By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
Every year Little League posts an array of preseason messages on their Facebook page. I look at some, “like” a few, but never comment on any. Except one. For the past several seasons they’ve created a post about their rule that no adults, no coaches, can warm up a pitcher. It is always, by far, the most commented-on post. And I can’t help but join in.
The rule, in short, is that in between innings or before or during games – never – should an adult be warming up a pitcher. Not at practice either. This means that the pitcher is warmed up by another player or he doesn't warm up. If you read the comments, you’d think this was the stupidest rule ever created. In fact, those exact words are used over and over. And I’m sorry if this comes off preachy, but I have to try and set the record straight.
Here is what one commenter said, and it really sums up the majority:
Silliest rule in Little League. You would save 15 -20 minutes a game if coaches could warm up pitchers. Also the kid on the bench is usually one of the younger kids and may not even be able to catch. How is that safer then letting the coach do it?
Where to start. First of all, are you in a hurry? Do you have somewhere to be? Who wants the game to be over 15-20 minutes sooner, you or the kids? I think we’re doing this for the kids, right?
Next, and this is my favorite…it’s the, “the bench players can’t catch so it won’t be safe to let them warm up the pitcher” mentality. Gee, I wonder why they can’t catch. Probably because they don’t get a chance to practice! Which way will the player get better, going out and doing it himself or watching you?
When I was a division coordinator at the T-Ball and Coach-Pitch levels I used to hear something similar from coaches who only put their best players at first base. “I do it for safety. The other kids can’t catch and I’m afraid they’ll get hurt.” What they really meant was, “The other kids can’t catch and I’m afraid they’ll make errors.”
Kids are leaving baseball in droves. Yet we have coaches who want to put some youngsters trying out the game for the first time in the places on the field where they will have the least chance of touching the ball. We have coaches who would rather let a kid languish on the bench while the coach relives his glory days and squats behind the plate to have game of catch.
Other commenters complain that there are not two full sets of gear, so while their catcher is getting on the only set they have, the bench player can’t use it to warm up the pitcher. Well the rule states that the players only need a mask and catchers glove, so that argument doesn’t hold water. And here’s a solution that takes care of the gear issue and addresses the complaint about time: If your catcher is coming in from the bases and has to get on the gear, and you have no one ready on your team...have the opposing team’s catcher stay there after the third out to warm up your pitcher.
If you want more, how about liability? I know from what I’ve read no coach thinks he’ll ever get hurt by a pitched ball. But what about the other way around? What if you throw one back and the 9, 10, 11 or 12 year-old kid misses it and is hurt? Do you think his parents might have a legitimate question as to why a grown-up was throwing the ball at him? I'm sure the insurance company will.
A well-run team goes over all of this before the first games. Every player knows their role each inning whether they have a position in the field or if they are sitting out. One of the bench players plays catch with an outfielder. One of them knows that if the catcher isn’t ready, he dons the mask and warms up the pitcher. It happens automatically. I had kids do rock paper scissors over who got to hustle out with the mask and mitt. And, a good umpire is keeping the clock and if there is no one behind the plate, the countdown begins anyway and maybe the pitcher only gets one or zero warm-ups. Have your team prepared and that won’t happen.
The bottom line is when kids participate they have fun and improve. When that kid comes back into the dugout after taking those warm-up tosses I’ve got a pat on the head for him and a “Good job”. Now he feels important, like he’s helped the team. Tell me what good you’ve done him if you go back there with the glove instead?
Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org