Dreams of becoming a fireballing pitcher such as the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg can turn into a nightmare of injury and surgery if you overtax your arm at an early age. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Spring is here, so kids around Washington are playing catch.

Throwing a baseball is one of the coolest things in sports. The hard white ball feels just right for throwing. Playing catch can get any kid dreaming of being a fireballing pitcher such as the Nationals’ Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.

But watch out: Pitching can be dangerous. I know, because I just read a book called “The Arm” by sportswriter Jeff Passan. The book, which is not for kids, looks at the huge number of arm injuries in Major League Baseball (MLB) — and among kid pitchers.

Baseball is a game of statistics, so let’s look at some. More than 50 percent of MLB pitchers get hurt and end up on the disabled list during a season, according to Passan.

About 25 percent of MLB pitchers have had Tommy John surgery. This is an operation that repairs or replaces the elbow ligament connecting the upper part of the throwing arm with the lower part. Named after the first pitcher to get it, Tommy John surgery can require 12 to 18 months of recovery. (Soon after joining the Nationals, Strasburg hurt his arm and needed the surgery, which cost him more than a year of playing time.)

But “The Arm” makes it clear that it’s not just pro pitchers who are getting Tommy John surgery. A study found that more than half (56.8 percent) of 790 Tommy John surgeries performed between 2007 and 2011 were done on teenagers.

The reason is that youth baseball, with its travel teams and year-round tournaments and showcases, is pushing kids to pitch too hard, too much and too soon, Passan says.

Again, let’s look the statistics. Studies by the American Sports Medicine Institute, a group that studies sports injuries, found:

•Kids who pitched more than 100 innings during a calendar year were 3 1/2 times as likely to get injured as pitchers who did less throwing.

•Kids who pitch in games more than eight months a year are five times as likely as other pitchers to need surgery.

•Kids who regularly pitched while fatigued — in other words, when they were really tired — were 36 times (!) as likely as other pitchers to undergo shoulder or elbow surgery.

So what are kids who love baseball and pitching — and the parents and coaches of those kids — supposed to do?

First, do not play baseball year-round. Play a variety of sports that will make you a better all-around athlete. Second, limit the number of pitches and innings you throw during any one game and during the year. Take a look at the guidelines in Pitch Smart, an MLB program that Little League has adopted.

Finally, get plenty of rest after you pitch, and never — and I mean never — pitch when you are fatigued. No youth league championship is worth the risk of injury and possible surgery.

You want to play and pitch for a long time. So play ball, but play smart.

Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 21 sports books for kids, including nine baseball books.