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Safety concerns are reshaping high school baseball tradition

Pitch count among possible rule changes
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Sports Writer
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Safety may be one of the biggest topics in high school sports lately with the talk centered on concussions and equipment. That talk has led to several rule changes like players being cleared by a doctor before returning to play and helmet-like devices in soccer. In baseball, much of the conversation has been about decreasing the power of metal bats but some have found other ways to protect players. New York City’s Public Schools Athletic League adopted a pitch count rule that limits varsity pitchers to 105 pitches and junior varsity players to 90. The National Federation of State High School Associations approved a suggested outside base at first to avoid collisions on errant throws. The rules aren’t in the works in California but normally when one association adopts such rules, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the dominoes fall and the California Interscholastic Federation follows suit. “So by protecting them with their arm, I think that’s a good rule because, like I said, our goal is to get them into college,” Bear River coach Dahorl Ennis said. “It’s not just to blow them up and win for you. It’s to give them an opportunity for a career.” The CIF’s current rule allows pitchers to throw for up to 30 outs and no more than three appearances in a calendar week. The outs rule leaves pitchers open to extend well beyond the 105-pitch threshold established in New York City and puts the responsibility on the coach’s shoulders to not overuse a teenage arm for the sake of a win. “I think right now we go by outs so a guy can pitch 100 pitches and get two, three outs,” Forest Lake Christian coach Ron Phillips said. “I’m in favor for that, I think it saves arms. So to me these kids are too young and it’s wearing out their arms. You have a couple teams that will play and they have that one guy and they’ll work him to death.” The outside base is only a suggestion at this point but if the NFHS adopted the rule the CIF, as a member of the NFHS, would as well. It harkens to a rule seen in adult softball leagues with an orange base located to the right of the white bag the first baseman steps on in anticipation of a throw. “When you get to college they’re never going to see that so I wouldn’t want to train them for four years for something that you’re going to change in college,” Ennis said. “Stick with the game.” The next evolution in baseball safety could be in the form of helmets or facemasks for pitchers. With the adoption of the Batted Ball Coefficient Restitution Bats balls don’t fly off the bats as quickly as they used to but with the pitcher just 60 feet, 6 inches away it doesn’t leave much time for reaction when a ball is screaming toward a pitcher’s face. Some softball players, who are just 43 feet away from home, wear a mask while pitching and something similar is already available in baseball. “My new magazines I have this year, there’s one company that has a head piece that goes on top of their regular baseball caps that kind of looks like a helmet for riding a bike,” Ennis said. “There’s no face mask on it but it’s like a helmet piece that goes around the front for if you get hit in the forehead. It’s starting.”