Sunday, February 18, 2007

Cheatin' Hearts

From today's Los Angeles Times comes this sobering report:

Where is sport steering youth?
By Lance Pugmire, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 18, 2007

For generations it has been one of the great American axioms, accepted truth on diamonds, courts and gridirons everywhere: Sports builds character, instilling the values of teamwork and good sportsmanship.

But amid fresh headlines of alleged cheating in auto racing, continuing controversies over steroid use in baseball, track and cycling and ugly brawls among basketball players comes a nationwide survey suggesting a decidedly darker vision of sports.

"There is reason to worry that the sports fields of America are becoming the training grounds for the next generation of corporate and political villains and thieves," says Los Angeles ethicist Michael Josephson.

The latest two-year study of high school athletes by the Josephson Institute found a higher rate of cheating in school among student-athletes than among their classmates. It also found a growing acceptance of cheating to gain advantages in competition.

Josephson's report, based on interviews across the country with 5,275 high school athletes, concluded that too many coaches are "teaching our kids to cheat and cut corners."

The provocative findings were met with strong reactions from all sides — some acknowledging problems while others scoffed.

James Staunton, commissioner of the 565-school California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section, which governs high school sports for most of the Southland, said he "hopes" ethical deviance hasn't "gone that far."

"What this points out to me is that we still have a tremendous amount of work to do with our athletes, parents and coaches," Staunton said. "For all the good things we talk about in sports, and the wonderful things we promote, we're fighting some societal pressures."

The commissioner acknowledged finding "that kids are powerfully motivated for the wrong reasons."

Some established Southland prep coaches dismissed Josephson's conclusions, including Chino Hills Ayala High's Tom Gregory, a 27-year veteran basketball coach. "I've used basketball as a tool for my players to become better people," he said.

The survey's conclusions may be open to some dispute. Josephson found, for example, that about 25% of teen athletes considered rule-bending and aggressive behavior in competition acceptable. A substantial majority did not find it acceptable, though the percentage who considered that behavior acceptable had risen since a previous survey.

Among other notable survey results were:

• At least 65% of athletes acknowledged cheating on an exam at least once within a year, compared with a 60% rate among a general student population.

• 72% of football players acknowledged cheating.

• 48% of baseball players believe it proper for a coach to order his pitcher to throw at an opposing batter in retaliation.

• 37% of boys think it is acceptable for a coach to motivate a player using personal insults and vulgarity.

• 43% of boys endorse trash-talk and showboating during games.

• 6.4% of male athletes acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs in the last year.

"I'm not trying to fool people, or be an alarmist," Josephson said. "But I believe in looking at these numbers; there are so many kids learning to cheat that there is cause for great concern."

He said the survey did not pinpoint "whether this enhanced propensity to cheat is due to values that put winning over honesty or a reflection of pressures to stay [academically] eligible or simply manage their time given the high demands of sports."

But Josephson said: "The fact remains that for most kids, sports promotes rather than discourages cheating."

Barbara Fiege, commissioner of the CIF City Section in Los Angeles, called the survey results "amazing to me."

She speculated that positive values of high school sports may have been diminished in recent years by a diluted pool of experienced teacher-coaches. In the City Section, for example, 40% of coaches do not teach any classes at the school, not even physical education courses.

"When your coach has not gone through four or five years of college, does not have a degree in education and is not involved in the kids' grades or classes, there's going to be an inherent amount of drop-off in the effect they have on the kids," Fiege said.

Gregory, the coach at Ayala who disputes Josephson's findings about sports, nonetheless agrees that coaches make a big difference.

"When I see problems with undisciplined teams, many times there's a young coach on the bench," he said.

Higher incidents of poor sportsmanship can also be attributed to less-than-perfect "role models like Barry Bonds, violence in professional sports, the showcasing of kids as individuals in a team game, and parents becoming much more aggressive," Gregory said.

"It's cool now to be overly aggressive, taunting, boisterous," Gregory said. "Many kids don't want to be a yes man."

But warped values are not the fault of sports, he insisted. The failure rests on parents, teachers, coaches and role models.

Said Fiege: "Participating in sports still teaches kids the lessons of work, of working with a team, of conflict resolution, of learning to win and lose, and how to deal with a competitive world. But now there's a bigger influence on the need to win by coaches, with parents who are motivated to get their kids in the best club programs and to that elusive college scholarship.

"Now it's about more than just being a high school kid proud to be playing at your local high school."

With 660 victories and four Southern Section boys' basketball titles in 28 years of coaching, Glendora High's Mike LeDuc said his most troubling ethical concerns are the number of coaches engaged in recruiting players, the prevalence of amateur teams that displace high school team loyalties, and "illogical" parents.

Josephson "went too far if he's not saying the vast majority of players and coaches are OK," LeDuc said. "I still believe sports promotes winning, but not at all costs. We promote values ahead of success. We define winning as doing the best you can. I think you can have two winning teams on the same night."

Southern Section commissioner Staunton did not hesitate to embrace Josephson's survey.

"As kids grow and change and learn, if they're learning all along that cheating a little is OK, what will they do when they're at a greater level in life?" Staunton asked. "We have the facts of what these kids have reported to us. I can't deny this is happening. We need to do something about it.

"Sports should be the training ground to do things properly. These numbers tell us we have a ways to go, and it's on all of us — administrators, coaches, parents and athletes."

The Southern Section holds a series of one-day training sessions for coaches to examine ethical decisions and dilemmas, and requests ethical mission statements from athletic departments.

On March 8, its council members will vote on a measure to stiffen penalties for bad behavior by athletes — banning players for the remainder of any season in which they are ejected from two games. Two ejections now result in a two-game suspension.

"Our belief is to install more punitive measures," Staunton said. "Education is the answer. We want our athletes to accept that wrong is wrong, not to dismiss what they do as part of the game."

Sure penalties tend to deter cheating, according to the student survey, Josephson said. He credited NASCAR and the NBA officials with setting a good example. NASCAR removed driver Michael Waltrip's crew chief from Sunday's Daytona 500 after a banned fuel additive was found in his race car. The NBA imposed a 15-game suspension on Denver star Carmelo Anthony for fighting during a game.

"We have bad sports in athletics, in the political world and in the business environment," Josephson said. "These people are polluting it, and in some cases, they're corrupting it."

The City Section's Fiege commended Josephson's strong words.

"I'd venture to say he's saying these things to make the very strong point that this is a crisis," she said. "He might be going a little overboard to get people's attention, but this surely deserves attention, because whatever we've done to this point isn't working."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Cal Ripken and the Future of Youth Baseball

I had the opportunity to talk with Cal Ripken today about his participation in the longest game in professional baseball history -- a 33-inning marathon between the Rochester Red Wings and Pawtucket Red Sox in April 1981. After we discussed that game, I asked him about the way Cal Ripken Baseball is changing the landscape of youth ball.

Ripken Baseball started seven years ago when the Babe Ruth League offered to rename its Bambino division -- the 12-and-under bunch -- after the Iron Man of the Baltimore Orioles.

"I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to have an impact on the grassroots level of baseball," he said. "I don’t control the league. But I am not just involved in name alone either. I wanted to have an impact on the landscape of the game."

Ripken Baseball is the only community league growing its numbers every year -- about 6 or 7 percent a year, according to the future Hall of Famer. To keep the growth going, Ripken wants to offer not only world-class youth tournaments. He also wants to restore "real baseball" to the 12-and-under set.

Ripken Baseball announced this summer that it would expand its field size from 60 to 70 feet between the bases. It's a move that's been in discussion for years. "It takes a long time, but we're doing it and it's going to make a big difference," Ripken says.

The 70-foot bases -- the same dimensions used in PONY League competition for the same age group -- is "going to breathe some fresh air into the game." The bigger field not only accepts the reality that today's young athletes are bigger and stronger, but also acknowledges the growing importance of travel teams. Love them or hate them, travel teams will dominate youth baseball for the foreseeable future. The question is how community-based leagues adapt.

"In recent years, the numbers of kids playing ball after 12 or 13 have dwindled," Ripken told me. "And at the same time, there are more kids playing year round. We want to get more kids to extend the ages that they play baseball."

By playing on a bigger field, Ripken can draw many of the best travel-ball players to his program. At the same time, Ripken can continue to offer competition on 60-foot bases for less developed young athletes.

Baseball's standard 90-foot-base field fits the power and speed of most players from the teenage years all the way to the elites of the major leagues.

"There were some fundamental truths that were being violated," Ripken says. "Sixty feet [from the mound to the plate] gives you the right reaction time. And the bigger field gives you the right reaction time for fielders and baserunners too. Who’s the fastest player down the line now? It’s Ichiro [Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners]. But with 90-foot bases, there’s still enough reaction time for infielders to get Ichiro out.

"When those fundamental truths are violated, you change the game. When you have so many kids, you want to be all things to all people. There’s still a 60-foot path if you want to do that. But physically, there are a lot of kids these days who are ready and want to play real baseball and put people in motion, and move the mound back four feet."

During the recent Cal Ripken World Series, a couple of teams eliminated in early play played an exhibition game on 70-foot bases.

"We watched the offense became more of a spark, and they enjoyed the stealing and the game was natural to them. This is what real baseball is all about."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Could Territorial Reform Recover the Soul of Little League? And Other Topics

Notes and comment on territorial reform for Little League, not using players, protecting young arms, and the Little Leaguer's 15 minutes of fame . . .

GEOGRAPHIC TERRITORIES

Little League might consider changing its ancient rules governing territory. From the beginning, Little League organizations have operated within population areas of 20,000. But maybe that's obsolete.

Maybe -- in order to offer programs for both the studs who want to play in tournaments and the ordinary kids who just like baseball and want to play for fun -- Little League ought to consider areas of 30,000 or 40,000. The tournament teams would have access to a broader range of talent and would have better competition. A 40,000-population area would have twice as many pitchers, creating less pressure to overuse young arms. Travel team coaches have a point when they say they abuse kids arms less because they draw from broader territories. Those bigger kids could play on bigger fields and develop their whole game -- real pitching (not just big kids blowing away little kids), fielding (because not so many K's and more balls staying in the infield and in the ballpark), baserunning and hit-and-run and even bunting (because you can lead off the bases).

Best of all, the kids with modest abilities -- the Charlie Euchners of the world -- would be able to play after school lets out. When I was a kid playing deep right field for my Little League team in Muscatine, Iowa, I was mystified why the season ended in early June. Hey! Where's everyone going? Didn't summer just start? The reason, of course, was that the good players were pursuing their dreams of state championships and an eventual trip to Williamsport. If you want baseball to be popular, don't cut the game off just when the vast majority is getting going.

UNUSED BENCH STRENGTH

A sad reality of the Little League World Series is that teams bring fewer and fewer players to Williamsport. The mandatory play rule scares teams that don't believe in their 13th and 14th best players. What's sad is not only that deserving kids get left home, but that teams overwork other kids and don't discover potential stars in their midst.

A reader sent this summary of the number of players on teams in the regional tournaments and in the Little League World Series:

Number of players ........... Regionals ......... LLWS
Ten players ......................... 1 (2%) ............ 0 (0%)
Eleven players ...................... 9 (18%) .......... 3 (38%)
Twelve players .................... 22 (43%) .......... 3 (38%)
Thirteen players ...................18 (35%)........... 1 (13%)
Fourteen players ................... 2 (4%) ............ 1 (13%)

PITCH COUNTS

Little League's decision to adopt pitch limits in 2007 is welcome news, as I have said before. But implementing the rules remains a challenge.

Little League officials might take a page from welfare reformers to figure out the best approaches to enforcing the new rules. In the years before the 1996 welfare reform act, President Clinton granted state governments dozens of waivers from federal regulations to experiment with the best approaches to getting welfare recipients off the rolls and into work and training programs. That period of experimentation helped identify what worked and what didn't.

Without some experimentation, we might never discover the best ways to limit the workloads of pitchers. Either Little League's new standards will work perfectly ... or they'll fail and critics will claim vindication for their skepticism about any and all efforts to protect young arms.

Critics make some good points. How will the paperwork be handled? What can you do about teams that work deep pitch counts to get aces off the mound? Why should some teams with favorable schedules (e.g., two days off between games) be given advantages over other teams (e.g., one or two days between games)?

Leagues should get waivers if they adopt creative plans to limit pitching loads. The 500-plus leagues that experimented with the rules might be given preference for the waivers, since they've already shown some commitment to protecting young arms.

Maybe Little League can provide incentives to encourage leagues to do even more to protect young arms. If a league adopts even more stringent measures to protect arms, maybe they should get a home-field advantage in tournaments.

BREAD AND CIRCUSES

As teams in the Little League World Series return home, they're being celebrated with parades and presents.

In the old days, only the winners got the ticker-tape treatment. But in this garrison Keillor world we live in today, where everyone is above average, even the also-rans get to ride down the local Canyon of Heroes. Not that there's anything wrong with it . . .

On September 2, the Ahwatukee Little League all stars, from Phoenix, will ride on Corvettes loaned by a local dealer.
“You don’t get to the Little League World Series every year,” Freeway Chevrolet general manager Eddie Espinosa said. “We want this to be a memorable experience for these families.”

Other towns are making plans for parades. Last year, the champions from Hawaii were part of four parades.

If you win, the parades are just the beginning of the rewards. The players and coaches also get free vacations at resorts, free tickets to pro and college sports events, opportunities to pose with cheerleaders and Hollywood stars, TV appearances, athletic clothing and shoes, spots on TV commercials, passes for video arcades and movie houses, a year supply greasy food from of KFC and McDonald's ("Ba-da-da-da-da, it's killin' me!"), soft drinks, you name it.

The 2004 champions from Curacao also got computers and $600 in savings accounts. They also got a visit from Miss USA, a self-described tomboy who urged them to win again in 2005 and help attract more tourism to the Caribbean idyll.

The 2005 champions from Ewa Beach were smart with their newfound celebrity. They used it to gain admittance and scholarships to elite private schools. Coach Layton Aliviado used his celebrity to become a JV coach at one of the top prep schools on the islands. I can't imagine anyone doing a better job teaching the game.

In one of the broadcasts last year, Brent Musberger chuckled that the "youngsters" from Curacao might be in violation of NCAA rules for amateur status by taking all the loot thrown their way.

Georgia Wins Pitching Classic

No one pitched any no-hitters in the championship game of the Little League World Series, but a kid named Kyle Carter made history when he won his fourth game of the tournament.

Carter gave up just one run in three starts and one relief appearance as Georgia stormed to the second straight championship for a U.S. team.

Carter and the other all stars from the Columbus Little League of Georgia beat the team from Kawaguchi City, Japan, 2-1, in the title game Monday afternoon.

The game winner came on a two-run home run by Cody Walker, a screaming line drive over the left-center field fence. Japan has played smallball to take a 1-0 lead. Go Matsumota hit a run-scoring single in the third inning to give the Asians the early lead.

Carter gave up three hits and struck out 11 for the win. Besides yielding the home run to Walker, Matsumota was almost perfect. He struck out nine batters and gave up only three hits.

Both pitchers regularly threw major-league-equivalent 100-m.p.h. pitches and spotted their balls perfectly. Only rarely did the pitchers leave the pitch over the plate.

As expected, home plate umpire Troy Carmont tightened the strike zone for the championship game. Had the strike zone remained as expansive as it was throughout the LLWS, both pitchers might very well have brought no-hitters into the sixth inning.

Japan appeared to have a chance in the sixth inning when carter walked one batter and hit another, but he settled down to retire the side without further incident.

The championship was the second for a team from Georgia. In 1983, the team from the Atlanta suburb of Marietta took the championship with a 3-1 victory over the Dominican Republic.

Georgia’s victory marked only the second time U.S. teams won back-to-back titles on the field. The teams from Kirkland, Wash., and Marietta won titles in 1982 and 1983. Long Beach, Calif., won consecutive titles in 1992 and 1993, but the first title came on a forfeit because of rules violations.

A team from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, won last year’s Little League World Series. That series is recounted in Little League, Big Dreams.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Good News (WITH ADDENDUM)

Little League Baseball has just announced a momentous decision -- to limit the number of pitches that kids can throw in games and over the course of the week.

Young pitchers have been ruining their arms for years because of overuse. The reason is simple. Teams playing in tournaments -- not just Little League, but also other community leagues and travel ball -- are always trying to advance to the next level. In almost every game, a team faces the possibility of elimination. So managers and coaches use their best one or two pitchers over and over again.

Many pitchers throw in excess of 100 pitches a game and work with two days of rest. Think about that. Roger Clemens, the most physical pitcher of our time, usually leaves the game after 90 or 100 pitches -- and then he gets four days of rest. If Houston Astros Manager Phil Garner ever told the Rocket that he had to pitch on two days of rest, Garner would find himself upside-down in the trash bin. And yet Little Leaguers -- whose bodies are still developing -- have been working on just a couple days of rest. Absurd.

Little League CEO Steve Keener, the American Sports Medicine Institute, and other partners deserve a big cheer for this move.

Still, there are detractors.

One criticism is that there simply are not enough good pitchers to go around. The answer is simple: Get more kids a chance to take the mound. Only when you think that it's essential to win all the time, with a manchild power pitcher, can you resist giving more kids a chance.

Another criticism is that tracking the pitch counts will be too hard and that all kinds of disputes will arise. I agree that Little League -- and all youth sports, for that matter -- has gotten too rule-bound and bureaucratic. But you mean to tell me that the official scorer cannot have a clicker in his hand as he or she watches the game? Or that the scorer can't mark the book for each at bat and then report the counts every inning to both managers? Or that a volunteer cannot track pitch counts on a white board for all to see? Please.

A third criticism is that teams will work the pitch count to drive the best pitchers out of games. That might happen, although I'm not sure how many kids have the bat control of a Bobby Abreu. But the result could be very positive in two ways. First, it could encourage youngsters to pitch to put the ball in play rather than pitch for strikeouts. It's much more efficient to get grounders and pop flies than strikeouts. That could make games move faster and involve the rest of the team in games. How much fun is it for a left fielder or second baseman to stand around in a 14-K game? Second, even if the rule does enable some teams to work the count and get the aces out of the game, so what? The teams should be developing four or five pitchers, not just two or three.

This decision is very good news for every kid who plays Little League. Other organizations should follow suit, not just to protect young athletes' health and wellbeing but to involve all kids in a more well-rounded game.


ADDENDUM: Brent Musberger, in his broadcast of the U.S. championship game between Georgia and Oregon, effusively praised Little League's decision to establish pitch counts. Orel Hershiser and Joe Morgan, former major league stars doing the color commentary, agreed. But then Musberger said something about how these limits probably would have to be loosened for the Little League World Series and its qualifying tournaments. Hold it! Why is that, Brent? If the rule is ever essential, it's in those tournaments where the coaches and parents push their kids hard to get "to the next level." If this pitch-count rule does not apply to the tournaments, it is a fraud. It's the tournaments where the kids get pushed beyond their limit and damaged. Readers: Write to Steve Keener at Little League International, 539 U.S. Route 15 Hwy, PO Box 3485, Williamsport, PA 17701-0485. Tell him congratulations for the pitch-count rule, and then demand that the rule be applied to all tournaments.

The Answer Man (Part 2)

QUESTION: This might seem like a strange question, but here goes: What was the fuzziest moment -- the lump-in-throat moment that makes you get all gooey and sentimental about kids baseball? You know, like "Field of Dreams"?

ANSWER: A few years ago, Kevin Costner was at the LLWS to be inducted into the Hall of Excellence at the Little League museum. He got some kids together to play softball under the lights at Lamade Stadium. I'm not a huge fan of Costner's oeuvre, but that sounds like fun to me.

QUESTION: You said in a recent post that since the kids are getting bigger, pitchers are having greater success shutting down hitters. And we certainly saw it with five shutouts in the eight regional champinship finals. But it also seems like there are a lot of home runs. What gives?

ANSWER: Kids start swinging when they see the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand. When they connect, they can give it a ride. In fact, just putting the ol' aluminum on the ball is sometimes enough to send it flying with the blistering speed of some pitchers. The difference, this year, is that Little League has moved the outfield fences back 20 feet. Balls that flew out of the parks last August have been harmless fly balls this year.

QUESTION: At one point, you say that Little League should consider creating two tracks for this age group. You point out that youth football and wrestling have weight brackets as well as age brackets for the athletes and teams. How might that work?

ANSWER: There is such a huge range in the physical maturity of kids these days. The big kids have their way with the little kids. When I talked with Little League CEO Steve Keener, I asked him what he thought of the Hawaii team wthat won the title in 2005. I told them about the team's intense training regimen. He waved me off. They're just bigger, he said. It had nothing to do with training or skills.

Well, if that's the case, why not create a two-track system for Little League? Why not let the bigger kids compete on bigger fields, like the PONY League's 70-foot bases? (Little League officials say they cannot retrofit the fields to go beyond the 60-foot bases, but I'm not so sure. Anyway, at the very least, Little League can move the mounds back a foot or two.) Why not let the smaller kids stay on Little League fields? There's lots you could do with two tracks, including experiment with pitch counts, and kids running teams. Little League is an old and venerable institution, but needs to think about modernizing its 60-year-old World Series structure.

I believe that there's a battle for the soul of youth sports -- but that the most important side in the battle has not mobilized. Most kids play Little League because they want to have fun learning and playing a great game. But the last majority of kids' experience gets abruptly stopped in realy June, when leagues form the all-star teams that will compete for the chance to play in the Little League World Series. What happens to the kids who want to just have fun playing ball? They're let loose. meanwhile, most of the community's ball diamonds go unused.

I'l like Little League to create a two-track system. Let the all stars compete for Williamsport in the leagues that decide that's a worthy goal. But keep the other games going. And let the kids take charge of their own childhood. Let the adults reserve the fields, teach skills, and come and cheer. But give the kids the opportunity to make lineups, make substitutions, and make decisions about bunting and other on-field strategies. They can do it, you know. Provide some basic ground rules, make sure every kid who wants to be coach of the day has a chance, and let go.

In promoting my book Little League, Big Dreams, I have been approached by countless coaches and parents who have told me how depressing it is when kids are taught that every activity needs to be organized for them. We need to find a way of reviving the spirit of pickup games, where the kids are responsible for making things happen. Organized leagues are great -- but not if micromanaging adults don't allow kids the opportunity to do things for themselves.

My critics say that I just don't understand that competitive youth baseball is here to stay. But I do, and I don't have a problem with hard-core kids playing in tournaments. But I don't see why it's not possible to have an alternative approach, where playing ball is for fun -- and doesn't end when the all-star teams begin their quests to play in Williamsport, Aberdeen, Cooperstown, Orlando, and the other meccas of kidball.

QUESTION: I realize Williamsport isn't exactly Manhattan, but I understand that there are celebrities that go there. Who were some of the top celebs to go to Williamsport for the LLWS?

ANSWER: Little League is very eager to get big names to the LLWS. Since the beginning, Little League has cultivated politicians, corporate bigs, and ex jocks to raise the profile of the organization. President George W. Bush attended the 2001 LLWS and the 2005 Southwest regional championship game in Waco, Texas. Secretary of State Condi Rice joined W and Laura for that one. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge -- later, secretary of Homeland Security in the Bush Administration --also attended in 2001.

In 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney watched a game from The Hill. Concessionaires joked about making sure Cheney, who has a history of heart attacks, be kept away from the fried dough.

QUESTION: How come we never hear anything about girls in Little League?

ANSWER: Twelve girls have played in the Little League World Series. No girls will be on any of this year's teams. In 2004, two girls pitched against each other in a Friendship game between Venezuela and Kentucky.

QUESTION: I'm kind of bummed out by the quality of broadcasts on ESPN. Is there anything they could do to jazz up the games, to put the Little League competition into better perspective?

ANSWER: I agree. I'd love to see videos of practices, highlights from the best youth baseball elsewhere (like Cooperstown Dreams Park), and more detailed breakdowns of the pitcher-hitter confrontations. It's amazing what you can see when you slow the two motions down into microseconds. I'd also like to see computer overlays of the PONY League's 70-foot bases, Cal Ripken Baseball's more expansive outfields, and the standard 90-foot playing field to give a sense of where hits would fall playing under different rules. Broadcasting baseball has not advanced much from the 1950s when games first appeared regularly on TV. Seems to me that ESPN could try out all kinds of new expnanatory tricks with the kids game.

I like the job Orel Hershiser has done with the broadcasts. He does a great job explaining the game's fundamentals and has been honest about calling on coaches to do the right thing -- like getting tired pitchers out of games.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Notes and Comment

THAT'S FAST: In its wrapup of the Georgia-New Hampshire game, ESPN reported the Kyle Carter was throwing 77 mile-an-hour heat to lead Georgia to the 9-0 victory. That's the equivalent of 174 miles and hour in the major leagues, ESPN reported. Actually, 174 m.p.h. would be a physical impossibility. Taking into account the different field sizes -- 60 and a half feet from the mound to plate on a standard field, 46 feet on a Little League field -- a 77-m.p.h. pitch leaves the hitters the same reaction time as a 100-m.p.h. pitch in the majors. That's fast enough, thank you very much.

THAT'S BIG: The surprise of the Little League World Series has got to be Saudi Arabia, the team of ex-pats from Dhahrin that went 2-1 in pool play before losing to Japan in its first-ever single-elimination game. Last year, the Saudis were arguably the weakest team in the tournament. But the kids have gotten bigger and stronger. The paucity of baseball in the Kingdom might have helped the Saudi club. Without boys their own age to play, they competed against older boys to get ready for the annual summer march to Williamsport. The biggest story was, of course, Aaron Durley. Last year he set a LLWS record for size with his 6-5 frame. He grew three inches to break his own record. Last year, Durley was awkward; this year he was a force. After going hitless last year, he went three for 11 this year. Another big kid, Andrew Holden, turned in ace pitching performances for the Saudis. He gave up just one hit, in the sixth inning, in his six shutout innings against Venezuela, which won the game 1-0 in eight innings, and pitched a five-hit shutout in the 5-0 win over Canada.

THAT'S DISGRACEFUL: The intensity seemed to be greater at this year's LLWS than in other years. ESPN's miking of the coaches didn't seem to restrain them much from their aggressive barking. They came to the mound and gathered the kids near the dugout and barked at them as if they were the assembly-line workers. One manager reportedly slapped his player when the player, egged on by his hyper yelling, cursed on national TV. Guys! Lighten up! If not for yourself and your kids, than for the image you project on TV!

THROWN FOR A CURVE: Most baseball people -- including the brass of Little League baseball -- say it's impossible to ban curveballs because of the inherent difficulties judging what's a curve and what's a changeup or a slow fastball. Two points: (1) If a curve is no different from a changeup, why not mix up a range of fastballs and changeups, and (2) at a book event last night in Madison, Conn., an umpire at the Cooperstown Dreams Park tournament told me he doesn’t allow pitchers to throw curves. "I give them one warning, and if they do it again they get thrown out of the tournament," he said.

AND IN OTHER ACTION . . . : A team from Hilo, Hawaii, defeated a team from Mexico to win the Cal Ripken World Series. In a game televised on OLN (the Outdoor Life Network, soon to be called the Versus Network), Hawaii won, 5-0, despite inadvertently lifting its top pitcher in the third inning. After striking out six batters in two and two-thirds innings, Kawika Pruett left the game when manager Kaha Wong mistakenly made two trips to the mound. Kean Wong, the manager's kid, took over and retired nine of the last ten batters for the victory.

LEAD-PIPE GUARANTEE: Mike Dukakis got in trouble as Massachusetts governor when he broke his campaign promise of a "lead-pipe guarantee" against raising taxes. He jacked up taxes and got voted out of office. But I'm willing to use that same phrase. I offer you a lead-pipe guarantee that Little League will adopt some kind of pitch-count rule after this year's World Series. Why am I so sure? The announcers on ESPN are praising the idea as if it's the answer to all problems facing the world. Hell, if Little League adopts pitch limits, I'd say it's safe to bring the troops back from Iraq. All kidding aside, it's a great idea and Little League deserves all the praise in the world if it goes through. (See articles in USA Today and The Oregonian.)

CRACK GOES THE HELMET: The team from Lemont, Illinois, was alone among the 16 teams in the LLWS to bring their own helmets top the series. Austin Mastela got nailed in the left earflap and went to the hospital with a bloody face and mild concussion. (He was OK and played in the next game.) On impact, the helmet broke. What standards does Little League have for helmets? Even more important, will Little League consider moving the mound back to prevent injuries to both batters (facing major league-equivalent speeds approaching 100 m.p.h.) and pitchers (who can be seriously injured on liners up the middle)?

TOUGH POOL: Curacao did not make it out of pool play for the first time in three years despite having six returning players from last year's team. Like last year, the team from Japan beat the Caribbean all stars. But the kids from the Pabou Little League of Willemstad also lost to Mexico, which plays Japan Saturday for the International championship. The only team Curacao beat was winless Russia. Conspiracy theorists might wonder why Curacao played in such a tough bracket while Mexico played three relative creampuffs (Saudi, Canada, and Saipan).

GEORGIA PEACH: Kyle Carter is the big man on Georgia's team. He has won all three of Georgia's games -- with one inning of relief in the 3-2 win over New York, six innings of one-hit ball in the 4-1 win over Arizona, and six innings of three-hit pitching in the 8-0 win over New Hampshire in the U.S. semifinals. He's also the hitting star -- a player so feared that he's intentionally walked like Barry Bonds. He's three for 10 with two homes runs so far.

ARMPITS TO TOES: Cheers to the umpires for calling a huge strike zone in the LLWS. It keeps the games moving fast. What's scary is the pinpoint control of many pitchers this year -- much more pronounced than in last year's classic series.

FAMOUS LAST WORDS: Mike Hall, the manager from Illinois, rallied his kids with this pitch in its 2-0 losing effort against Georgia: "You're the best Little League team in America." Then he went on, in a hyper-jumbled way, about how Mayor Richie Daley of Chicago, Governor Rod Blagojevich, and President George Bush were all watching. Was this a confidence booster or just more pressure for kids who have already had enough criticism of their travel-team makeup? You make the call.

THE LINE: Japan has to be the heavy favorite to breeze to the LLWS title. Japan has the deepest pitching staff in memory and the only lineup stacked with power. They face a tough Mexican team for the International championship but should be strong enough to win. Georgia has to be considered the U.S. favorite because of its strong pitching. After resting Kyle Carter in the U.S. title game against the surprising Oregon team -- with fingers crossed -- the stud will take the mound on Sunday afternoon.

HISTORY LESSON: Japan has won six titles and appeared in one other title game in 16 previous LLWS appearances. The most recent title came in 2003, when the Musashi-Fuchu Little League of Tokyo manhandled Boynton Beach, Florida, 10-1, to cap a perfect 6-0 series run. Mexico has won two championships and finished in the runner-up position three times in its 21 previous tries. The Monterrey team won two straight titles in 1957 and 1958 -- the first times that foreign teams won the tournament. Only one team from Georgia -- from the Atlanta suburb of Marietta -- has appeared in the LLWS before 2006. But that team won it all in 1983 with a 3-1 victory over the Dominican Republic. Oregon has appeared in the LLWS once before. The Rose City Little League of Portland lost its only game in the 1958 tournament won by Monterrey.

PIED PIPER MISSING: Harold Reynolds, who worked as a color commentator the last ten Little League World Series and became a favorite of the players, was fired before the LLWS for sexual harassment. The charge came after ESPN staff members went to dinner together. “It was a total misunderstanding,” Reynolds told the New York Post. “My goal is to sit down and get back. To be honest with you, I gave a woman a hug and I felt like it was misinterpreted.” Brent Musberger, the veteran play-by-play man, delighted in calling Reynolds the “pied piper” of the Williamsport event for his involvement with kids on Kelloggs training clips played during the series.

REAL KINGS OF THE HILL Cooperstown Dreams Park will hold its annual Tournament of Champions from August 26 to September 1. The event in upstate New York is considered by many experts to be the best baseball tournament for the 12-and-under set anywhere. The champions from the Dreams Park’s 10 weekly tournaments—each involving 96 travel teams from across the country—will compete for the title. Here are the champions eligible for the elite tournament: the San Diego Stars, West Boyton Gators of Florida, Miami Force, South Oakland A’s (featured in my book Little League, Big Dreams), Houston Heat, the Hit After Hit Baseball Academy of Tennessee, the O Town Sportscenter Baseball Academy of Florida, the Texas Tarheels, the Chicago North Shore Stars, and the Nevada Wildcats.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pitching Determines Everything

It's all about pitching — as it was in the beginning, and now and forever shall be.

Everything flows from pitching. Good pitching shuts down good hitting. Therefore, good pitching keeps games close. Therefore, good pitching increases the importance of the smallest events on the field — a bad call by the umpire, a missed relay, a missed signal, a late jump on the base paths. Therefore, good pitching increases intensity of the games and the pain of the losses. Therefore, good pitching frays the nerves of parents and coaches and players and reveals the true characters of all involved.

After 33 games of pool play, the Little League World Series eliminated eight of its original 16 teams — and moved right into the single-elimination phase of the tournament on Wednesday. Wednesday's games eliminated two more teams. Today's games will eliminate two more.

Japan is the consensus best team in Williamsport. Japan last won a World Series back in 2003 when a team from Tokyo overwhelmed Boynton Beach, Florida, 10-1, in the championship game. This year, Japan's Kawaguchi Little League is the only team with the chance to go undefeated. Kawaguchi went 3-0 in pool play with convincing victories over Russia (11-1), Mexico (6-1), and Curacao (7-2).

Venezuela was the only other undefeated team in pool play, but lost to Mexico, 11-0, in Wednesday's single-elimination opener.

Japan should have an easy time dispatching the ex-pat team from Dhahrin, Saudi Arabia, and then face Mexico for the international championship.

The pitchers from Japan have been almost perfect. Ryoya Sato pitched a no-hitter and recorded 10 strikeouts in Japan's 11-0 five-inning win against Russia in the opener. Then Yada gave up one run and allowed four hits, fanning 12, in the 6-1 win over Mexico. Go Matsumoto allowed two runs and struck out 12 batters in the 7-2 victory over defending International champion Curacao.

Japan has the tournament's only top-to-bottom power lineup. Japan hit eight home runs in its first three games. Seigo Yada hit three, producing a constant stream of Seinfeld-like yada, yada, yada jokes around the complex.

Because of its overwhelming pitching, Lemont, Illinois, appears to be the class of the American bracket. After dropping a 1-0 heartbreaker to Arizona in the opening game, Illinois beat New York, 1-0, and Georgia, 2-0. Illinois yielded a grand total of one run in its first three games.

Josh Ferry is the undisputed star of the Illinois pitching staff. He lost the opener to Arizona, 1-0, yielding just two hits and one run and fanning 11 batters. Then he won the third game of pool play, 2-0, against Georgia, allowing only one hit and striking out 13. In between, David Hearne pitched a one-hit 1-0 shutrout against new York, striking out eight batters.

A heavily favored Illinois will play Oregon for the right to play in the U.S. championship game. Meanwhile, a heavily favored team from Columbus, Georgia, will fight Portsmouth, N.H., the other U.S. title slot.

Pitching is stronger than ever because the kids are stronger than ever. Little League changed its age cutoff date this year, allowing kids who are now three-plus months past their 13th birthday to play in the international tournament.

The number of 13-year-olds has increased dramatically. This year there are 64 of them — an average of four on every team for a league officially limited to 11- and 12-year-olds. Twelve-year-olds still make up the bulk of the players — 133 in all. But the 11-year-olds have all but disappeared from the tournament (a total of six this year).

The kids are bigger and throw harder than ever before, and they're playing in a ballpark with outfield fences set back 20 feet. The fence move alone eliminates a dozen or more home runs in most games and gives the advantage to teams that can but athletic gazelles in the outfield.

Compare some stats from 2005 and 2006. In 2005, in the 24 games of pool play, eight out of 48 teams were shut out after regulation play of six innings. In 2006, 13 teams scored no runs through the first six innings. The number of sides scoring one run in regulation play jumped from three in 2005 to 11 in 2006.

I was hoping that the bigger field dimensions might prompt the pitchers to let the hitters put the ball in play. When batters hit and fielders field, pitchers throw fewer balls — and save their arms from undue strain. But no. Twenty-two pitchers struck out 10 or more batters in pool play in 2005. That's almost one per game.

Pitchers are not only throwing much harder, consistently, but they are breaking off some of the nastiest curveballs imaginable. Despite all the concern about the damage that throwing breaking balls does to young arms, the curves are coming in much harder and much more frequently this year.

Pitchers' dominance has translated into a slew of close games. The number of one-run games doubled from five to 10 from 2005 to 2006.

The closeness of the games has, in turn, ratcheted up the levels of tension and anxiety. In my three days in Williamsport, I saw much grimmer faces on the kids than in 2005. Many of the coaches — especially from New York, Illinois, and Georgia — seem positively combustible.

ESPN has captured the intensity on its broadcasts. ESPN mikes all of the managers to capture their good-natured, wise words to the teams in mound conferences and dugout huddles.

In one game, the New York manager told his players that they needed just one run to tie the game against Illinois. "One f---ing run!" shouted back one of his players — at which point, according to reports, the manager hit the kid. The New Yorkers just turned a double play and were getting ready to get their last licks in the sixth inning when the incident occurred. "Little League International was extremely disappointed in the behavior of the player and coach involved in the incident," Oz said in a statement.

Losing hurts. It always hurts, but I saw more kids crying — bawling, really — than I did last year. And those ESPN cameras are always there to record the moment.

The worst meltdown came when Staten Island ran itself out of a sixth-inning rally in its 1-0 loss to Illinois. No-hit for five and a third innings by David Hearne, Illinois started the rally when Peter Sciarillo walked to open the inning. When Frank Smith laced a sharp single to center field, Sciarillo was thrown out going to third base. Smith, thinking the game was over, started walking off the field — and got thrown out for a game-ending DP.

With the cameras humming, he cried and cried in the dugout. He was, after the game, inconsolable.

Part of the intensity of a game dominated by manchild pitchers and close games.

Guest Commentator

Sometimes, a few words capture the essence of a big and complicated issue.

A few days ago I was a guest on The Diane Rehm Show on National Public Radio (now available online). We had a great discussion of Little League and the future of youth sports and childhood in America.

For me, the highlight came when Rehm read an email from a listener.

Earl Newman of Redford, Michigan, wrote the following:

"I am 70 years old. I learned to play ball from the other kids. Little League baseball did not really reach critical mass until the 1950s, too late for me. In my opinion, they ruined the game. They have taken it away from kids. They have robbed it of spontaneity. They have greatly inhibited young people's self-reliance, and I think (although I do not have the data) that fewer kids spend fewer hours actually playing the game than when I was a boy. This is not good for baseball. Uniforms, schedules, sponsorships, and adult domination are all outcomes of this movement. Perhaps it would be more fair for me to say it is [just] different from the game I knew as a kid. But in the process, although they might have added something new, they have obliterated something that was good."

This is not just a sentimental man looking back on his own carefree days. It's a strong and fair critique of what happens when we manage and control more and more aspects of children's lives.

Childhood, ideally, is about two things. It's about learning skills and it's about exploring the world.

Skills give kids the tools they need to negotiate the world. As they grow into adulthood, kids need the skills taught in schools -- reading and writing, math and science. But it's not just academic skills that matter. Sports and other extracurricular activities matter because they help kids round out their repertoire. Kids also need to learn how to get along with other people -- superiors, peers, and everyone else. They need to learn how to settle conflicts.

But skills alone cannot create a well-rounded person. Everyone also needs to embrace the spirit of exploration. And there's no time to do that like childhood, when everything is new. It's great for people to embrace goals and passions. But they can't really do it unless they've explored a whole range of possibilities.

Youth sports can be a great experience. But it's always got to be kept in perspective. Here are a few questions to ask to decide whether it's in fact kept in perspective:

-- Does the young athlete participate in a wide range of activitiies besides baseball?
-- Does s/he have lots of free time -- with only loose supervision by adults -- to explore a wide range of activities?
-- Does the child play games -- with made-up rules -- with other kids in school and in the neighborhood?
-- Does involvement in a sports team shut off other opportunities that s/he might otherwise consider?
-- Do the adults supervising the sports team show, by both word and deed, that playing is what matters -- not winning?
-- Are the lesser kids on the team embraced as enthusiastically as the stars?
-- Who are the kid's real, everfyday role models -- a sports star or someone in the circle of family and friends?

This is not intended to put down Little League or other organized sports. Sports can play a great role in the lives of children. But when it becomes something more than a game -- especially at the tender age of 11 or 12, or even the teenage years -- something basic is missing.

Honoring Lloyd McClendon

On Friday, Little League will induct Lloyd McClendon into the Hall of Excellence at its museum. The organization has chosen wisely.

Before the 2005, the greatest Little League World Series took place in 1971. That's when McClendon, a strapping kid from Gary, Indiana, took on the the perrennial powerhouse team from Taiwan in the championship game.

The Gary all-stars were the only black team to advance to the championship game in Little League history. And they faced as tough a team as anyone ever has. Asian teams so dominated the LLWS that foreign teams were actally banned from the tournamenbt one year. Taiwan and Japan won eleven titles over a fifteen-year period from 1967 to 1981.

Gary and Taiwan fought to a draw for eight innings, two past regulation.

McClendon was 12 when he took the mound to face Taiwan on August 28, 1971. A pitcher/catcher for the Anderson Little League all-stars, McClendon stood 5-11 and dominated the tournament like no player before or since—until the last inning of the final game.

McClendon hit two home runs in Gary’s first two games. After that, the opposing pitcher walked him intentionally. Taiwan’s pitcher, Hsu Chin-Mu pitched to McClendon in the first inning, and McClendon hit a three-run home run. After that, Taiwan refused to let him hit. By the end of the series, McClendon had five homers in five at-bats and five intentional walks.

McClendon also pitched for Gary. At the end of the regulation six innings, Gary and Taiwan’s Chiaya Little League were tied, 3-3. McClendon stayed in the game and held Tawan’s scoreless for two more innings.

McClendon’s pitching form was almost perfect. He kicked his leg high, contained his body’s energy on his strong left leg, reared back and whipped the ball forward. Landing on the mound, he looked like the dominant pitchers of the day, Bob Gibson or Steve Carlton.

But in the top of the ninth inning, everything went wrong for McClendon and his Gary teammates. Taiwan scored nine runs to take a 12-3 lead. McClendon gave up seven of those runs before he asked to be removed.

Overall, fourteen Taiwan batters came to the plate in the inning and got six hits and four walks. But four fielding miscues and nine passed balls produced a merry-go-round that brought most of the baserunners home.

As the runs poured across the plate, McClendon stood on the mound in tears.

I called McClendon last summer when I was doing research for Little League, Big Dreams. At the time, McClendon was the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“That was a very profound thing,” he told me. “I felt so bad about what happened. But it was an important moment for me. It was important to understand that you’re just a boy and there’s only so much you can do. There were so many people there who thought I could do anything, that I was somehow a god. But I wasn’t.

“I was a kid, and crying was how I expressed my feelings. Losing the game like that was a defining moment for me. I was very blessed to have a great coach and my father on the sidelines. They told me they were proud of me and I had done the best I could and that was all that mattered. They told me to hold my head high, there was nothing to be ashamed of. I was very disappointed to see things fall apart. It was the first time I ever failed at baseball.

“It was the defining moment in my life at that point. I see so many parents put undue pressure on their kids to win at all costs these days. I find it shameful. That moment is something I could never forget. When I talk to young people at clinics, I make a point to tell them about the time I lost that game. I especially want the parents to hear it.”

Despite the breakdown on the mound, scouts and family members thought McClendon’s best skill in baseball was pitching. But he thought otherwise.

“I had a passion for playing every day so I wanted to be a position player, I wanted to bat,” he says. “It was always a much-debated topic in my family whether I should be a pitcher, but I never wanted to. My decision was absolutely clear and final. I have never regretted it over the years. I wanted to be an everyday ballplayer.”

When McClendon grew up, he played nine seasons in the major leagues with the Giants, Cubs, and Pirates. He also managed the Pirates for five years. Years later, McClendon remembers being devastated by the loss but retains a kaleidoscope of positive memories of the experience.

McClendon remember most the words on Mickey Mantle, ABC’s color commentator for the game.

“Today, I saw a young man become a boy again,” Mantle said.

LL Needs Bigger Fields

This year's Little League World Series is off to a great start — but still carries all of the problems that plague youth sports.

The games have tended to be crisp matches between well-matched teams. Before it's over, we'll have more shutouts than ever. The kids playing the games and the fans watching on TV are getting a lesson in what makes baseball great — pitching and defense.

Loud home runs can be plenty exciting. Especially at this level — when kids swing at balls humming at a major-league equivalent of over 100 miles an hour, on occasion — even getting a bat on the ball is a wonder. But the kids do it. They see the ball tumbling out of the pitcher's hand and make a guess about what kind of pitch it is and where it's going.

But the 2-0 or 1-0 game is much more exciting. And Little League owes much of the excitement to its decision to extend the outfield fences 20 feet, from 205 to 225 feet from home plate.

As I write this, eight games have been shutouts, 15 games have held one of the teams to one run, and five games have held one of the teams to two runs.

In the games I saw — in person at Williamsport and on TV — those extended fences have kept a half dozen or more balls in the park every game.

In the game between Curacao and Russia, the very first two outs of the game came on long fly balls that went far beyond the old fence. On the first play, the left fielder ran like a deer across the grass before catching up with the ball. On the next play, the centerfielder ran almost as far and reached over the fence to pull the ball in.

As expected, Curacao went on to pound Russia. But that display of fielding — the pure joy of watching young athletes run hard over long distances in pursuit of the ball — gave the games an excitement that cheap home runs would not allow.

Another factor behind the low-scoring games: Little League's change in the cutoff date for eligibility. Until this year, if a kid turned 13 after April 30, he was ineligible to play in the summer of tournaments leading to the Little League World Series. Starting this year, July 31 is the date. That means not only lots more 13-year-olds, but also a lot fewer 11-year-olds.

Pitchers enjoy the biggest advantage as the game shifts to an older bunch of kids. The pitchers this year look a lot bigger and stronger than in years past. And to think that everyone in Williamsport was buzzing last year about ONE kid with facial hair!

But there's a problem here that Little League needs to address. The kids have simply outgrown the diamond. The dimensions of the Little League field were set in 1939, when a kindly clerk named Carl Stotz founded the organization. Stotz took a bunch of the kids from the neighborhood to a field to lay out a diamond suitable for little guys. In those early days, the league included much younger kids — 8 or 9 years old — as well as 10-, 11-, and 12-year-olds.

The PONY League, another community-based organization, gradually increases the size of the diamonds. Kids now playing in the Little League World Series play on 70-foot bases in the PONY tournaments.

Little League officials say that retrofitting Little League diamonds to adjust for the growth in kids would cost too much money. But something awful is waiting to happen. Either a hitter's going to get seriously hurt with a pitch or a pitcher's going to get seriously hurt with a line drive up the middle. Can you spell lawsuit?

Safety concerns should be the primary reason for changing the field size. But the overall game would improve with bigger diamonds. The pitchers would be more willing to let the hitters put the ball in play, which would reduce pitch counts and longterm injuries. Fielders would play a more important role. Baserunning would become more skilled and important.

Little League has to find a way to update its game. Moving the fences was a good first step. But updating the whole field is an essential next step.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Two Schools of Thought on Pitching

Not long ago, I went to a vintage base ball game in Westfield, Connecticut. The Westfield Wheelmen played the Hartford Senators on Adonis Terry Day.

As many as 200 vintage teams have arisen in the last quarter century. Usually playing according to the rules of the 1860s and 1880s, the teams take you back to baseball's formative years. In the game I saw, players used leather the size of gardeners gloves. They swung big bats -- usually around 40 ounces -- and hit balls that didn't have the hard rubber core that makes today's hits go so far.

It was a refreshing game. Even though most players don't have extraordinary physical abilities, they have more physical toughness. When you catch a sizzling liner down the third base line, your hand stings for days. That's a lot harder to do than extending a basket-sized glove to swallow the ball.

The day's highlight was meeting Jim Bouton, the rebel who had as much effect on the culture of baseball than anyone else in our lifetime. Bouton's Ball Four was a seminal book that ripped the mask of heroism off the face of baseball.

Before the game, I took a couple of Little Leaguers up to Bouton and asked how young kids should approach pitching.

"What you have to do is find out your own style," he said. "Everyone has their own pitching style. You have do some things a certain way, but mostly you have to find your own motion. Coaches don't let pitchers do that any more. They think you have to [conform] to some mechanical way of doing things. But people are different, and kids are still growing. They can't be forced into doing something that doesn't feel right."

How do you figure out the right pitching motion, Jim?

"Easy! Long tossing. You stand as far as you can from a friend and throw the ball to hm. Play catch, that's all. You throw so it's nice and easy, so you can reach him and hit him in the belly-button. And then once you've done long tossing for a while, you start to come closer and closer. When you get 50 feet away, that's your pitching motion."

Jim Bouton, once baseball's great rebel, is not a traditionalist. Don't tell me about biomechanics, he says. Just learn how to throw in as natural a way as possible.

"Throw as much as you can," he says. What about throwing too much? What about arm injuries. "Look, you're going to have a sore arm 500 times, if you're lucky. You're going to hurt your arm. But that's how you learn how to deal with it. That's how you get stronger."

The Bouton way, in effect, is to learn how to throw rather than learn how to pitch. A lot of baseball gurus say it should be the other way around -- that instead of "just" throwing, a kid has to learn how to pitch. That means using a proper motion, painting the corners, developing a repertoire of pitches, and so on.

The scientists of the game are taking pitching in a different direction. Led by the American Sports Medicine Institute, coaches and doctors are learning about the intricate "kinetic chain" of a pitcher's motion. They want the pitcher to go through a specific sequence of movements -- lifting the front leg (to create energy), maintaining balance (to prevent the dissipation of energy and bad mechanics), raring back (to start to use the energy), rotating the hips and torso forward (to power the bodyt forward), whipping the ball forward (using the energy thrust the ball forward with as much force and as little damage to the joints as possible), landing on the front foot the right way (to absorb the shock of the motion).

(I discuss this kinetic chain in my book The Last Nine Innings. Order the book today!)

The ASMI has been working with Little League to study the impact of throwing on the young pitcher's arm -- most particularly, the shoulder and elbow. ASMI has found that the cumulative stress of throwing can cause serious injuries. ASMI does not make hard and fast claims about the effects of throwing curveballs, but its research tsar, Glenn Fleisig, says there's reason to suspect that curveballs can damage young arms.

That is the crux of today's debate about youth pitching. Traditionalists like Jim Bouton say kids should just throw, throw, throw. Play all day till you're tired, then stop. You might call that the Sandlot School of Pitching. Scientists like Glenn Fleisig say, wait a minute, kids play organized ball these days. And in leagues and tournaments, the strain of pitching -- not just throwing, but pitching -- can cause serious injuries with overuse and bad mechanics. So you need some rules and regulations to protect the kids. Call that the Scientific School of Pitching.

The debate is critical to the future of youth baseball. As an excellent article in Friday's USA Today notes, Little League Baseball seems poised to adopt a pitch-count rule for the 2007 or 2008 season and Little League's summer tournaments.

Note to coaches: What's your experience? Email me at euchner@gmail.com with your responses.

Who's Not Here and Why? One Story

Before every Little League tournament game, players and parents walk on the field and recite the Little League Pledge. Kind of corny, I know, but not a bad sentiment if backed up by action. The pledge reads:

I trust in God

I love my country

And will respect its laws.

I will play fair

And strive to win

But win or lose,
I will always do my best


Take special note of the "play fair" and "strive to win" parts, the casualties when the adults maneuver for angles to win without really winning.

Amy Wheelus, a coach with the Buckhead Little League wrote to me with a distressing tale about a game with the Warner Robins Little League in the Georgia state tournament. Buckhead carried 13 players—rather than 12, as many teams do—to give an extra kid the experience of tournament play. A technical violation in using that kid cost Buckhead a forfeit.

With an 0-0 score going into the bottom of the sixth inning, Buckhead tried to get something going with a bunt. But after falling behind in the count 0-2, the Warner Robins coaches held a meeting on the mound. What followed was along series of wild pitches. After that batter walked, Buckhead sent its 13th player to the plate for his mandatory at-bat. Then things got really screwy. Warner Robins started throwing wild pitches to get Buckhead’s baserunner home. The runner advanced to second and then third.

What was going on? The Buckhead folks guessed that Warner Robins might be trying to let Buckhead have the run, so the batter couldn't finish his turn at plate. If that batter did not complete his at-bat, Buckhead would be in violation of the must-play rule and forced to forfeit the game.

But the runner finally scored on ball four. With the walk, the last hitter completed his at-bat. Whew. Buckhead could go home a winner.

But Warner Robins protested—not that the 13th kid didn’t finish his at bat, but that another kid didn’t start a plate appearance with a fresh 0-0 count back in the fifth inning.

Here's what happened earlier in the game. After completing a triple play in the top of the fifth inning, the Buckhead guys were so excited that the coaches momentarily forgot to substitute one batter, who needed his mandatory turn at rthe plate, for another.

"As the first pitch came to the plate, I though, 'Uh oh, we forgot to send the other player in,'" Coach Amy told me. "I immediately went to the plate and put the new hitter up there."

The temporartily forgotten kid went to the plate with an 0-1 count. He finished the at-bat with a strikeout. No one protested the move at that point.

“We thought we had caught it in time and corrected the error," Wheelus says. "It was purely that a mistake by us, the coaching staff.”

But the Little League rule states that for an at-bat to count for mandatory play, it must start with a 0-0 count. So Warner Robins protested to the Little League poobahs in Williamsport. The poohbahs ruled that Buckhead violated the rule and so Warner Robins should get the victory by forfeit.

I called Mickey Lay, the president of the Warner Robins Little League, to see if he had any second thoughts about winning that way with a forfeit.

"Absolutely not," he said. "There should be no slack at all because the rule was clear. If the rule was vague, it would be something to look at. But because the rule was black and white, it was the right thing.

"I believe the mandatory play rule is very important and should be implemented. It's up to the manager to make sure that every child plays. If you know you're going to win in a shortened game, you have to get the players in early. To win this way [with a forfeit] is tough, but the rules are clear."

Even if the team makes a mistake and immediately tries to correct it?

"Absolutely," Lay responds.

Little League allows players who accidentally bat out of order to fix the situation on the spot. Seems to me that the organization ought to allow some slack in this situation as well.

Quick reminder: This is a game. A game for kids.

But there's something else smelly going on here. If Warner Robins had not taken a dive in the sixth inning, Buckhead probably would not have taken the lead. And so that kid who started his AB with an 0-1 count would have gotten to the plate again in the seventh inning.

Little League rules state that teams have to try to win. They cannot roll over for the sake of getting a better matchup in the later stages of a tournament -- or for any other reason. But the Little League potentates ruled for Warner Robins anyway. The word was that the technical violation of starting an at-bat with an 0-1 count is more compelling than a team trying to lose. Why? Because determining whether someone took a dive is a "judgment call."

Well, baseball is full of judgment calls that matter. Virtually every call an umpire makes is a judgment call. That's part of the game's beauty.

Wheelus was so passionate, I’d like to let her complete the story:

“I accept that we made a mistake – and by the ‘letter of the law’ we should be penalized. But what I can't accept is that the team from WR was allowed to intentionally shorten the game and potentially keep our player from getting that official at-bat. There was no reason to think that we were going to score in the bottom of the sixth and if we hadn't, the player would have been up in the seventh.”

“How can LL allow something like this to occur and be rewarded? How could that manager take that game out of his kids’ hands? They had played the best game of their lives and what did he tell them? I don't think you can win this on the field, so let’s ‘throw the game’ so that we can win it on protest?”

“Our players handled it with grace, but they felt cheated and betrayed. The kid that was the runner on base at the end of the game was mad several days later because he felt like the other team was mocking him by allowing him to advance and think that he won the game. We are now several weeks after the event and our players are still upset because they will never know what would have happened if the game had continued. Both teams advanced to semi-finals and we lost to Northern in the semis.

“We wrote a letter to LL asking them to evaluate the situation which goes against their published tournament policy but to our knowledge, they did not even investigate the situation. St. Pete and Williamsport would not even talk to our manager and get his side of the story. We provided the names of the umpire and several other managers who were in attendance and witnessed the situation, but none of them were contacted.

“LL has gotten to the point of being so bureaucratic in an attempt to protect the players that they have allowed a group of players to have the best game of their lives turned into a mockery by their coaches.”

That runner on the bases suffered more than his share of the dirty tricks. That player Rivers Patterson, was the batter who went to the plate in the fifth before getting pulled back. And then he scored the presumptive winning run in the sixth as a special pinch runner. Amy Wheelus emphasizes that he didn't make any mistake. The coaches forgot to pull him before he walked to the plate. Don;t blame him -- or any kid, for that matter.

One Buckhead mother put the matter into perspective.

"You know," she told Coach Amy, "this has given us a chance to talk to the kids about something that otherwise might not come up. It's an opportunity to teach about playing the game the right way."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Clip and Save

Tom Verducci is probably the best pure baseball writer in the business these days.

His Sports Illustrated cover story on spring training with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2005—when he worked out with the team for a week—clinched the Best Baseball Writer title.

Verducci has an athlete’s understanding of the game’s physical and mental experiences. But he also has a fan’s enthusiasm and an analyst’s detachment and ability to find the game's hidden patterns.

And now he’s into coaching. Click on to SI.com for Verducci’s lessons from a summer of coaching Cal Ripken Baseball.

In 1,178 words, Verducci manages to convey everything you need to know about youth sports. Get the story, print it out, and refer to it when you’re watching this year’s Little League World Series—or any other sporting event, for that matter.

Images of the 2005 Little League World Series

When I decided to write Little League, Big Dreams, I asked my friend Isabel Chenoweth to come along. Isabel is an award-winning photographer whose images provide documentary coverage of all kinds of issues and events.

A couple of years ago Isabel explored the design and conditions of Boston's neighborhood parks. She's working on a series of portraits of all of the women judges in the state of Connecticut. For years, she's been pulling together stories and images from a Tennessee town called Beersheba Springs, where her family has been going for generations. She also covers weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. And she took some pictures for my book The Last Nine Innings.

So when Isabel agreed to join me in Williamsport for the 2005 Little League World Series, I was thrilled. Little League, Big Dreams includes 96 of her images.

What I like about these images is how different they are from a lot of sports photography. She went to Williamsport to cover the phenomenon of the Little League World Series, not just the games. As a result, she has captured a bigger story about childhood in America in the early 21st century.

Isabel's baseball photography -- not just the LLWS, but also shots from major leagues and from vintage base ball -- will be on display at the Loudoun County Public Library in Virginia for the months of September and October. If you're in the area, stop by and have a look. I will be speaking at the library on September 17.

Meanwhile, take a moment now to look at some of Isabel Chenoweth's coverage of youth baseball. And if you want to see more great work go to her web site, www.icportraits.com

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Catch Me If You Can

Every summer, Little League officialdom and countless Williamsport-hungry teams play the roles of Carl Hanratty and Frank Abagnale Jr. in the movie "Catch Me If You Can."

Hanratty was the FBI investigator, played by Tom Hanks, who chased down con artists who passed bad checks and made counterfeit money and documents. Abagnale was the precocious con man, played by Leonardo DeCaprio, who pretended to be a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer -- and, for his effort, raked in millions of dollars through counterfeit checks.

For years, Hanratty chased across the globe, often just missing his prey by minutes and clever slights of hand. However clever Hanratty was, Abagnale was much more clever.

Countless Little League all-star teams play the Abagnale role, slipping around the rules of eligibility in order to pursue the televised glory of playing in the Little League World Series. You know the most famous case of cheating. Danny Almonte, a kid who pitched a perfect game in the Little League World Series for a Bronx Little League team, only to be found a fraud by Sports Illustrated and other publications.

Almonte's fraud was manyfold. Not only was he two years older than Little League's official age limit of 12. (At the time, players had to be 12 on July 31 to be eligible for the Williamsport jamboree. Starting this year, kids have to be 12 on April 30 to be eligible.) He was also not a regular Participant in the paulino Little League that fielded the all-star team -- and he did not even live in the neighborhood where the league was based.

Last summer, the Altagracia Little League won the Venezuela national tournament and the latin America tournament -- and a trip to Williamsport -- before proof of a star player's age fraud. Seems that overage player was using his younger brother's birth records as proof of eligibility. For punishment, Little League Baseball disqualified Altagracia just before the teams gathered in Pennsylvania for the World Series. (For more details, read my Little League, Big Dreams.

But skirting the Little League rules -- or at least, the sprit of the rulkes -- requires a little more clever gambit these days.

The modern technique for bringing ringers to the Little League tournaments is to create an elite team outside Little League, play against the best teams anywhere, and then all sign up for Little League when all the kids are 12. Then you have a powerhouse that is capable of blowing out the leagues that play by the spirit of Little League -- in which any kid can play and leagues assemble all-star teams from their big cast of players.

One of many, many examples: The Maitland Little League's 2005 all-star team -- which made it to the Little League World Series -- was comprised exclusively of players from the Maitland Pride. The Pride was a travel team that Dante Bichette, a retired big-league star, formed a year before. The Pride played top-flight travel teams, going 24-7 to prepare for Little League competition.

Little Leagues and their coaches sometimes have a hard time figuring out what to do. Little League baseball forbids forming teams before June 15. That's so some teams don;t have an advantage playing and practicing together. The Paramus Patriots -- a travel team whose players also competed in the Paramus, N.J., Little League -- wanted to play in a prestigious Sports at the Beach tournament in Rehobeth, Delaware. But Little League officials balked when John Tenhove, the coach for both the Little League and travel teams, asked for the OK to go to Delaware before June 15.

Paramus Little League's all-star teams dropped out of the Little League tournaments so they could go to Delaware. Later they found out that one of their rivals from Newtown, Pennsylvania, competed in both. Since they kept their books separately, the two teams were not legally one and the same.

"The rule is full of loopholes," Little League CEO Steve keener told me. "It's how you beat the system."

The People Have Spoken

In the New England regional tournament in Bristol, Connecticut, as punishment for not getting all of its players their minimum playing time, the team from Colchester, Vermont, forfeited a big game to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Portsmouth then won the New England regional tournament -- and a berth in the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

Colchester waited too long to get one of its kids up to the plate. Leading by 9-7 going into the top of the sixth inning, Colchester tried to get Portsmouth to score a couple runs to tie the score -- so that Colchester would bat in the bottom of the inning and the lost child could bat. Problem was, Portsmouth was on to the trick and refused to score more than one run. Colchester led 9-8 after five and a half innings, and so did not get a chance to bat again. Little League headquarters gave Portsmouth a 6-0 forfeit because Colchester couldn't get get its last kid to the plate.

This is, to say the least, perverse. Both sides were trying to fail, so that they would win.

I asked readers what the right approach to the problem would be. Here's a sampling of answers:

LET 'EM TIE THE GAME, THEN WIN: Personally, if I was coaching the NH team, I would let them give away the lead, then I would call my team together and say "Now, we're going to win this on the field." The punishment for not playing the kid was losing their lead. Now, my team would have a shot to win the game. I think the New Hampshire coach was just as bad for not allowing his kids to play ball. He should have been ejected as well for making a travesty of the game.

LET THE KIDS WORK IT OUT: I would have let the kids sovled this issued along with some direction or confirmation from the umpires and coaches. Your book really opened my eyes to these issues and I have noticed in all of the regionals that the adults and media are very much a part of the game and have a significant impact.

GET RID OF MINIMUM PLAY RULES: The problem is the LL rules. "Must play" rules are great for the regular season but should be dropped for the tournaments. Each team should be limited to a 12 man roster and leave it up to coaches who to play. Parents and players would know going in what the situation is. Presumably, all twelve players would have something to contribute and would see some playing time during any tournament. This is already the case in LL Seniors Tournaments. Why not make it universal and avoid these situations?

NO, KEEP THE MUST-PLAY RULE: That's a really unfortunate scenario, but the "everybody gets to play rule" should still be a cardinal rule for tournaments. As it is, the rule is relaxed somewhat for tournaments to one defensive inning rather than the regular season two innings. The principle is extremely important: everybody has a role to play in the team's success. This summer my 9-10 all-star team faced an opponent team that had a substitute/non-starting player hit a three-run homer over the fence. Tough experience for our team, but what a memory for that player and that team. Many great teams have superb depth throughout the line-up and don't just rely on a core set of dominant players.

On balance the fault here inevitably and overwhelmingly falls on the Vermont coaches. Especially with so much on the line in these regional games the coaches need to make substitutions early, even as early as the second or third inning if possible (no later than the fourth inning) to ensure that a scenario like this does not develop. With nine runs on the board, it seems unlikely to me that there weren't ample opportunities available to Vermont to make the appropriate substitutions earlier.

DON'T CUT THE VERMONT COACH SLACK: I don't accept the premise of your theory or question. Being a Little League president and coach for 13 years my guess is the reason he didn't get the kid in is not that he forgot. It probably was because it was a tight game and he didn't want to sub at that point. There's no reason a coach that made it to the region final should ever fall into this situation. I'd accept this happening in a district game were you have coaches who don't know or understand the rules. Why do you think it's happening so much in the regions? The coaches are holding back, gambling. When you gamble you lose sometimes. As someone who's coached 6 district teams, 4 advancing to state, I don't believe any of these coaches forgot.

CHARLIE EUCHNER'S RESPONSE: I like the idea of leaving it to the kids to sort things out. It's a travesty for both teams to try to fail, and it's an even further travesty for issues like this to be settled through bureaucratic fiat. Maybe the kids should come up with a solution to submit to the umpire for a final decision.

One approach familiar to kids in pickup games is to have a do-over. If Colchester took a two-run lead in the fifth, why not wipe it off the books and play the inning over? Of course, this option should not be available to a team losing in the game. You say it's too soft a response to a rule infraction? I say, remember this is a game for kids.

Then there's the hockey approach: A power play. When a player commits an infraction from an NHL game, the response is to give a very real advantage to the other side by removing the player from the ice. Why can't baseball handicap the team responsible for a SNAFU, innocent or not? This is radical, I know, but when a team like Vermont goofs and you need a do-over, maybe they should get only two outs in the inning or two strikes at the plate. (I've always thought that major-league teams arguing with umps should be undermanned after the player gets ejected. I don;t care about all the "tradition" claptrap. Screaming and kicking dirt is a stupid waste of time and an insult to everyone in the stadium.)

I don't agree with scotching the minimum-play rule for the summer tournaments. Little League has already been compromised enough by the do-anything-to-win mentality. Let all the kids play. Quite simply, does the game exist for all the kids or for the adults to mastermind victories?

I agree with the comment that managers have to work harder to get all their kids in the game. In two regional final games -- the Alaska-Oregon finale in Northwest region and the Louisiana-Mississippi finale in the Southwest -- the managers tempted fate by waiting until the last inning for minimum-play substitutions. Come on, guys. If all the kids were good enough to make the team, get them in the game. You send an ugly message to the kid when you are so reluctant to use him that you risk a forfeit.

Last year, a kid named Michael Mowatt was a reserve player for the whole summer of qualifying tournaments for Maine. So what did he do in the Little League World Series? He hit two homers and led all players in slugging percentage.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Cheers and Jeers

As the regional tournaments draw to a close, some cheers and jeers for the winners and sinners of the Little League World Series qualifying competitions:

CHEER to Lloyd McClendon, the star of the 1971 Gary, Indiana, team. Thirty-five years ago, this young stud hit five home runs in five at bats and was the pitching star of the team as well. McClendon and his Gary teammates pushed the Taiwan dynasty to the first extra inning game in LLWS history before melting down in the ninth inning. McClendon went on to a good major league career as a player, coach, and manager. He's a good guy who will be honored this year when Little League inducts him into its Hall of Excellence.

JEER to the managers who wait until the last minute to use all their players. Two managers threatened their teams' chances by waiting until their last turns at the plate to use their reserve players. Teams that do not use all their players for one at-bat and one inning in the field automatically forfeit the game.

But the managers of the South Charles Lake (Louisiana) and Dimond-West (Alaska) tempted fate. South lake Charles was leading the team from D'lberville, Mississippi, 1-0, when it batted in the bottom of the fifth. Even though three players still had not batted, South Charles Lake still did not use the reserves right away -- and only got them all in the game when a batter reached base. If The Louisianans went down 1-2-3 in the inning and retired Mississippi in the top of the sixth, they would have ended the game with a 1-0 lead -- and then lost by a 6-0 forfeit. Alaska was also leading in the sixth inning without having played all of its reserves. Only Murrayhill, Oregon's comeback prevented a forfeit. We all know what happens when teams don't use all their players. Bureaucrats rule and controversy ensues.

CHEER to Little League Baseball, for its study of pitch counts. For years, Little League has limited the number of innings pitchers can throw. But this year, the Williamsport organization conducted a study of pitch counts. Some 500 leagues participated in the program. Many insiders believe that Little League will adopt the pitch-count rules for its tournaments as soon as next year.

To me, it's a no-brainer to limit pitches. The American Sports Medicine Institute has documented that throwing more than 75 pitches in a game imperils a pitcher's short- and long-term health. Last year, nine pitchers threw more than 100 pitches in the LLWS -- and one, Martin Cornieles of Venezuela, threw 137. That is abuse. The one potential SNAFU is if opposing teams run pitch counts deep to get top pitchers out of the game. But smart coaches and pitchers will respond to that by getting hitters to put the ball into play rather than going for strikeouts all game long.

JEER to broadcasters who shamelessly extol the virtues of corporate sponsors. Yeah, I know, they pay for their sponsorships. But there are limits. The ESPN broadcasters for the Oregon-Alaska Northwest regional championship game were drooling at Nike's sponsorship of the hometown Little Leaguers, zooming in on the swoosh on the players' uniforms.

CHEER to parents who draw a line to protect their kids' physical wellbeing. Coaches come under incredible pressure to abuse their pitchers by throwing too many many pitches or using the curveball. The only real recourse is for parents to draw a bold line. Joe Daugherty, the father of a player from Owensboro, Kentucky in 2004 and 2005, set firm rules for his kid Luke. Joe came under pressure from coaches and other parents, but he always said no to requests for pushing Luke beyond his limits. We need more Joe Daughertys in youth sports -- parents willing to take a stand whatever the pressures.

JEER to teams that don't bring all 14 eligible players to Little League World Series tournaments. Teams have the option of bringing 12, 13, or 14 players to the LLWS tournaments. Most American teams use 12, while most foreign teams use 14. Come on, America! use all the kids you can! You're always making excuses for overusing pitchers. If you had all 14 players on the team, you could spread out the pitching burden. More important, you could give the ultimate Little League experience to two more kids. People associated with the LLWS seem to think that it's OK to limit the number of players on the team. One ESPN announcer talked about how lucky one team was when one of its players broke an arm. Now they won't have to get 'em all in the game, he explained. Kind of sick, no?

000 000

With only one berth in the Little League World Series left to be settled -- Staten Island, N.Y., plays Livingston, N.J., tonight for the Mid-Atlantic regional championship -- one fact stares out from the qualifying tournaments so far.

Pitchers have been dominant in the title games for the Little League regional championships.

In the seven title games in the U.S. so far, five teams have won with shutouts. Not just any old shutout, either. Dominant shutouts, with devastating pitching. Pitchers have regularly clocked near 80 miles and hour and displayed hard curveballs.

Remember, withy the smaller fields used for Little League -- the bases are 60 feet apart, compared with 90 feet for regulation fields; pitching mounds are 46 feet from the plate, compared with 60 feet, six inches on standard fields -- hitters have much less time to react. An 80-.m.p.h. pitch gives a Little League batter as much/little time to react as a 104-m.p.h. pitch gives a major league batter.

In his prime, Nolan Ryan occasionally hit over 100 m.p.h. Billy Wagner of the Mets sometimes hits 100, when he's really smoking.

Every year, a handful of power pitchers dominate the Little League World Series. Last year, the star of the Early Show was Kalen Pimentel, the California ace who struck out all 18 batters he faced in the team's opener against Kentucky. Other dominant pitchers included Alaka'i Aglipay and Vonn Fe'ao of Hawaii, Dante Bichette Jr., of Florida, Trae Santos of Guam, Takuya Sakamoto and Yusuke Taira of Japan, Jace Conrad (Louisiana), Sorick Liberia and Jurickson Profar of Curacao, and Keith Terry of Pennsylvania.

But this year, the pitchers might be even more dominant. Starting this year, Little League changed the cutoff date for eligibility in this tournament for 11- and 12-year-olds. From 1947 through 2005, players who were 12 on July 31 were eligible for LLWS competition. This year, players who were 12 on April 30 are eligible to play.

That means that there are going to be a lot more 13-year-olds in the tournament. Older pitchers probably have the advantage over older hitters.

Just by looking at the final regional championship games with shutouts, we can start to look for the dominant players in this year's Little League World Series.

Pitchers and hitters face a new challenge in the LLWS this year. Little League pushed the fences back 20 feet -- from 205 to 225. Balls hit for home runs last year could be fly balls this year. That creates an incentive for pitchers to let the hitters put the bat on the ball. If they can get hitters to put more balls in play, the best pitchers can keep their pitch counts low -- and be available to help their teams with a few extra innings.

The question is: Will the pitchers and their managers have the gumption to get away from the power game? Or will they want to keep smoking the ball past hitters?

A region-by-region rundown of the title game shootouts shows some of the pitchers to watch in the 60th Little League World Series:

SOUTHWEST -- South Lake Charles (Louisiana) 1, D'lberville (Mississippi) 0. Nick Zaunbrecher struck out eight batters to bring a Cajun team to Williamsport for the second straight year.

NEW ENGLAND -- Portsmouth (New Hampshire) 3, Glastonbury (Connecticut), 0. Jordan Bean struck out 13 batters and allowed only three hits en route to the win.

MIDWEST -- Columbia (Missouri) 2, Davis County (Iowa) 0. Ryan Phillips struck out 14 hitters, at one point fanning eight straight batters, in his second dominant game against Iowa. In their first meeting, Phillips pitched a five-inning no hitter.

SOUTHEAST -- Columbus (Georgia) 5, Dunedin (Florida) 0. Kyle Carter struck out 14 batters in his five-hit shutout.

GREAT LAKES -- Lemont (Illinois) 3, New Castle (Indiana) 0. David Hearne fanned 11 batters and allowed just two hits.