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Little League Pitch Count Helps Coaches, Parents Know When Enough Is Enough

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (Jan. 2, 2007) – Every Little League coach wants to win, and every parent wants his or her Little Leaguer to be an all-star, but there comes a time in every game when those wants have to be figured against the cost. Regardless of the score or situation, a player’s health is always most important, with fun being a close second.With health and fun at Nos. 1 and 2 on the priority list, Columbus (Ga.) Northern Little League won the 2006 Little League Baseball World Series.

“Nothing has been better than winning the World Series,” Rich Carter, pitching coach for the 2006 World Series champs, said. “I admit that I am the world’s worst loser, but I could not sleep at night knowing I hurt a Little Leaguer’s arm to win a ballgame. I would never try to win a game at the expense of a 12-year-old kid.”

Managers and coaches throughout Little League face just such a quandary dozens of times a season, but for Mr. Carter he has a keen sense of responsibility since his son, Kyle, was the No. 1 pitcher for the World Series champs.

Typically, Little League managers have the best of intentions, but the competitive side always wants the team’s ace to go one more inning. The same is often true of the pitcher’s family, who wants one more strikeout. In the moment, it is easy to overlook the signs of fatigue that can compromise the long-term health of a player, which is why in August 2006 Little League voted to replace its innings-pitched rule with a pitch count to determine eligibility.

“I think the pitch count is great,” Mr. Carter said. “This rule will make coaches work with more players, because they know they are not going to be able to rely on one or two arms all of the time.”

More information on the Little League pitch count rule can be found here: http://www.littleleague.org/media/pitch_Count_Resource_Page.asp

Mr. Carter’s experiences as both a Little League parent and volunteer are similar to thousands of past, current and future supporters of the program. In August, he was in the dugout at Howard J. Lamade Stadium and watched as every pitch his son threw inched his team closer to the World Series championship.

As his excitement built, his focus remained trained on Kyle’s fundamentals, mechanics and technique. Kyle became the first pitcher to record four decisions in one World Series.

“We had a clicker (pitch counter) on our pitchers all of the time,” Mr. Carter said. “We never let our pitchers throw over 65 pitches in a game (during the regular season), and in all-stars they were between 80 and 90.”

Kyle and J.T. Phillips were Columbus Northern’s top all-star pitchers, but there were at least two others who gave the team quality innings on the road to Williamsport. During the regular season (25 games), CNLL teams made it a point to develop three to four pitchers per team.

The league’s all-star selection process is done by the players, and then the coaches choose their final roster from the player’s selections. Mr. Carter said that seeing so many pitchers and position players during the season is helpful to the coaches, but the bottom line for health and success is physical conditioning.

Before the season starts, Mr. Carter suggests having a constructive conversation with the manager about how he’ll run the team. He advises coaches to be up front about playing time, and tell parents how many pitches a player will throw.

“Little League is great, but life goes on after Little League,” he said. “Players have to be in shape, or there is a greater risk that injuries will occur. If a pitcher is not in shape, then they rely on their arms too much, which makes them an arm thrower, not a pitcher.”

In Kyle’s case, Mr. Carter said from an early age he was baseball savvy. “He didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘Geez, I’m going to throw a baseball.’ He really loves the game and studies it.”

Admittedly, not every kid has that sort of natural drive and ability, but Mr. Carter said, now that the pitch count is part of Little League, the coach or manager must set a total-pitch goal every inning for as many innings you want a pitcher to throw.

“In the World Series championship game against Japan, Kyle threw 85 pitches,” Mr. Carter said. “In the game he started before that he threw 84, and the first game was 78, so the new rule would not have affected us.”

According to Mr. Carter, the combination of good health and mound success comes down to fundamentals, technique, and appreciating the positives of the pitch count. He suggests core training (legs, shoulders, back), coupled with consistent technique and mechanics is the best way to prevent injury to pitchers.

“As a parent, I always try to keep the players from hurting themselves,” Mr. Carter said. “As a coach, I understand what it means to teach follow through and to drive with their legs, but most importantly now that the pitch count is in Little League, I wouldn’t have a problem walking on to the field and taking a player off.”

This past season was Mr. Carter’s last as a Columbus Northern Little League volunteer after 14 years, but the memories made will last a lifetime. Aside from the World Series title run, he remembers back to his own Little League days in 1967 when, as a member of the first Georgia state champion to play in the Southern Regional Tournament in St. Petersburg, Fla., his team fell one win shy of a trip to Williamsport. That year, Mr. Carter’s Eastern Little League team from Columbus, Ga., lost to West Tampa (Fla.) Little League in the region’s championship game.

“The kids still don’t realize what they’ve done,” Mr. Carter said of winning the World Series. “For me, it was great! I got to come to the World Series as a dad, as a coach, and I got to see my son pitch the World Series-winning game.”


Rich Carter, left, was the pitching coach for the 2006 Little League Baseball World Series Champions from Columbus (Ga.) Northern Little League. Mr. Carter’s son, Kyle, right, was the team’s top pitcher and became the first player to record four pitching decisions in one World Series. As a Little League volunteer and parent, Mr. Carter appreciates Little League’s decision to replace the innings-pitched rule with a pitch count beginning with the 2007 season. In his opinion, the pitch count will make it easier on coaches when faced with the decision to remove a pitcher, while also giving the chance for more players to try their hand on the mound.