I was concerned about the effect of playing both Little League and travel ball would have on Rabbit. The six days a week has taken a slight toll, and I have slowly seen some bad habits creeping back. That being said, I am amazed at the dedication he has shown. In the midst of all of this craziness he has maintained his grades at the highest level and still manages to have fun in his spare 6 minutes a day.
So what is the problem?
The kid is 10. He is not supposed to be in Majors. That is usually for 11 and 12 year olds. I wanted him to be up with the better players. I wanted him to be challenged. And, selfishly, I wanted him to be out of pressure situations. I was perfectly happy for him to play 2 innings of outfield and sit the rest of the time. Well, he is firmly entrenched, after only 4 games, as a pitcher and 1B. Still no problem. However, last night he threw 72 pitches over 3 innings. That is a large number. I am frustrated that between the 13 other players we could not find as good an option. No big deal. It is baseball.
However, there is a significant difference between throwing a ball 60 miles per hour and knowing how to pitch. Rabbit can pitch. He cannot throw the ball past kids at this level. He can move a ball around a strike zone and hit the catcher's glove every time. Several of the opposing pitchers last night were throwing the ball as hard as they could, with half of the attempts ending up in or near the strike zone, but the other half hitting the backstop, scorers window, mascot, dugout, etc. That type of irregularity makes it difficult to string together a series of at bats that you can learn from.
And speaking of strike zones, let's spend a minute with the officials. They are painfully unqualified. I can understand missing a judgment call. But these people are often missing technical violations, and the occasional flat out wrong ruling. I want to be clear, I do not feel that they are biased, merely incompetent. At one stretch last night, between the two teams, 21 consecutive pitches that were not swung at were called balls. For two innings the only time a strike was called was if the batter swung. Meanwhile, both pitchers are hitting their targets and both benches were going crazy. Plays on the bases are being called from behind home plate. The umpire did not even make an attempt to position himself properly. Or to pay any attention. Twice players were caught off bases and tagged, but allowed or instructed to return to the base because the ump missed the play. I should understand that we are not getting pros, and that they are doing the best they can. Their best is not nearly good enough to be called competent. Luckily, the umps have yet to decide the outcome of a game, but it is only a matter of time.
Finally, I am still stunned that at this level, when most of the boys have been playing for 3-6 years, at the lack of respect for the game. Whether it is not bringing equipment to the practice or worse yet a game, or bending and breaking rules to get an edge it is frustrating to see how the little league game is played. Players cannot leave the base until the ball crosses home plate. With one umpire, especially of the quality listed above, it is not uncommon for a player to break early and be halfway to the next base by the time the catcher receives the ball. Last night a player from our team scored by sliding between the legs of the opposing catcher. The ball was still in the outfield when the player crossed the plate. I have also seen catchers, in full gear, dive into players coming toward the plate. This is dangerous for both players. And please, it is only the 4th game, how could you possibly have lost equipment by now?
I was unsure if we were going to play Little League this year. We will finish this out, but I am not seeing much hope for next year. Travel ball is not a panacea, some mythic Garden of Eden where everything is right all of the time. It is, however, a much closer approximation to the game of baseball.