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Protect our children’s arms — and futures

There is one sure sign that it’s spring. Beyond the obvious — the spring flowers, the trees leafing out — there’s that familiar sound of bats cracking and crowds cheering.
Yep, it’s baseball time.
This week, we publish a special Little League edition, which you will see in today’s paper.
We all like to win. That’s pretty basic. But sometimes we want to win too much.
So, in 2007, in order to protect young players’ arms, perhaps from over-zealous coaches, Little League International put stringent rules in place dealing with pitch counts.
Used to be, if you had a pitcher that had an arm like a cannon, you just left him or her out there on the mound to wear the other team out.
Now, we’ve learned, while that was going on, the other team wasn’t the only thing getting worn out.
The American Sports Medicine Institute asserts that “the statistical relationship between pitch counts and injury risk is real.”
The ASMI has worked closely with the USA Baseball Medical and Safety Advisory Committee, to develop guidelines that recommend 9- and 10-year-olds should pitch no more than 50 pitches a game, 75 per week; for ages 11 and 12, 75 per game is recommended and no more than 100 per week; 13 and 14 year olds, 75 pitches and 125 per week; 15 and 16, 90 per game, 2 games per week; and 17 and 18 year olds, 105 pitches per game, and a limit of two games per week.
As pitch counts in Major League baseball have declined steadily over the last decade, it seems ironic that the message of increased injury risk has taken longer to get across at the middle and high school levels.
A coach who has the best interest of a player in mind will remove that player once he has reached his limit – despite the pitcher’s inevitable protests and the effect the move may have on the game’s outcome.
They take this pretty seriously in at least one town. In Bangor, Maine, there is now a subtle piece of information available to all baseball fans when they attend games at Mansfield Stadium.
On the scoreboard, where the uniform number used to be shown, the pitch count for the pitcher on the mound is now displayed.
We’re certain that the vast majority of Little League coaches adhere to pitch count rules where they apply. But for older players, there are no hard and fast regulations.
Right now, it’s up to each coach to do what is best for the player and for the team. But maybe it’s time for Tennessee middle and high school baseball to make some pitch count rules.
Sports medicine doctors make a good deal of their living from fixing injured pitching arms. When they start warning us about kids making too many throws, perhaps it’s time to realize that there is a lot more at stake than just getting the win.