I fear that it may be. Actually, I’ve never been more convicted that we adults are ruining this game. But let me first start with the positive news from my baseball life here in Southern California.
Spring 2022 Updates
Kids just want to have fun. I’ve been pleasantly reminded that kids truly just want to play. They want to cause chaos in the dugout, they want to run the bases after the game, they want snack. They really want snack.
I’m also reminded that:
- Most athletes have some sort of fear of getting hit.
- 6:30pm game start time is way too late for a 9-yr old.
- 2-hour games are way too long for a 45-yr old.
- Strikes, while hard to throw, are the key to this sport’s success.
- Winning cures all.
- Coaching youth baseball is both awesome and exhausting.
- I love my kid, and these players, so very much!
We’ve improved drastically playing catch. See Structured Catch Play as my go to for organizing a solid game of catch. Try a Long Toss Competition to finish up throwing. And I learned a new game called Knockout that the kids love from my friends at MOJO. More on MOJO in the coming weeks and months – great stuff there.
Continue to push athletes – We finally made it to Double Play Feeds this week and will hit Double Play Turns next week. We need lots of work with ground ball fundamentals, but it’s my coaching duty to advance their understanding and knowledge of the game while consistently working to train technique. So, we’re coaching up the kids on double plays.
My own son hit his first “home run” – Which has nothing to do with a ball going over a fence, nor was it an actual home run. But what the heck, the ball was smoked (down the right field line for a legit triple in this case, with a scamper home on an overthrow of the relay man) and he was jazzed. The team mobbed him and I might have shed a tear… so we’re gonna call it a homer.
“Do not personalize a loss” – Heard a great piece of advice from a fellow coach: “Do not personalize a loss.” I have to work hard NOT to take these losses and an indictment of my coaching capabilities. And I need to remember that these athletes are 8 and 9 years old, which means they will make mistakes regardless of ability and quality of training. If they make a great effort to be in the right spot, we can’t be upset that they simply don’t catch the ball or throw it accurately.
He got hit – My dude took a hit-by-pitch like a champ – no tears and a jog to first base. He had competitive at-bats the rest of that game as well as the next. And THEN the ugly, scared-of-getting-hit monster reared it’s head. Currently, my boy has a roller skate on his back foot, which causes him to turn completely closed to the plate and messes with his ability to hit the ball fair (thus, his home run down the first base line). We have not done any particular training to overcome the fear of getting hit, as he seems to be working through it okay. But it’s interesting nonetheless to see him subconsciously move that back foot to turn his back to the ball. Is he protecting his ribs and belly? Sure would appear so.
Pitching is IT – Pitching has become my dude’s jam. He’s okay at it, probably 5th or 6th on the team, so that means 3-4 appearances this year. I’m encouraged by the fact that we, as coaches, have spread the innings around such that he’s been on the mound multiple times. That’s way more than any of the teams we play – we see the same 2-3 arms per game every game. I’m also encouraged that he’s fired up about something having to do with baseball! We’re coming around folks.
And that brings me to the rant for this newsletter:
Youth Baseball is Broken – Baserunning & Stolen Bases
We play PONY baseball. And while I love love love the PONY organization, I can’t stand what we adult coaches are doing with the baserunning rules. Here’s a fact:
Opponents have stolen over 225 bases (conservatively) on us in roughly 15 games.
We have yet to apply a competitive tag.
Meaning, we have yet to throw a pitch, catch said pitch, throw down to second or third base, catch that throw, and apply a competitive tag that has required a safe or out call from an umpire. Yet, these coaches continue to steal – score is 225-0 for those following along at home! It’s like putting on the full-court press when a hoops team is up by 50+. Or going deep when up by 7 touchdowns. This doesn’t even count the extra bases runners are taking on passed balls or wild pitches, which I’m somehow okay with because it IS a part of the game going forward.
Most of those runners get on via walks, which screams out the point that THAT is what we should be working on – THROWING STRIKES!! Not defending the running game, picking off, and having your middle infielders hold my baserunner on as if he was a first baseman. Memo: I’m not going to steal that base! I think the right thing to do is to teach these kids how to play the game correctly and spend precious practice time training fundamentals rather than defending against adult ego-boosting, play-to-win, baserunning tactics.
“But my kids love running the bases.” Cool, good for your kids. Tell them to stop it, it’s ruining our games! They’ll still love it when my pitcher airmails the catcher and they take an extra base then.
For those leagues without leadoffs, we hear the same feedback. This evil baserunning manifests itself via extended secondary leads to bait a throw, exploiting pitchers, and taking advantage of the fact that athletes aren’t developed enough to play catch consistently. Either way, this is no excuse for manipulating the game to win – which is ALL to feed an adult coach’s ego whether you realize or admit it or not. There’s no way around this sad fact and here’s another twist to this self-sabotage:
Opponents effectively choose to limit the amount of their own team’s at-bats, directly because they steal, steal, and score on a passed ball / wild pitch.
As an example, at last night’s game our opponent hit their 5-run maximum three times via a runner scoring on a wild pitch from third base. The bat was literally pulled from the hitter’s hands, inning over, time to switch sides. Working backwards, that 5-run limit is reached much faster and with far fewer at-bats than if they would hold their runners. Consider that four out of five runs were scored within a single at-bat.
Now, this isn’t every inning… we CAN record put outs, and opposing teams DO hit the ball as well. But, far too often, it’s those innings when we’re trying to get a pitcher some experience and that pitcher issues several inevitable walks, that leads to a measurable decrease in at-bats for the offense.
Each walk is followed by two stolen bases and a run scored on a past ball. Repeat, repeat, repeat, and we’re flipping the field after a 5-run inning and the opposing team has 0 outs. They’ve left an additional 3-4 at-bats in the dugout and they’ve scored without any real game action. All because they don’t have the humility to do what’s right and hold their runners.
Reactive practice time is spent on defending this action in an effort to remain competitive.
Never was this more clear to than when of the same team that steals bases like maniacs, also picked off two of our baserunners. Clearly, they had practiced picking off to second base multiple times – they were GOOD at it! Yet they did not record a single put out on a ground ball or pop up NOT hit to their first baseman. Would that practice time have been better spent working on training skills and developing athletes’ ability to record put outs?
Combine that with the fact that our squad is now forced to train:
- Catcher’s feeding a covering pitcher on wild pitches with a man-on-third
- Pick off moves to all bases
- Outfielders backing up throws to 2nd and 3rd base
- Middle infielders backing up catcher throws back to the pitcher
Youth Baseball is Broken – Walks
Personally, I believe each batter should put the ball in play. Action is what’s in the best interest of the athlete. So, why NOT get action with every batter rather than award a hitter first base on a walk?! Involve some sort of “coach comes in to pitch” rule that guarantees any batter that earns a walk will not strike out. Instead, they will get 3 coach-pitches, followed by 3 soft-tosses, followed by the ball on a tee until the ball is put in play. Defenders should practice playing defense on every stinking batter! And knowing how hard it is for athletes to play catch, the chances are still very good that the athlete will end up on base.
The current age division I’m coaching is 10U (rec ball). Our game would be SO much better off for athletes, coaches, and parents alike if we had the ball put in play. We need to stop it with the walks!
Bats and Balls
Meanwhile, I heard a great podcast on the topic with ABCA’s Ryan Brownlee and Rob Hahne (episode #274) that hit home with me. Ryan and Rob dropped all kinds of best-practices for speeding up the game and changing it for the better. One I had never heard:
Why is it that our youngest kids swing that big barreled plastic toddler bat…
And then as soon as they get to tee-ball, we rip that big barrel out of their hands… and hand them a toothpick! Only to save the big barrels for when they grow up and have more strength and control over the bat?!?! Wild.
Why is baseball the only sport that uses the same size ball that the pros do?
Football, basketball, and soccer use a smaller ball and relative goal size, while youth baseball uses the same size ball and (more importantly) the same weight ball as the grown men and women that play the game.
Takeaway – ACTION
Truly, all of this is nuts. I’ve written in previous blogs about the dangerous state of our game and lack of participation in the youth ranks. Baseball is inherently a boring game, loaded with failure. With so many distractions and options for today’s kid, baseball needs to adapt to the times and create more action – action = fun. I’m all-in for smaller numbers and more balls put in play. Less stolen bases, less walks, and more action. Pair that with responsible adults that can manage their baserunning addictions and we just might have a chance.
Phew! I look forward to your comments below. Especially if you’re coaching your athletes to steal on every pitch. Please explain to me why that is in the best interest of your players’ development?!?
PONY Baseball & Softball International Updates – The European Zone Championship for Pony and Colt took place on April 21-24. Pony was won by the London Archers Baseball and they will participate in the 2022 DICK’S Sporting Goods Pony League World Series (August 12-17 in Washington, PA). Colt was won by the German Academy.
The European Zone Championship for Palomino is taking place now in Stuttgart, Germany.
The Mexico Zone Championships took place April 15-23. Go to pony.org to see the winners of each division.