Changing The Future Of USA Baseball Forever: You’re Welcome America

by Randy Sullivan
in blog

I’m an idea man.

I was talking with a member of the USA Baseball staff last week and I told him I had an idea that would change the future of USA baseball forever. In a world where just about everyone claims to have found newest gadget or gizmo that is “the secret” to baseball development, this idea involves two relatively inexpensive products that are already on the market.

Have you ever watched a 12–year old baseball game on a 200-225-foot field?
It’s a beautiful thing.
Pitchers are only 46-50 feet away, so they know that if the hump it up, they can blow it by the hitters. It’s not uncommon to see pitchers in the Little League World Series reaching the functional equivalent of 95 mph fastballs. Pitching on the small field is all about power.

On the other side of the plate, hitters swing with the intent to do damage, knowing that if they can get the ball in the air, they’ll have a great shot at a home run. Power hitting rules the game. The game is fun, simple and beautiful.

Several years ago I was fortunate to coach a group of boys who won the AAU national championship and played in the National Youth Baseball Classic on the MLB network. We threw lots of very hard fastballs. We hit lots of balls in the air and hit lots of homers.

Then we turned 13 and headed to the big field. But the field was too big for our physiological development at the time. Suddenly our 70 mph fastballs became hittable and our 250ft rockets were outs. Highly accustomed to winning, our approach didn’t play well on the big field and we started losing games. Coaches, parents, and players became nervous. Panic ensued.

It’s a common reaction when a team makes the leap to a regulation size field. As air balls become outs and fastballs don’t seem so fast, the intent is adjusted. Many parents of travel ball players are fickle and if they get accustomed to winning on the little field, losing on the big field doesn’t feel good.  If you’re running a travel ball organization and you start losing a bunch of games, players and their families get frustrated. If you don’t communicate the development message well, players and their families jump ship and rush to play for teams that win. If you want to keep your team, you need to start winning again. The best way to win a 13u game is to throw strikes, avoid walks and put balls in play.

“Guys, “ the coach says. “We need to quit walking guys and we need to hit groundballs and line drives.”

Pitchers start taking a little off to throw more strikes and hitters start swinging down on the ball. They “choke and poke” with two strikes to avoid strikeouts.

It usually works. Because 13-year-old hitters can’t hit home runs on the big field and 13-year-old fielders make errors. You win games. You win medals and trophies. And everyone goes out for chicken wings and beers.

Here’s the problem with that. You ask players to modify their movement patterns to accommodate a field that’s clearly too big for them and when they do, pitchers myelinate neuromuscular pathways that produce a slower fastball.   Hitters engrain patterns that result in groundballs. The approach continues as they grow. Soon they’re 14, 15, 16 and then 17. Their man-muscles kick in and finally, they’re strong enough to throw it by hitters and they’re big enough to hit balls out of the ballpark. Problem is, their movement patterns don’t support their newfound strength. They’re strong enough to blow fuzz and hit dingers but they can’t.

That’s why power in high school baseball,  power (pitching and hitting) is so rare.

And, that’s why college recruiters and pro scouts salivate when they see it.
The facts are simple…
No power, no scholarship.
No power, no signing bonus.

All of this can be solved with two pieces of equipment – the temporary fence and the portable mound.   We need an intermediate field for the 13-16-year-old – one that makes a home run and a “blue bayou” fastball an attainable goal.   Players of this age should be playing on fields with fences progressing annually as follows:

13 14 15

16

Fences LF/RF:225 CF:250 LF/RF:250 CF:275 LF/RF:275 CF:300 LF/RF:300 CF:325
Mounds 54’ 55’ 56’ 58’

Of course, building that array of fields for the average league or community is financially infeasible.

No worries. I have the solution.

These two products, already on the market, could change the future of USA Baseball forever.

Temporary fences and temporary mounds.

For a relatively small investment, parks and leagues could procure portable mounds and fences and move them forward and back in accordance with the age of the players. We see it all the time for the younger ages, yet when we transition to the big field, it’s sink or swim. It’s corruptive to player development.

Games would be more fun.

U.S. players would develop the power they severely lack.

And we’d lock up the WBC championship for decades.

You’re welcome, America.

See you at the Ranch,

Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS

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