Opinion: Rules Protecting Young Athletes a Good Idea

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Copyright 2017 Spokane Spokesman-Review

Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA)


When you're a kid it seems that every little thing you pick up just begs you to throw it.

Thankfully, we grow out of most of that before we break too many household items or bruise too many relatives.

Except, of course, when to comes to flat stones and bodies of water. That brings about our own innate need to skip said stones across the top of said water feature.

I have to admit that I monitor my grandson's throws. Is he going to be a righty? Could he be a southpaw? Right now, the jury is out. The important stuff is in order, though. He's already a dyed-in-the-wool Zag fan.

Throwing things, I am convinced, is hard-wired into our DNA.

And baseball turned it into a fine art.

It's taken time, but we've learned that there aren't an infinite number of throws built into a human arm. Nolan Ryan and Gaylord Perry aside, arm trouble affects scores of pitchers for every one that ever makes it into a major-league uniform.

One of the greatest pitchers who ever played, Sandy Koufax, had to retire at the tender age of 30 because of arthritis in his amazing left arm. And a whole new surgery was developed to repair damaged arms and named after the first pitcher to ever successfully undergo the procedure: Tommy John.

We've learned that patience is needed with young arms to prevent them from breaking down too soon. It's why we don't teach Little Leaguers to throw curveballs. The torque it takes to break off a good Uncle Charlie is hard on young tendons.

One of the biggest changes to the game of baseball has been an appreciation of the limitations of a young arm and how to both prevent injuries from overuse and reduce the strain on an arm from improper mechanics.

The only count Koufax and John, Ryan and Perry and all the hurlers who came before them worried about was the one on the batter. Now we keep track of every throw pitchers make in a game, and they are taken out of games when they reach a preset limit.

Pitch count is now tracked as closely as balls and strikes.

And now the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association has added it to its set of high school baseball rules.

The WIAA has made a number of rules in recent years to address potential dangers associated with high school sports, and they are to be commended for doing so.

The rules it put in place, and continues to modify, to address the growing knowledge base we have about the dangers of concussions are, perhaps, the most important step it has ever made.

The WIAA also put in place rules about just how much weight a wrestler can lose during the course of a season. Dropping too much weight too fast can be hard on a young body.

This year, the attention turned to baseball pitchers, tying the number of pitches thrown to a mandatory amount of rest, with a hard cap set at a maximum of 105 pitches.

Officially, it's rule 29.5.0, High School Pitcher Limitation, and it applies to regular season and postseason games alike.

A pitcher can throw up to 30 pitchers in a game on any given calendar day without limitation. If he throws between 31 and 50 pitches, the rule mandates a full calendar day of rest before he can pitch in another game. Between 51 and 75 pitches requires two calendar days of rest, and 76 to 105 pitches requires three full days of rest.

It can't be easy for a coach to have to take a pitcher out of a game for no other reason than that he simply has thrown his allotment of fastballs, curves and change-ups. For the most part, pitchers rarely want to come out of a game.

And that sometimes works against their own best interests.

"There was a regional game a couple years ago where I pitched 10 innings and threw 160 pitches," Freeman's ace McKabe Cottrell said. "The next time I pitched, at state, my arm was just dead. I had nothing on the ball."

The new rule now takes the debate out of that conference on the mound late in a game.

Shadle Park standout pitcher Justin Solt insists the hard cap of 105 pitches has cost him a complete game or two this season.

"I think, and the coaches I've talked to agree, that 105 pitches is a little too low. I think 120 pitches might be a little more reasonable," he said. "It's kind of arbitrary."

Some adjustment may well be in order and, to be honest, having a well-intentioned discussion about how best to improve any rule the WIAA makes to protect young athletes is something I encourage and endorse wholeheartedly.

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May 4, 2017


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