Volume 80, Number 52 | May 26 - June 1, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo courtesy Greenwich Village Little League

A Greenwich Village Little Leaguer took a cut with a regulation, safety-approved bat.

Baseball bats, safety and smart phones on the field

By Tim Lalumia

In baseball (the bigs that is...all the way down to high school) you’ve got pitching, fielding, batting and, most importantly, stats. Statistics. Every part of the game is observed, recorded and obsessed over, from averages to rules specifying equipment sizes and weights, as well as exact dimensions of every part of the playing field.

The old adage “If you hang out at the barber shop, eventually you will get your hair cut” (when I mentioned that to my son, he finished it differently to my surprise, but “hmm” appreciation...“eventually you will look at a Playboy magazine”), fits in a sideways way. If you don’t like statistics or rules and following them, but play or watch baseball enough, you will eventually. Baseball, like chess, appears like watching grass grow or paint drying, but the juice is in the numbers, and thus the preparedness and positioning of players for optimum outcome in given situations.

In Little League (a completely different animal) you have all of the above, plus a few extra treats. Sure the stats and hitting and pitching absorb the majority of the effort and focus both in practice and games, but in the ether, the fabric that runs though it all, there are these...things. Parents, bat size (guys are funny about that, but there is one woman involved that completes the equation quite nicely, more on that later) and of course the Little League World Series.

What, Greenwich Village Little League is gonna be on TV? Maybe, but not likely, since the road to Williamsport leads first across the Verrazano Bridge to that dark nether region known now as Staten Island. But yes, it is possible, because for the second year in a row, G.V.L.L. is putting together a team (through tryouts and coach recommendations) that will compete for the right to go to the Little League World Series.

“It’s tough going, though, because all over the country — and world — leagues have teams that stay together and gel over the years and become ‘all star’-type teams, while G.V.L.L. holds a draft every year and the teams are mostly comprised of a new mix every season” said Dan Miller, current league president. Managers and coaches also come and go with their corresponding child player. This is what makes it a recreational versus competitive league.

This year another tournament will be held, during the normally baseball-dormant Memorial Day weekend. G.V.L.L. will field an 11-player team in the 9-and-10-year-old age group and 12 players for the 11-and-12 age bracket, for the tournament games to be held over three days, both teams comprised of players from the Majors divisions.

The teams will be helmed by longtime tournament coordinator and manager Carlos Saldano along with Miller and assisted by Greg Epstein and Cleeve Skidder. This is a precursor to the “big” tournament team previously mentioned, giving some available/coach-recommended players a chance, the experience of playing outside the league and facing others, such as Downtown Little League and Peter Stuyvesant Little League. Traveling to other fields and playing two double-headers will be a different but great bonding experience for these players.

Other rules that are specific to G.V.L.L. also support the notion for getting everyone in the game, in the field and at bat: There is a continuous batting order (everyone bats even if they do not start the game), all players must play a minimum of three innings (out of six) in the field, and players who do not begin (or “start”) one game must do so in the next.

In two other facets of the game G.V.L.L. has led the way in safety concerns: pitch count and the type of bats used. Young pitchers are always in danger of “throwing out” their arms, so all pitchers are limited by Little League of America on how many pitches they may throw in a game and over the course of a week, as well as consecutive days. But G.V.L.L. has consistently chosen to significantly lower the pitch count and start at an even more conservative number, eventually increasing the count mid season.

Catchers are also limited in their number of consecutive innings over two days, due to the sheer number of throws made during any game, not as hard as a pitcher, but just as far and just as many.

As for batting, Little League of America finally gave in to the obvious dangers of composite bats and banned many of them across the board for all ages up to 12. G.V.L.L. went further and allowed only alloy, which limits the “spring” and speed of the ball firing off of the bat. In short, these Space-Aged materials (no doubt, reverse-engineered from bats found in the crashed, intergalactic vessels in Roswell, N.M.) and metal combinations of these bats cause the ball to come back at the pitcher too fast for the player to protect himself or herself, let alone catch it. Especially at 46 feet (about 15 yards...not very far at all).

It’s understandable, though, from a hitter’s standpoint, wanting to have more power, which then brings more home runs and therefore greater excitement to the games. As a side note, homer totals are down this year from last, as they were from the year before, each drop reflecting the changing of bats to ones with less spring.

Last year a G.V.L.L. pitcher in the Junior (13-to-16-year-old) Division, in which they pitch from 60 feet, not 46 feet as in the lower divisions, was nearly killed and suffered serious, lasting injuries from such an incident. There have been many deaths for years due to this issue. But until this year Little League of America, due to massive pressures from the deep-pocketed companies, such as Easton, Rawlings and Hillerich & Bradsby (makers of Louisville Sluggers), was unwilling to accept the obvious writing on the dugout walls. Major articles in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well as a very aggressive piece on “60 Minutes,” finally shook them into reality: Kids were getting killed and pseudoscientific evidence from very biased companies (with a great deal of greenbacks to lose) was just no longer adding up. Being a “numbers/statistic”-driven game, the decision was an obvious one, and a long time coming.

Besides these bat specs, the barrel must also be of a maximum size, which can be hard to track, as they can vary by very small amounts. Here is how serious safety and rules can be: Earlier in the G.V.L.L. American Division Majors season, an unplanned, 21-minute intermission during a game between the Mariners and Orioles, saw managers, coaches, umpires and league officials alike ponder and argue the rule governing barrel size, as kids literally lay down on the field. This prompted the current American Division coordinator, Carin Ehrenburg, to inspect every single bat on every team and personally initial each approved one with a Sharpie. (No less than six smart phones where spotted in use on the field, in vigilant attempts to either look up or ask for greater wisdom, during the delay — phones on the field, while kids and parents were actually yawning and falling asleep. This proves that even the most well-intentioned can succumb to the clichés of “modern” Little League.)

In addition, there is currently a new regulation being proposed by G.V.L.L. board and Rules Committee member Mike Schneider to “require all players, or certainly catchers, to wear additional heart protectors.” This following a national yearly total of nearly 10 deaths due to direct impact from a pitched ball into the chest, causing the heart to literally break, or tear, making even immediate CPR nearly impossible.

G.V.L.L., a very special oasis in the desert of Little League organizations across this country, playing many games at J.J. Walker Field on Hudson St. in the heart of the liberal Village, is very conservative when it comes to safety. But our local league is not immune to the pesky issues of unwanted parental complaining, imperfect officiating and sometimes-overzealous players and coaches. Despite that, this league keeps a very delicate balance between the drive to win versus the “having fun and letting everyone play, followed by the proper ‘good game’ handshaking lineup” after each contest.

Being “recreational” and yet trying to compete with the outside world is a fine line, yet at this crossroads of “Bring Home the Banner” chanting and the above niceties, this group keeps its moral compass in check and continues to lead by example as to how both schools of thought can be achieved in the same ballpark.

By the way, the $350 (retail) broad-barreled bat in question was removed from the game and was never heard from again. We have heard rumors that it now resides in a closet awaiting the next potential apocalyptic date of zombies and/or magical ascensions to the great beyond.

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