Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category
On Jan. 11, Little League International announced it would set up what it calls a 50-70 division, where 12- and 13-year-olds could play on their usual home teams with the standard league rules, but then also play up in a division with rules and field dimensions that more advanced. Such as (from a Little League press release):
Now, in an effort to further ease the transition from the standard Little League field size (46-foot pitching distance and 60-foot base paths), Little League is offering a pilot program for league age 12- and 13-year-olds. The pilot program will be conducted on fields that feature a 50-foot pitching distance and 70-foot base paths. The pilot program will be available to all Little League programs worldwide for the 2010 season.
Additionally, base runners will be permitted to lead off in the 50-70 Pilot Program (requiring pitchers to hold runners on base), runners may attempt stealing at any time, and head-first sliding is permitted. In the Little League division, runners cannot leave the base until the ball reaches the batter, and sliding must be feet-first unless the runner is retreating to a base.
Also for the 50-70 Pilot Program – unlike the Little League division – the batter becomes a runner on a dropped third strike, the bat can have a diameter of 2 5/8 inches, and the on-deck batter is permitted.
Why is Little League doing this? Let David Earnhardt, a board member for East Rowan (N.C.) Diamond Sports fill us in, as he explains why his organization dumped Little League affiliation in favor of Babe Ruth. By the way, Babe Ruth, with the weight of Cal Ripken Jr.’s name (since 1999) in the ages four-twelve divisions, has jumped to more than 1 million members while Little League is threatening to drop below 2 million. Earnhardt was quoted in the Salisbury (N.C.) Post on the same day Little League announced its 50-70 program.
Earnhardt isn’t down on Little League and said there was no single catalyst for switching. It’s mostly about numbers.
“We’ve been losing softball players to the travel teams and we want to try to get them back,” he said. “We’ve also been losing numbers as far as our older baseball players.”
Ah, the lure of travel leagues. One of the major complaints about Little League baseball is that its rules are too baby-ish for anyone who (or whose parents) aspire to play at higher levels. When Little League started in the 1930s, travel leagues hadn’t been invented. Well, they really weren’t around when Babe Ruth baseball was founded in 1951. But the Babe Ruth league has adapted to the age of travel ball, as has PONY Baseball, which is my local youth baseball affiliation. Little League has not. The Salisbury Post spells out the differences between Little League and Babe Ruth:
In Little League, only the 12-year-old baseball teams compete for a shot at the World Series. No other division plays past a state championship.
In Babe Ruth League, there’s plenty of room to dream. There’s a World Series at the end of the rainbow for every level of softball and baseball.
… In the past, East has been required to get waivers from the Little League organization to play teams without Little League charters. Now they can basically play who they want, when they want.
… Pitchers can throw a maximum of six innings in a week in Babe Ruth. A coach can track that without a team of accountants.
In Little League, limits are based on pitch counts. That’s a little more complicated.
Cal Ripken Division provides the option of playing “50/70” baseball.
Ah, 50-70 baseball. Babe Ruth’s Cal Ripken division has given 12- and 13-year-olds that transition field since 2007. It’s a great idea, really. The kids get a chance to work on a slightly bigger field, thus making the transition from the little kid field to major-league dimensions that much less jarring. It keeps kids who would otherwise flee exclusively to travel ball to play under big-kid rules, but it also can keep kids who might otherwise get discouraged with the transition to higher-level dimensions. If you’re a 12-year-old flamethrower who flames out because there is 14 more feet to home plate, at least pitching from 50 feet will give you an idea of how to do it before you get frustrated at the next level.
So for Little League, adopting a 50-70 transition is about player preservation, and on top of that, self-preservation. However, that doesn’t address one more reason locales like East Rowan are dumping Little League for other affiliations, such as Babe Ruth, which declares itself coming “from humble beginnings to the cutting edge of the youth sports arena.” From the Salisbury Post:
There also are organizational differences as far as certifying coaches and umpires, fundraising and the use of bat boys, but the bottom line is East believes the Babe Ruth/Ripken way offers more flexibility and will allow them to focus on meeting local needs rather than adhering to rigid national rules.