No time limits!

Former Baltimore Orioles manager and Hall of Famer, Earl Weaver, was quite the character.  Browse the web and you will find many entertaining quotes and stories about Weaver.  Here is one of my favorites.

“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

Earl Weaver

The problem is that in today’s world of travel ball tournaments, this is not the case.  You can try and kill the clock.  The catcher can go out to the mound.  The coach can go out to the mound.  A player can take a little extra time finding his glove between innings.  The batter can talk to the third base coach because he isn’t sure of the signs.

People can argue all they want about whether or not these methods are ethical.  My point is that this can all be avoided by eliminating time limits.

Tournaments are about one thing – money.  There is an entry fee for each team.  Some charge an admission fee for spectators (parents).  You have to stay in certain hotels because the host organization has a deal.  Don’t even think about bringing a cooler because there will be a concession stand.

I have no problem with someone putting in the work and making some money for their program/organization, but don’t let what should be the most important aspect suffer – BASEBALL.

Take away the time limits.  Let the kids relax and play ball.  Let everyone get a fair chance.  Play the game the way it was meant to be played.

Not enough field space?  Start the tournament on a Thursday or Friday evening for local teams.  If you have lights, play some night games.  You can also reduce the number of teams in the tournament.  Go ahead and charge more if you have to.  As a coach, I wouldn’t mind paying a little extra if it meant I didn’t have to tell my kids to swing at the first pitch because we are short on time.

It’s not just about the pitch count

We live in a world of pitch counts and innings limits.  Most of the time, these rules are set by tournament and league officials with the good intentions of protecting young arms.  Coaches usually keep a close eye on pitching limitations.  Some do it because they don’t want to see a young player get hurt, while others do it so they don’t get kicked out of a tournament.

So, if coaches are monitoring pitch counts, then what is the problem?  The problem is not many coaches or parents take into consideration what the pitcher does when he isn’t on the mound.

If a 12-year old travel ball pitcher is your “ace”, then he is probably a pretty good all-around player.  Let’s assume he starts the game on the mound and throws 40 pitches in three innings.  That is perfectly acceptable by MLB/USA Baseball Pitch Smart guidelines.  By those standards, he should rest two days before taking the mound again.

Here is the issue and I have seen it happen over and over again.  The kid with the rocket arm leaves the mound and heads into the dugout – TO PUT ON CATCHER’S GEAR!  Are you kidding me?  The reverse is just as bad.

Pitching and catching in the same day borders on lunacy.  Catcher is the most physically demanding position on the baseball field.  Coaches forget that when the pitcher throws a pitch, someone usually needs to throw it back to him.  Sure, those aren’t terribly taxing on the arm but combine that with attempting to throw out baserunners and you will be surprised how much the catcher throws.

Pitching requires you to use your legs.  A kid with tired legs who just took off the catcher’s gear will involuntarily transfer that stress someplace else.  That’s right…his arm.

Check out this statement from the American Sports Medicine Institute.

A pitcher should not also be a catcher for his team as it is the next most throwing-intensive position and results in far more throws than players at other positions. ASMI found that amateurs who played catcher while not pitching were 2.7 times more likely to suffer a major arm injury.

Don’t be an idiot.

Is your coach really coaching?

In the world of travel baseball, one can easily get caught in the whirlwind of chasing trophies.  Chasing trophies is the idea that winning trumps development at the youth level.  It usually ends up with talented players eventually hitting a wall and not being able to compete as they get older.  This happens because their coach wasn’t really coaching.  He was simply filling out a tournament lineup card with the best nine players he could find.

If loading up your son’s bookshelf with trophies at 12-years old is the goal, then have at it.  Who am I to tell you what is right for you and your child?

If your son loves baseball and wants to play it as long as he can, find a coach that will help him develop, both as a player and a person.  A good coach is a teacher.  Not only do they need to have the knowledge but they also need to be able to teach it to young players.

You should ask yourself periodically if your child is becoming a better player and person.  Also, remember that the answer to this question has nothing to do with their position or where they hit in the batting order.  A kid who bats leadoff and plays shortstop may dominate at 10 years old, but if he isn’t improving, he will eventually hit that wall.  A kid who plays a utility role and sometimes struggles at the plate will continue to get better if he has a good coach.

Anyone can throw batting practice or hit ground balls.  Make sure your child’s coach is actually coaching.

Dad

Baseball is a great game.  I love to get outside, feel the heat of a warm summer sun, smell the freshly cut grass and listen to gloves pop as players play catch.  I have been around the game my entire life, starting as a player and now coaching my son’s travel baseball team.

My son and I play ball all the time, whether it is a formal team practice or just the two of us.  From the first time he ever threw a ball, I vowed to never force or push him to play.  I wanted my children to develop their own interests and personalities.  I suppose you are a product of your environment, but my son is 11 years old with a passion for the game that seems to grow every time he laces up his cleats.

My dad was not a “baseball guy”.  Sure, he played Little League just like everyone else but that was about it.  He didn’t play in high school or college.  He didn’t have an intricate knowledge of the game to pass on to me.  What he did have and what he did pass on to me was the characteristics of being a great father.  Take an interest in what your kids enjoy, whatever that may be.

I developed a love for baseball.  My dad already had a love for me.

My mom and dad came to every possible game they could, right up until I stopped playing about 12 years ago.  They would do everything in their power to see their grandchildren play as well.

Call me conceited if you like, but I know baseball as good as anybody.  My body might not be able to play anymore, but my mind is sharper than ever when it comes to mastering this game.

I recognize that I have a tremendous opportunity to teach the game to my son and his teammates.  More importantly, I have an opportunity to be a role model.  I can show an interest in a child.  I can listen.  I can care.  I can love.

Like my dad.

Thanks, Captain Obvious

I have seen and heard a lot of ridiculous things over the years while coaching and umpiring youth baseball games.  The overwhelming majority of which come from the mouths of adults.  I will list two of the most cringeworthy examples of “baseball wisdom” and beg you to never say these things to your child.

  1. “Just throw strikes!”  Just once, I would like to see a kid step off the pitching rubber and ask the genius offering up the advice to come out and give it a go.  The kid is standing in one of the most lonely spots in all of sports.  He is the pitcher and everyone has their eyes on him.  The game cannot start until he throws the ball.  Don’t you think he is trying to throw strikes?
  2. “Get a hit!”  Really?  Are you sure?  Thanks, Captain Obvious.  I would have never known you wanted me to get a hit if you hadn’t just shouted it out as I stepped in the box.  I can just imagine a youngster’s mind when their parent or coach starts barking out this type of expert analysis as they try to do the hardest thing in all of sports.

Do the young players a favor and don’t shout out these ridiculous statements.  Please, do it for the children.

Travel Ball Tryouts: Advice for Parents

For travel baseball parents and players, some very hard decisions will have to be made in the coming weeks.  All across youth baseball websites and social media, there will be posts announcing tryouts for 2017 teams.  Kids will go to baseball fields all over the place to show off their skills for coaches with a clipboard and a stopwatch. Some may even have a radar gun.

If your kid can play, he will be courted by many coaches and teams.  Some coaches will promise fancy uniforms, road trips and playing time. They will pump up your kid by telling him how he has a cannon and can mash the baseball. They will tell you how he should be a star pitcher and bat in the three-hole.

That’s all great to hear.  But what do you and your son want to get out of this process?  What are your goals?  Why are you spending huge amounts of time and money with travel baseball?

Every parent should sit down with the coach ask how he can help their son become a better baseball player.  Instead of clamoring over his positive attributes, focus on areas of needed improvement.  The coach should be someone who can teach the game, not just fill out the lineup card.

Talk about the team.  Where does your son fit in?  This has as much to do with his personality as it does his baseball skills.  Are the boys together off the field?  Does the team do a lot of non-baseball activities?  If you know someone who plays for the team, ask them about their experience.

Do your research.  Ask questions.  The bottom line is you want to find a place where your family will be happy and your son can become a better baseball player.