This is a topic near and dear to my heart, as my son finished Little League last summer, July 2014, when his LL All Stars season ended. Problem was, he had just finished LL and 6th grade, leaving two full baseball seasons ahead of him (during grades 7 and 8) before he reached high school.
Our Little League has a Senior League for 13-15 year olds on the 60/90 diamond, which he could have played in, but it doesn’t have a great reputation. Likewise, there is a Cal Ripken League nearby, also on the 60/90 diamond, but I knew little about it. Then there are some travel teams, which practice little during the week and play multiple games on weekends, a model that I believe poses excessive injury risk to young pitchers like my son.
One day I came across a friend who is the manager of a Single-A minor league team. He said that since my son is only 13 and was going to have two full seasons ahead of him on the “big field” before high school (during grades 7 and 8), his season during 7th grade would be a “mulligan year”, an “extra year” that many kids do not have after LL (they have only their 8th grade season before high school). He said I should take advantage of my son’s “mulligan year” and just let him adjust to the big field, play first base and outfield (he’s a lefty), work on his batting, and not pitch (yes, not pitch).
I took my friend up on his advice, and this past 2015 season I put my son (while only in 7th grade) on a 14U team run by the local high school coach as a developmental “feeder” team for his high school. The team was all kids out of LL, most of them 14 and in 8th grade, some like my son 13 and in 7th grade. They practiced, trained, and played on the high school 60/90 field, and best of all got to scrimmage with the coach’s high school JV team. Virtually all the pitchers were 14 to 15, some from the high school JV team. So, my son got to bat against older and bigger pitchers than he would have faced on any 13U travel team!
The hardest decision was not letting my son pitch from the 60’ mound at 13. But, after discussing the matter with my Single-A manager friend, my neighbor who is a former DI college pitcher, a former MLB pitcher (pitched in the World Series) who lives in my town, an orthopedic doctor friend who sees many youth pitcher arm injuries, and of course my son, we decided that this past year (during 7th grade) my son would focus on adjusting to the “big field”, throwing the greater distances, position play, and batting, and not pitch.
It has been the best decision we could have made. My son did a lot of throwing - throwing, not pitching - at the greater distances of the 60/90 field, and his arm strength has skyrocketed. When I go out and throw with him, I am astounded at how much harder he is throwing. And, his batting has really taken off, as he has been able to spend more time working on it.
Now that my son has one season under his belt on the “big field”, he’ll be back next year with the same 14U high school “feeder” team for a second season (his 8th grade), and return to the bump at that time.
Like I said, the decision not to pitch from 60’ at 13 was tough. As a lefty, it’s what he does best. But we took the long-term approach, foregoing youth glory for adult health. After watching three of my son’s colleagues sustain elbow and shoulder injuries when they jumped from the 46’ LL mound at 12 to the 60’ mound at 13, I know we made the right decision. My son is strong and healthy, has grown like a weed this past season (growth spurts are not the best time to be pitching anyway), and he is excited to return to the mound next year, still only in 8th grade.
Mariano Rivera didn’t pitch until he was 20. My son is 13.