Everyone has seen the evolution of sports over even the last couple decades. Professional athletes are bigger, faster and stronger than ever before. That trickles down to all levels of athletics, Little League baseball included.
As I watched Belmont-Redwood Shores square off against San Ramon in the championship game of the 11-12 Section 3 tournament Tuesday night in San Lorenzo, one of the first things that crossed my mind was: someone is going to get seriously hurt. I didn’t mean at that particular game on that particular day, but to see preteens almost 6 feet tall and near 200 pounds playing on fields whose dimensions they dwarf, combined with the intense focus and training a lot of kids do, it could all end up with someone getting injured.
But this is not a damnation of Little League, not by any means. I just think the time may be now to start thinking about updating the dimensions of the diamond. Granted, these are all-star teams made up of the best players an entire league has to offer. Not all players are this physically gifted, but a majority of the ones who are play on all-star teams.
Keeping that in mind, consider this: basepaths for 12-and-under players in Little League are 60 feet, while the pitching mound is 46 feet away from home. Outfield fences are not supposed to deeper than 200 feet.
The teams I saw Tuesday night looked like they were crammed onto the field. It truly looked like adults playing on a Little League diamond. Both starting pitchers threw gas with knee-buckling curveballs, and hitters waved bats around like fly swatters. When San Ramon’s first baseman, a kid who was probably close to 6 feet tall and at least 180 pounds, came to the plate and rifled a ball foul, I shuddered to think what might have happened if he hit that ball fair.
On defense, throws across the diamond were all but lobbed over to first base because the infield is so small in comparison to the players’ size.
Because of the dimensions, Little League at the Majors level — which is the most glamorous division in all of youth baseball because that is the division that plays in the Little League World Series — seems to be developing into a home run and singles game. Fences are either too close to keep balls in the yard, or they’re too close and take away the extra-base hit.
I saw both examples during Belmont-Redwood Shores’ 2-0 win over San Ramon Tuesday. In the bottom of the second inning, BRS’ Dominic Susa came to the plate and poked an opposite-field home run to right, easily clearing the fence 195 feet away.
A good pitcher with good speed, a light bat and Dominic Susa — BRS’ cleanup hitter — and it added up to an improbable homer.
Then ask BRS’ Brad Shimabuku, who hammered a ball into the right-center field gap to drive in the second run of the game. He was held to a single, however, because he hit the ball so hard, it one-hopped the fence. The right fielder got to the ball quickly and got it back into the infield to keep Shimabuku at first.
Then there is the skill level of these players. It’s good baseball at this age. With private coaches and trainers, many players have developed a high level of baseball acuity that makes things look effortless when they’re on the field.
These players are just starting to hit a major growth spurt in their lives, maybe it’s time Little League grows as well.
Menlo-Atherton has coaching positions open in a number of sports. The school is looking for girls’ lacrosse coaches, both varsity and frosh-soph. The program is also in need of a badminton and wrestling coach. Interested applicants can contact athletic director Steven Kryger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 650-766-0345.
Nathan Mollat can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: 344-5200 ext. 117. He can also be followed on Twitter @CheckkThissOutt.