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Re: Fear of getting hit by a pitch

Posted by: Jim (waterskipro@sbcglobal.net) on Sun Apr 16 08:34:15 2006

On a recent broadcast of Baseball Tonight, Major League batters’ fear of getting plunked with the ball was indirectly addressed when the panel discussed Major League batters’ improved performance when they don’t have to be (quite so) afraid of getting plunked - especially in retaliation for an earlier hit batsman - due to a pitcher’s fear of being suspended. A pitcher’s fear of being suspended comes in the wake of the recent suspension of a pitcher for hitting batters during a three-game New York Mets – Washington Nationals series in which seven batters were hit.

If a Major Leaguer is intimidated by the thought of being whacked with the baseball, you can imagine how an 8-to-12 year-old kid feels, especially given the greater frequency with which youth baseball players are plunked. It’s not unheard of for seven batters to be hit in one youth baseball game.

To a young child who weighs one-third-to-one-half what a Major Leaguer weighs and has not yet developed any muscle mass in the torso area or the quicker reflexes of an older child, let alone those a professional athlete, a Little League-speed fastball - released from a pitcher’s mound located only 46’ from home plate - looks, and feels, like a Major League fastball. Even among those children who do play organized baseball, it is estimated that more than two-thirds of them quit playing before they reach the 13/14 year-old age group. Why? Many parents, coaches and league officials attribute the decline in participation in the older age group to the fear of getting hit by the ball and the poor batting skills that result from that fear.

Following is a segment from a 2003 PBS report/interview by Jeffrey Kaye titled 'Baseball Blues' that addresses baseball’s appeal:

JEFFREY KAYE: “RBI's founder is former major league scout John Young, who started the program in south L.A. in 1989. Young says even the toughest inner-city kids can be intimidated by baseball.”

JOHN YOUNG: “The toughest thing to do in sports is hit a baseball. So many kids that haven't played are afraid of the ball. We get kids who come into this program, they are kids from tough neighborhoods-- they see a lot of gang violence, you know, tough kids-- but they are afraid of baseball. They are afraid of being hit by a baseball.

The only way to reduce the fear factor in youth baseball to any significant degree would be to utilize lightweight protective equipment - like a lacrosse vest without the shoulder pads. Would anyone really be upset if 60-to-80 pound, 8-to-10 year-old kids wore protective equipment while batting? Would anyone really be upset if 60-to-80 pound, 8-to-10 year-old kids had more confidence in the batter’s box because they were wearing protective gear and developed better batting skills, were more successful, had more fun and played the game longer as a result, or is the integrity of the game jeopardized?

An article in the April 25, 2005 edition of Sports Illustrated co-authored by Alexander Wolff and Julia Morrill and titled ‘Get On The Stick’ stated “….lacrosse is the fastest-growing game in the U.S. at every level…...It’s probably no coincidence that one sport lacrosse fails to echo is baseball, whose popularity among kids is stagnant or dropping.”

Interestingly, all the players in lacrosse, particularly at the youth level, wear protective gear on their torso – and seem to not only not mind it, but get a kick out of it - even though 1) no one is purposely throwing the ball, which is less dense than a baseball, in their direction - as a matter of fact, the idea in lacrosse is to keep the ball away from the opposing players, 2) there is a lot more running involved in lacrosse than in baseball and 3) a lacrosse game lasts much longer than the amount of time one player spends batting in a baseball game.

Many people feel that the lack of protection for the batter’s torso hurts youth baseball’s appeal, especially nowadays when children have so many more recreational options vying for their free time. According to an article titled “Childhood pastimes are increasingly moving indoors ; Fishing, biking and sports giving way to video games” that appeared in the July 12, 2005 edition of USA TODAY, “Little League participation has fallen…….14% from its peak in 1997”.

Consider that the batter in youth baseball is not generally provided with protective gear for their torso even though:

1) a player on the opposing team is purposely throwing a baseball, which is harder and more dense than a lacrosse ball, in their direction - and youth baseball pitchers generally lack the control of their Major League counterparts, and hit far more batters as a result,

2) a youth baseball player only has about as much time to react to and get out of the way of a 72 MPH pitch as a Major League player has to react to a 95 MPH pitch - and a young baseball player doesn’t have the honed reflexes of a professional athlete,

3) many 8-to-10 year-old boys weigh only 1/3 of what many Major League players weigh and

4) some Major Leaguers feel the need to wear a guard on their leading elbow/arm even though their elbows/arms are more substantial than a child’s rib cage and don’t encompass any body organs that can be injured via the impact of a baseball.

I don’t think that many youth baseball coaches would relish the thought of facing a Major League pitcher’s 90+ MPH fastball, especially if they had been hit the previous time up, unless they are braver than Major League players. Relative to that point, following is the partial text of an article from the June 26, 2004 edition of Chicago Tribune titled "Prior shows Sox who's in control" (and sub-titled "Cubs ace just wild enough in 5-inning stint"):

"The moment of truth for Mark Prior came in the third inning Friday after he knocked Frank Thomas off the plate with a 1-2 fastball that irritated the White Sox slugger. The Cubs starter followed with a curve on the outside corner that buckled Thomas' knees for a called third strike……From his first pitch, which sent leadoff man Aaron Rowand reeling backward, Prior had Sox batters wondering what was coming next, whether the strategy was intentional or not…..Early in the game I was a little bit wild, and I think it helped me over the course of the game."


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