Tuesday, October 8, 2013

It's Time For Some Safety Upgrades in Youth Baseball

We had an interesting situation over the weekend in our Little League Fall Ball game, where one of our base runners  kept losing his helmet. Whether the helmet was too big or the player's head was too small, it fell off his head while he was running to 2nd base, and then again while rounding 3rd. The umpire called time said he would eject the player, or any other player on the team, if it happened again. I was shocked that he would threaten such a severe action for something that was clearly unintentional. But it was a safety concern - and a legitimate one. Bad things can happen.
The video below shows how my son's final game on my team ended for him. In the 1st inning, he somehow hit a triple. A minute later while standing on 3rd base, he was struck in the head by a hard line drive. He was 60 feet away and the ball shot off the bat of one of our best hitters like a rocket. As you can see and hear in the video, it was almost instant. My son had just enough time to turn his face away from the ball and he was struck just in front of the left ear hole of his helmet. The impact slammed the inside of the helmet into the side of his head and cheek bone. But he was extremely lucky, by about an inch and a half. He was deemed okay by the emergency room doctors.

This video was shot by me - it was a meaningless last game, and I wanted to capture some memories of our departing 12-year-olds. I obviously don't like watching this, but I consider it a wake-up call worth sharing.



The point of all this is - it's not just football and other contact sports where we see serious injuries. Youth baseball has its share of dangers. That's why the batters and base runners wear helmets with two ear flaps (under threat of ejection, apparently). That's why the catcher's equipment must include a full helmet, throat guard  and long model chest protector. There is no on-deck batter. Players must be inside the dugout, protected by fencing. They can't wear any type of necklaces or jewelry. We live by pitch count limits and days of rest rules. Little league tries to be at the forefront of keeping players safe, and has done well in many areas. 
But then you look out there, and in the middle of it all is the pitcher, completely unprotected, planted in a vulnerable position as he delivers the ball from about 42 feet away. My son was lucky. He was 60 feet away and wearing a helmet. But the pitcher is closer than anyone besides the well-protected catcher. He throws to a composite bat that can return the ball significantly faster than it came in. It is being swung by a batter who has likely been trained to hit line drives up the middle. And yet, it is the pitcher who is unprotected. It isn't logical. 
It is time for pitchers to be wearing helmets of some kind. Little League should partner with an equipment manufacturer and make it happen. It might be something small and thin like this one from Unequal. Or it could be something more like Easton once made. Whatever it is, it needs to be mandated. I've seen too many young pitchers get hit in various places by line drives and go down in agony - luckily not in the head yet. But it happens. It's only a matter of time before I see it myself.

It is also time for youth leagues to switch to BBCOR standards, which places a stricter limit how hard a bat can strike a ball. It's time for the Little League mound to be backed up to 50 feet. I don't see why a 50-60 Major League wouldn't work. Or better yet, switch all 11 and 12-year-olds to 50-70. Until the fields in Williamsport change to 50-70, many leagues will be hesitant to follow suit. And I'm not talking about the current brand of 50-70 with big barrel bats and 13-year-olds.

Maybe I've softened up with age over the years. But there are many things that can be done to better protect young players without drastically changing the game. They are children. We don't have to save them from bumps and bruises. But we do have an obligation to protect them from getting killed.

No comments:

Post a Comment