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July 28, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, July 28, 2004

PONY baseball: Playing by different rules PONY baseball: Playing by different rules (July 28, 2004)

Pitching is one of the key areas of difference between Little League and PONY baseball.

In Little League, kids don't pitch until they are 9 years old, for safety reasons, says Maureen Brown, president of the Alpine-West Menlo Little League.

Kerry Bradford, president of the Menlo-Atherton Little League, says he doesn't think there's much benefit to kids pitching at younger ages.

"Kids have no control over ball direction at that age," he says.

Games where 9- and 10-year-olds are learning to pitch are "some of the worst games in youth baseball. They're loaded with walks," he says.

Little League has a pitching-machine division between T-ball for the very young and Minors Division for the older kids for that reason, Mr. Bradford says.

In PONY, kids begin pitching at the 7- 8-year-old level. When PONY first introduced pitching at the 7- 8-year-old level, it was a little difficult, says Abel Hernandez, the Northern California division director for PONY.

"You had some big scores," he acknowledges. "Now, championship games at the 7- 8-year-old level have scores like 2-1, or 4-2. The children are making plays and having a great time. Children grasp everything (more easily) at a younger age than they do at an older age."

PONY players also get to do more base-stealing at younger ages than their Little League counterparts, thanks to having younger pitchers. It's one of the reasons PONY bills itself as "real baseball," says Mr. Hernandez.

Two other differences between Little League and PONY baseball include age groups and field dimensions.

Age groups

Little League teams can have a broader age range. For instance, Little League Majors Division teams can have players ages 9-12, but on PONY teams, players would be divided into 9- and 10-year olds, and 11- and 12-year olds.

Whether to continue the practice of drafting promising 9-year-olds onto Majors teams or "playing up" is going to be taken up by Alpine-West Menlo Little League this fall, says Ms. Brown.

On the pro side of the issue, the younger kids can learn a tremendous amount by practicing with the older kids, and from a team-management point of view, it's good to have some of your 12 team members who expect to sit out half of the game, she says. All team members must play a minimum of three innings per six-inning game.

On the con side, there are safety issues to consider when you have small 9-year-olds playing against big 12-year-olds, Ms. Brown says. Baseball is the most dangerous youth sport, and kids have to stay focused when there's a hard, round object coming at their heads at 65 mph thrown by 12-year-olds, she says.

"I really believe it depends on the kid," she says. "Some really do benefit from playing with older kids."

As far as PONY is concerned, kids aren't allowed to "play up," says Mr. Hernandez.

"When you start adding more age groups, the younger kids don't have anything in common with the older kids," he says.

Field dimensions

For ages 12 and under, Little Leaguers play on a diamond where the bases are 60 feet apart, and move to the full-size diamond with 90 feet between bases for players older than 12.

"That's a huge jump for the kids throwing to the bases," says Mr. Bradford. "One of the really good things (about PONY) that's different from Little League is they advance the kids in steps."

PONY players go from 60 feet to 90 feet between bases in 10-foot increments over several years.

INFORMATION

For information about PONY baseball, go to www.pony.org. For Little League, go to www.littleleague.org. Contact Alpine-West Menlo Little League via e-mail, [email protected] The Menlo-Atherton Little League information number is 324-8323.


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