Hard hit by a youth baseball mishap
Updated: April 26, 2012 11:50AM
As a parent of two boys and a parent who coaches them in youth baseball, I’ve been hit hard by the story of the 12-year-old Oswego boy who died after being hit by baseball while playing catch.
Playing catch is one of the most basic ways to practice baseball. It is an activity boys have done thousands of times in the backyard from the time they can pick up a ball and throw it.
The main point of one of the all-time best baseball movies, “Field of Dreams,” is about playing catch with your dad.
So I’ve been obsessing about this story of the boy who was playing catch, got hit with the ball and died.
Is playing catch so basic, so routine, that it is easy to forget some basic safety rules taught at the earliest age?
The boy who died played on a travel team, which means he was a pretty good baseball player.
I’ve been obsessing about the incident because safety has always been one of my top priorities while coaching kids in baseball.
When my boys were young and just starting out in T-ball and coach-pitch ball, I used to say that the game was not about baseball at that age. It’s about A. making sure no one gets hurt; and B. having fun. If no one got hurt, it was a good game, no matter who won.
As they get older, baseball takes over. But safety is still priority No. 1.
Young boys — 8 to 11-year-olds — have some very unsafe tendencies when they take the field. Let me give you some examples.
When they pick up a ball, they just start throwing to each other not bothering to look if anyone is nearby, if someone is throwing in another direction, or if there is a car or window behind them. You have to teach them to go out in the field away from mom, grandma and parked cars, and that everyone throws in the same direction.
When a boy misses a throw, he tends to chase it first and look later. You have to teach them to make sure no one is throwing in that area before chasing a ball. You have to tell everyone playing catch that if a stray ball comes near them, a player is likely to follow, so stop throwing. Run behind the player warming up is a reminder I try to give them every inning.
When boys get in the rhythm of throwing, sometimes they don’t bother to make sure their partner is looking before they throw. You’ve got to tell them to look and never throw to someone who is not looking.
When a boy picks up a bat, his first instinct is to swing it. So I have this rule: No bat swinging unless you are in the batter’s box, in the on-deck cage, or hitting off a tee when I say “Swing.”
I have a rule for throwing during supervised practices, even for older players. I line them up, put all the baseballs on one side and they throw the ball only when I say, “Ready … throw.” That way, I control when and where the balls fly.
But before practice starts, the boys play catch in order to warm up. Until last week, I figured it was pretty safe for my team of 13- and 14-year-olds.
At this age, they all can catch. For lack of a better term, they can “defend” themselves.
So I am trying to figure out how this poor boy died while playing catch, or warming up, or practicing, as it has been variously described.
Was he distracted and did he turn away? Did he chase a missed ball? Did he forget the basic rule of running behind a player?
I don’t know how it happened and that scares me.
But I do know this: At my next team practice, we review the basic safety rules. I advise every youth coach to do the same.