including the Little League World Series. With older kids playing in the Series this year, look for some high pitch counts as coaches push their horses to the limit.

Question: If I had rosters for all the teams in the regional tournaments, how can I handicap the action?

Answer: Look for the kids with the age and experience. Little League changed its age rule this year to allow older kids into the tournaments. From Little League's founding through last year, kids were eligible if they were still 12 years old on April 30; starting this year, they're eligible if they were 12 on July 31. The result is bound to be lots of bigger kids -- and lots of kids with previous tournament experience.

The strongest regions are usually in the West, Southwest, and Southeast. The Mid-Atlantic and New England regions have a number of good programs, but don't play baseball year round. Frost Belt regions -- Great Lakes and Midwest -- don't do very well in Williamsport.

Question: I saw that Hawaii was playing in the West regional tournament this year. Last year's team from Hawaii played in the Northwest tournament. What gives?

Answer: Hawaii's place in the Northwest region was a curiosity. Hawaii is, after all, the southernmost state in the U.S. Other states in the Northwest -- a region that includes Idaho, Alaska, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming -- complained that they didn't have a chance against Hawaii, which can play ball 12 months a year.

The big loser in this switch is, of course, Hawaii. This year's state champion from Waipio went 6-0 with two no hitters in the state competition. Waipio has always been a strong program. If it played in the Northwest, it would be the strong favorite to advance to Williamsport. Now it has to play teams from northern and southern California, Nevada, Arizona.

When you think of it, last year's Little League World Series champions, the West Oahu Little League all stars, caught every break. First, because the league was young (a breakoff from Ewa Beach Little League), the manager could shape the league to his liking. Second, the West Oahu all stars played in the weak Northwest bracket. Only when they got to Williamsport did they need to sweat. But by that time, most other teams were exhausted and broken down.

(Update from The Unpage on Sunday, August 6: Hawaii's Waipio Little League [scored] five times in the top of the sixth inning to topple Southern California champion Northridge City Little League, 6-5, before 9,500 onlookers in West Region tournament action in San Bernardino, California. Hawaii capitalized on four walks in the sixth, and scored the tying and winning runs on a double down the right field line. Both clubs remain in the hunt for semifinal round berths with 1-1 records; Waipio takes today off before tangling with Utah's Snow Canyon Little League on Monday, while Northridge City is idle for two days before entertaining Ahwatukee American (Arizona) Little League Tuesday evening.)

Question: Everyone says that travel ball teams are better than the best teams in the Little League World Series. What can you say to indicate the level of skill in the best travel teams?

Answer: The best indicator, in my mind, is the skills competitions that Cooperstown Dreams Park holds before its weekly tournaments.

Delino DeShields, Jr., the son of a major leaguer and the star for Alabama’s Boys of Baseball National Travel Team, ran the bases in 12.39 seconds, the best time in 2005. (That’s about the time it takes to read the previous sentence aloud.)

The Corona Dodgers, a California travel team, had the best time for the “Around the Horn Plus” event—21.85 seconds—in which players make twelve throws around the field. The game of blitzball starts with the pitcher throwing to the catcher, when the clock starts. Then the ball travels from the catcher to the third basemen, the second baseman, the first baseman, the catcher (again), the shortstop, the right fielder, the second baseman (again), the center fielder, the third baseman (again), the left fielder, and finally back to the catcher (again). (That’s about the time it takes to read the previous two sentences aloud.) Oh, yes. Every player has to touch the nearest base or a designated spot in the outfield.

Question: Everybody debates the impact of TV on the kids who play ball in the Little League World Series. What's your take?

Answer: TV is usually fun for the kids, so it's hard to be too much of a cynic. But TV corrupts the larger context of the games. Getting on TV is the point to many coaches and parents. That's where their years of sacrifice will be acknowledged to the whole wide world. And so they often create an intense environment and demands too much of their kids, sometimes leading to pitching injuries. Because of TV, everyone in their hometowns is pressuring them to do whatever it takes to win. That's not to say the adults wouldn't be intense without TV, but those broadcasts magnify everything.

That's all for now. Keep the questions and comments coming. Write to me at euchner@gmail.com. Thanks!

2 Comments:

Blogger Tom said...

I dont think we need to over analise the club ball versus little league issue. Its apples and oranges. Here in Arizona where Club ball is exploding we have most club ball boys playing both. My son plays for the Chandler Blacksox. We are a ranked team. He is of course on the Local Allstar team as well. Most of the club teams take a late summer break out here because it is so darn hot. That is when allstars are played. It works out ok. Other parts of the country are still in regular season when we are long done. we start play when some still have snow on the ground. Just for comparison there are hundreds if not a few thousand 12u boys in arizona playing on 70 foot bases with a 50 foot pitchers mound. Little league is never going to change these distances untill more kids are playing club ball than little league. That will never happen. Another fault with little league is what they do to 13 year olds. 90 foot fields! why? club ball is 80 for 13U and pitchers are at 54. It's a no brainer. The main reason you cant compare little league to club ball is our club boys have been playing real ball since they were 8. Yes! we lead off. pitchers get called for balking, a droped ball on strike 3 is live ball etc. Time does not get called when the pitcher gets back to the mound. The little league world series chmpions are not practiced up for this "real baseball" I say they would get hammered by any good club team. That is, if we play by club ball rules. Little league plays by beer league mens soft ball rules pretty much if you think about it.
Tom O'Brien, Mesa Arizona.

3:02 PM  
Blogger bestonline323 said...

I understand that Little League officials say retrofitting the fields would take too much money, however isnt the safety of our children more important than anything.
Forget money, serious accidents are going to occur sooner or later and when they get sued they are going to wish that they retrofitted the fields.
Nonetheless, i do not believe it will cost them too much money, I'm sure they have enough. I believe that the kids need to be playing in a safe environment. Don't you?

-Ian
tv hanging brackets

4:44 PM  

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