1. We disagree on how to play the game.
Major League Baseball has been following a unified code of rules since 1949. But for the 8 million young people who go to bat in amateur leagues (growth has been flat the last few years), there are several different ways to play. The American Amateur Baseball Congress a league which caters to players from their early teens through adulthood has thirteen year-round divisions, all of which play according to MLB rules. In contrast, Little League International, with age divisions from 5-18, plays with modified rules meant to include as many players as possible. Private travel teams focus on winning and training individual players to be uber-competitive. Most young players welcome a choice when it comes to signing up for a league. But pitchers, who tend to be injury-prone, should evaluate the respective rules regarding frequency of play to prevent burnout.
2. Your child will be pretty safe playing on our team.
Amateur ball actually looks like it s getting less risky. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there were 126,000 baseball-related injuries for people aged 22 or younger in 2009, a 16% decrease since 1999. Equipment, such as catcher s gear, has been improved, while some leagues have added new rules in response to accidents. After an episode in which a catcher broke his jaw in a home-plate collision several years ago, the National Baseball Congress instituted the crash rule. Runners must slide into home to prevent such repeat injuries. But not all leagues are forthcoming with injury reports. Though Steve Barr, director of media relations at Little League, says injuries requiring professional medical attention are documented, "with over 7,000 leagues, it s difficult to track every single injury."
3. Joining a travel league is going to cost you.
Playing baseball doesn t come cheap, with one season costing anywhere from $100 to upwards of $1,000 per player. Playing with OnDeck New York, a travel team program based in the greater New York City area, will cost $1,200 for the 8 to 9-week fall season or the 13 to 15-week spring season. The fee includes travel and hotel expenses. (Players in the shorter fall season tend to get more coaching attention, while those who sign up for the spring session get more games, says Marcelo Perez, OnDeck s director of Baseball Relations). In Troy, N.Y., the South Troy Dodgers travel team charges between $650 and $750, depending on age division and season. In the fall, if the team plays in tournaments, the price can skew higher because the rates don t include the cost of travel or lodging, says owner and head coach George Rogers.
4. Our coaches might not know a base hit from a designated hitter.
Although some organizations such as Little League screen the criminal backgrounds of applicants for coaching, umpiring and managing positions, there is no standardized test to assess their knowledge of baseball or skills when it comes to working with children. I doubt whether all 170,000 coaches are even mildly experienced in coaching, says Little League s Barr, noting that Little League has plenty of first-year coaches, or those with little experience. If a parent has concerns about whether a particular coach may be a good fit for their child, he or she can contact a Little League regional administrator before the season s player draft to discuss the matter.
5. You want to get recruited for the pros? MLB mostly drafts players from college, not amateur leagues.
To attract top talent, some amateur team owners tout the number of college scholarships their players have earned. Others point to their track record helping players improve. But a spokesman for Major League Baseball says the best way to get noticed by MLB is to play on your high school or college team. In fact, over the last ten years, 80% of players signed to MLB teams through the draft came from a two- or four-year college. Recruiting for college teams doesn t officially begin until the senior year of high school, he adds, and collegiate athletes looking to go pro cannot sign a contract before their 21st birthday or the conclusion of their junior year.
6. Winning isn t everything. It s the only thing.
With anxiety over recruiting and growing attention paid to statistics, football coach Vince Lombardi s old quote can resonate louder than sportswriter Grantland Rice s adage, It s not whether you win or lose, it s how you play the game. To emphasize sportsmanship, the National Federation of State High School Associations doesn t produce a national high school baseball champion. Whoever would be interested in having a national championship probably wouldn t get what they wanted out of it, says Federation baseball rules editor Elliot Hopkins.
7. Team practice alone won t improve your game.
Baseball skills improvement is a big business for the inventors who design the devices and the retailers who sell them. Walk into a typical sports shop and you will find items like the $80 QuickSwing, a do-it-yourself batting aid, or a suite, like the Rawlings 5 Tool Training Line, which includes practice equipment ranging from $15 to $200. The days of hitting the gym for bench presses and leg presses are over, says Martin Cloutier, a division manager at HomerunMonkey, a baseball equipment retailer. People are training a lot smarter, and more specifically to baseball.
8. If you want to be a good baseball player, pick up a ping-pong paddle.
One counterintuitive tip: Nurture your kid s baseball skills by encouraging him to pick up a racquet sport, says Wayne Graham, the head baseball coach at 2003 NCAA champion Rice University. One of the best exercises for your eyes is to play racquetball or ping-pong. The ball constantly changes direction, changes speed, changes spin. Strength and conditioning coaches, as well as those from track and field, often contribute to the baseball-training regimen.
9. We ve got more talent than we can handle
Is your child dreaming of a baseball scholarship to a top college? He may have to get in line. Currently, NCAA rules limit Division I teams to 35 players, and the number of players who can receive aid currently is capped at 27, down from 30 in the 2008-2009 season. The NCAA says it made the change to prevent coaches from recruiting players with a lure of substantial financial assistance but paring it back once the player committed. Now, fewer players receive aid to Division I schools, but those who do have a clearer idea of the assistance they will receive.
10. and if you re an outfielder, forget about scholarship money.
There is a limited quota in scholarships available to college players, and the NCAA has set a minimum value on how much athletic aid can be granted. The rules state that schools extending aid must offer the equivalent of 25% of a full scholarship a move which takes financial pressure off players and pushes coaches to be more selective in their recruiting process. As a result, coaches are becoming increasingly strategic about who gets the money, usually awarding it to prospective pitchers, catchers and shortstops because those positions are the most important ones from a defensive point of view, Graham says. The coaches then try to recruit players from other positions who can get financial aid for other reasons, such as academic merit or need.