Wednesday, August 16, 2006

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Tom Verducci is probably the best pure baseball writer in the business these days.

His Sports Illustrated cover story on spring training with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2005—when he worked out with the team for a week—clinched the Best Baseball Writer title.

Verducci has an athlete’s understanding of the game’s physical and mental experiences. But he also has a fan’s enthusiasm and an analyst’s detachment and ability to find the game's hidden patterns.

And now he’s into coaching. Click on to for Verducci’s lessons from a summer of coaching Cal Ripken Baseball.

In 1,178 words, Verducci manages to convey everything you need to know about youth sports. Get the story, print it out, and refer to it when you’re watching this year’s Little League World Series—or any other sporting event, for that matter.


Blogger Patrick said...

I am thinking that all this extra TV coverage is good for Little League, in that it is exposing the negative aspect of it, and will cause Little League to take a firmer stance on getting around the rules/

1:59 PM  
Blogger Baseball Fan said...

I started reading your book, Little League, Big Dreams and I have found it very intriquing. It needs a followup in 6-10 years to see what happened to the Hawaii team. We had a team in 1998 from Greenville, NC that finished 3rd in LLWS and only one boy plays ball still and is a minor player in college only. The rest have quite playing baseball alltogether. I think the over coverage of LLWS by ESPN has generated way too much emphasis on winning. The biggest factor in winning is "luck". Sure, skill makes a difference but the overwhelming determinant is "LUCK". Some regions in South is tough to get out of and the AAU overlapping isunavoidable. The fact that not every country has to follow the rule of one league per 20,000 is unfair. No wonder Japan has won ASIA recently with a league per 400,000 population. Curracco also has one per 88,000. How can LL say it is fair? Why can't the tough regions in the South have 2 teams ? I would dare say that even 2 teams could beat the Northern teams. Limit pitch count and outlaw curveballs if LL wants to protect kids from getting hurt. Where is LL's conscience?

6:38 AM  
Blogger John said...

I disagree with the suggestion of allowing more than one team from the so-called "tougher" regions. I took a look at the overall records of the various regionals since they went to the 8 US regional in 2001 (I omitted 2001 because the Danny Almonte situation messed up all of the records). They were a bit surprising:

Great Lakes: 8-7
Mid-Atlantic: 6-8
Midwest: 0-12
New England: 9-7
Northwest: 9-6
Southeast: 8-9
Southwest: 10-7
West: 13-5

The Midwest result does not surprise me. The population base is too small. Otherwise, they all look pretty even.

Looking at the World Series results for US Finalists and Champions, it's split up pretty well again.

US Finalists:
Great Lakes 1
New England 2
Northwest 1
Southeast 1
Southwest 1
West 2

US Champions:
Great Lakes 1
Northwest 1
Southeast 1
West 1

World Champions:
Great Lakes 1
Northwest 1

I don't see how this supports more than one team from any region.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Baseball Fan said...

John did some interesting retrospective research. In 2002, the SOuth was split into Southeast and Southwest. Hawaii was correctly regrouped into West this year. It they were in West last year, they may not have won the LLWS with the strong CA team. I do agree the answer should not be to allow more teams from tough regions. I think a better idea is to redistrict the regions every four years(like they do for census) because of population shifts and emergence of other leagues, ie. Cal Ripkin etc. I think it is probably not fair that only 2 teams from CA can make it with 20 million per team represented. John did not address my other questions about the fairness of the # of leagues per population especially for foreign countries. Nobody can say that Japan does not have big interest in Baseball with so many professional teams there. Then, why is it that can have more kids to draw from per league? No wonder they win Asia every year! John did not address the issue of children's health with limiting pitch count or curveballs. LL should be more concerned with the kid's arm, than with ESPN money! I personally think the whole thing is getting way out of hand with too much emphasis on a "Moment of Glory" in Williamsport. We are forgetting that it is still just a game for the kids!

10:12 AM  
Blogger John said...

I'm not well versed enough in the foreign aspect to intelligently address it. I agree that 1/400,000 kids (or whatever it is) is ridiculous. But US leagues skirt that issue as well. Example, my local league has both an American and a National charter. Our overall population is about 45,000 people, so tow charters works ou just about right. Each year, one half of the league is designated "the" half and somehow manages to get most of the better players. It generally alternates from year to year, so this year "chosen" 11 year olds will be the featured 12 year old team which will try to make a state title run next year. With the advent of the 9-10 and 11 year old tournaments, they experience some success this year as well. My son was never on the "chosen" half, so part of me didn't like it. Funny thing was that even the so-called lesser half is usually good enough to get to the district finals most years, so at least he got to experience that.

I am all for pitch counts. I think it is ridiculous that we ask 11 and 12 year old kids to do things that a professional manager would never ask of any of his pitchers. As for curve balls, I am of mixed opinion. If the boy is taught to throw it without snapping the wrist (I'm told it can be done, I never could throw one) there is no stress. The problem is that most coaches don't know how to teach it that way, so I can see the arguement in favor of banning it.

You are right, the TV aspect is getting way out of hand. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut and was fortunate enough to make our league's all-star team twice way back in the days of the single-elimination tournament (talk about luck, the teams that drew the first round byes had a huge advantage). We went 1-1 both years. The thrill was getting to play kids from another town. My only regret is that the games were always at our home field, I wish I could have played an away game.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Baseball Fan said...

Our city has 2 leagues and there is no "mix&match" to create a "super team". There are always some very good players on the losing All-Star team that could have made the winning team a better contender for the LLWS. I guess, we are too honest. We had the best team in 8 years and still couldn't make to Williamsport which underscores the difficulty in making it. Funny, I met Dad of an 8 year old and he is plotting a trip to LLWS in 4 years. I advised him it was noble to play well, but don' t your hopes up to high. Dissappointment is almost as painful as the euphoria of making it to 3rd in the SE region. However, as parents we must put things in perspective and move on. Maybe, writing a blog is my catharsis for LLWS craziness!

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charles- I sent some links of news items that may interest you.
Baseball Fan- I remember that 1998 team well- I worked at the EOC in Hampton VA during Hurricane Bonnie and watched the US Final Greenville vs Tom's River.
You are right on about the overlapping competition from travel baseball and media overkill-the real issue is the ability of Little Leagues PR machine along with the media that coverup most issues. However, the book opens the eyes of even the those that refuse to accept facts. Even today, critical stories of Lemont IL and Portsmouth NH continue, but is deflected by the PR. I even read where the kids at LLWS dont even have access to TV- but they do and watch ESPN in the complex each night. They are very savy and aware of what is happening to them.It is the adults who are naeive.

4:08 PM  
Blogger John said...

baseball fan,

Our league is not so much of a mix and match as it is a bit of preselection. The kids are drafted as 10-11 year olds into the major division, and it just so happens that each year one half is stronger than the other. Much of this is based on how they played in the minor division. Once you're in either American or National, you stay there; of course, some kids develop a bit later and in retrospect could have made the other half better, but they don't trade them around.

David, I live in Illinois and can address the Lemont situation a little bit. They were definitely put together for this year only. After the 2005 tournament, 2 teams were widely viewed as the two that would vie for the state title. Limestone was to return 5-6 kids from their state championship and regional finalist team; Moline had won state titles at the 10-year old and 11-year old levels in 2204 qnd 2005. They happen to be in the same sectional, so only one would advance to the state tournament. Yes, sometimes surprises happen, but Lemont was no where on the radar screen and that league had seemingly done nothing at the lower levels that would indicate the possibility of great success this year. Rumors surfaced at the districts that there was a Chicago-area team that had essentially combined the best of two travel teams to form a super team. It turns out those rumors were true and this years Lemont team was the result. I read an article recently that the kids on that team have traveled the country playing all sorts of high level competition and compiled a record of some 50-3 or so. Utterly ridiculous. As a comparison, all the Moline kids play on a travel team, but those coaches are insistent that they play Little League as well and all of them have put in 3-4 years in the league.

baseball fan, luck is everything. A matter of miles even. Davenport, IA has sent teams to the LLWS 4 out of the past 5 years via the Midwest region. Moline (and the rest of the Illinois Quad Cities), sitting across the Mississippi River in is less than 5 miles away, in 50 years have only sent 2 teams to the regionals. The Moline kids, via their travel team, routinely beats those Davenport kids in weekend tournaments, yet they never sniff the World Series due to the superior competiton from the Chicago area, not to mention Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana at the regional level. Not sour grapes, it is what it is and the lines have to be drawn somewhere. But I do cringe when I see teams from Utah, Oklahoma and South Dakota get to experience a regional tournament for what winning what amounts to a district tournament while teams from larger states have to win 2-3 tournaments before getting to that level.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Section1Guy said...

I agree that this Lemont team should be considered illegal.

People don't understand that of course every good team plays travel. Everyone knows that. The different is a LL has their 12 guys when they are 9-10 years old and they say hey...lets get better and play as much baseball as we can together. So they form a team outside LL and play. That should be all fine and dandy.

Lemont is bad news because they are a travel team that just decided to play LL. They aren't LL that decided to play travel to get better. That's the difference and that's why Lemont is full of it.

As for the "strong" regions thing.

The Northwest, Midwest, and Great Lakes are the weakest regions.

The Southwest and Southeast regions are not as strong as people down there would like you to think though.

Sure Florida's state champ is pretty good usually, and its tough to win that state, but the region itself is not strong.

N. Carolina is tough, Florida is tough. Georgia has TWO leagues worth anything at all, and Alabama, Tenn, SC, etc are pathetic. They aren't good at all. Virginia can be hit or miss usually. But the fact is its usually about 2 1/2 states down there. Hardly superior to the mid-atlanic and new england.

Southwest has Texas East, sometimes Texas West and Louisana who is usually pretty bad when they actually make the series (like this year just watch).

The West is very strong. Mid-Atlantic may not produce the US champ, but their team for team can go with ANYONE else besides West probably, and thats only because they got rid of ridiculous Wyoming.

Without Hawaii, the NW is a joke like the Midwest.

Great Lakes had two decent teams in Brownsburg and Valley Sports(two player squad), Owensboro has been horrible.

Anyway...Columbus Northern looks like they should take this thing. A very weak field of US teams, which is surprising considering the new age change.

9:58 PM  
Blogger Baseball Fan said...

Section 1 guy: I agree with most of your ratings. I live in the SE region and NC and FL are traditionally tough states. GA is not usually (until this year). Alabama is sometimes good. TN, SC, and VA are not usually strong. GA could win it all because of strong pitching and power hitting. Their weakness is defense. I guess they never had a chance to play much defense with shutout pitching! Luck is a huge determinant on which team makes it to Williamsport. I propose that we do away with the current system of one or two state teams going to regionals and have an invitional like in college Basketball with a field of 64 etc. Therefore, if the nominating committee thinks that more than one team qualifies per regional, then they could go to Williamsport. I used to be sympathetic to foreign teams but I think they should be limited and have to play under the same rules as US leagues. Some of the foreign teams would never make it out of state or regionals if they were in US! No wonder they banned foreign teams in 1976. We should do the same again unless they play by the same rules!

7:45 AM  

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