Smaller teams are better for kids’ baseball

The weather is warmer, and I see kids in my neighborhood playing catch. But these days instead of throwing a baseball around, lots of kids are playing catch with a lacrosse ball and stick.

I like lacrosse. Kids love the game because it is fast-moving and exciting. But baseball is still my favorite sport. So I have been thinking of an idea that might make baseball and softball more fun for kids.

But first, a story.

I coached my daughter’s recreation league softball team for years. The team was not that serious, although we won most of our games and several of the girls went on to play sports in high school.

The game I remember most was our last. The team was undefeated, but the girls were in the eighth grade and getting busy with other activities. Only seven of our players showed up for that final game. I was afraid we would have to forfeit, but the umpire assured us that the rules allowed us to play with seven.

We played with a pitcher, a catcher, three infielders (instead of four) and two outfielders (instead of three). I thought we didn’t stand a chance against our opponent. Much to my surprise, we won.

The biggest surprise was that all the girls declared it was the most fun they had ever had playing softball. Why? With fewer players, they all had to do more: cover more ground in the infield and outfield, hustle to back up throws and make more plays at the bases. Best of all, with only seven kids in the batting order, they got to bat almost every inning.

That’s my idea: When kids are young, there should be fewer players on each team and in the field. Too often, I see well-meaning coaches and parents put an extra 6-year-old outfielder or two in the field so more kids can play. Or draw up a batting order so that every kid gets a turn.

But those coaching decisions mean that more kids spend time standing around waiting for a ball to come their way or waiting for a turn at bat. Not too exciting.

When kids are 8 or even 9 years old, a team should consist of three infielders, two outfielders and — if some kid can’t wait to put on the equipment — a catcher. A pitching machine or a parent should pitch. (Soccer does the same thing for its very young players, with four- and seven-player teams.)

There would be less standing around. Each kid would have more of a chance to throw, run, catch and swing.

With smaller teams, baseball and softball might become as action-packed as lacrosse.

Fred Bowen writes KidsPost’s sports cpinion column and is the author of sports books for kids, including eight about his favorite sport.

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