Everyone’s dream growing up – at least, those who play or have played baseball – is to hit a 2-out, bottom of the 9th home run to win the world series. It’s everyone’s dream. One that has been played out in backyards and sandlots all throughout the baseball world.
That was back in the day when we had one baseball, a wood bat that had been cracked (and taped up good as new), and baseball gloves that were shared because, after all, not everyone had a glove. The corner of the neighbor’s house marked the imaginary foul line, and if you pulled one hard and hit the house, you were automatically out. That was our self-imposed deterrent for hitting the house – or the window – which would then bring out the owner of house. Of course, we’d scramble for the nearest hiding place, and we’d lose our baseball.
The rules were simple. Score as many as you could, because the other team would get an at bat, and with only one outfielder, a shortstop, and a kid who could barely catch at first base, runs would pile up faster than you can imagine. We’d pick teams, and there was a girl who was pretty good, so she was picked before a couple others. Can’t imagine what that did for a young boy’s ego. And, then, we’d toss the bat to see who was home team…hand over hand over hand until the last hand reached the knob. Being the visitor was akin to the death sentence.
Nonetheless, that’s the stuff of hot, summer days when cicadas started their cacophony before you’d get out of bed. And, shoes were a rarely considered option. Little boys and summer time – playing baseball.
Little League is like that. It’s lived out on an almost make-believe stage in a picturesque town, broadcast worldwide on ESPN. Kids from all over the world come to Williamsport, PA, to compete in the world series. There are kids, cotton candy, moms and dads, and hoards of people bused in from the home town. It’s a pageant. It’s every boy’s dream – for that matter, it’s every grown man’s chance to see the game again through those hot, summer days when the neighbors house marked the foul line and crab apple trees were the home run fence.
But, it’s time for a change.
Little League needs to grow up. Or, at least, the field does. At present, 12 year-old boys are pitching a baseball toward the plate (and the batter) at 46 feet. And, when the batter hits it, he runs a mere 60 feet to first base. The outfield fence has recently been moved back to 225 feet (it was 200′), yet I think it needs to go further – 250 feet would be better.
The distance needs to grow with the boys. When I was a lad, Little League combined boys ages 9-12. Physically, and athletically, that’s a wide spectrum of development. While a Little League field dimensions might be OK for a 9 year-old, they’re way too small for a boy who is 12 (and, in some cases, a recent 13). Just watching the games, I get the feeling that something is askew…the boys are too big for the field. Things just look too small for the kids playing.
So, I know I’ve been critical of an American institution. I suppose I’m upset that the Ugandan team got put out…they were my underdog pick. But, it’s time for Little League to grow up and have a field that fits the players.
A big boy field.