Rec league weighs in on too-good pitcher

This Just In...

May 26, 1999|By DAN RODRICKS

Fallston Recreation Council president John Sochurek agrees -- 11-year-old Troy Neville is one very talented baseball player. But, says Sochurek, he threw too fast and swung too hard for his league. His bat and his pitching arm posed a threat to the safety of his 11- and 12-year-old opponents. Officials of the Fallston Baseball Program should have required him to play with older boys, 13 and 14, from the start of the season.

"Normally," says Sochurek in a letter to TJI, "players of Troy's caliber play in the 13-14 age group. However, Troy's parents registered him late into the 11-12 program because he is in the 5th grade and most of his classmates are playing in the 11-12 program. Troy did not play in our program last year and we did not know his talent level. Therefore, Troy was allowed to play in the 11-12 league."

Troy, pitching for the Indians, hit a batter for the Rockies in the head on May 13, in the first game of a round-robin tournament. "The pitch was thrown with such velocity that it split the [batter's] helmet," says Sochurek. The boy fell to the ground and he lay there glassy-eyed for three to four minutes. (The boy did not get up immediately and make for first base; I incorrectly reported that aspect of Indians coach Charlie Bethke's account of the incident in this space Monday.) When the left side of the batter's face swelled, he was driven to a nearby hospital, where a CAT scan was performed. "Luckily," says Sochurek, "the scan did not reveal any damage."

After the game, the Fallston Baseball Program decided that Troy Neville should move up to a 13-14 team. That upset the boy, his coach and his parents. A few days later, a compromise was proposed: Troy could play with his 11-12 team, but he could not pitch and would have to use a wooden bat, instead of an aluminum one. The boy opted not to play.

What he and his parents view as unfair is the timing of the decision. If Troy was such a danger -- he's 5-foot-11, with a powerful bat and a stunning fastball; an opposing coach calls him "phenomenal" -- surely someone must have noticed during the month-long regular season. Why wasn't Troy recommended sooner for the 13-14 level? Taking him out at tournament time is what made the kid feel bad and caused his parents, David and Anne Neville, to beef.

"All we got was a message on the [answering machine]," says Anne Neville. "No one from the league ever spoke to us and explained it. The way they handled it, that was the hurtful thing. . . . During the season no one ever said anything to us about Troy being dangerous. We only heard supportive things." "The primary reason for this decision," explains Sochurek, "was for the safety of the children in the program. . . . We would be negligent if we allowed Troy to continue in the 11-12 program after the incident. Our board would rather have an article written that criticizes our program than have any more children injured. We can sleep at night knowing we have taken the proper steps."

And, to no one's surprise, there's the issue of liability.

"Would our council have been negligent if another boy was hurt and we did nothing about the May 13th incident? I'm quite sure a good lawyer could turn any of these issues around, causing endless hours of heartache to all the [rec council] volunteers involved."

Ah, lawyers. Ah, the age of litigation. I'll tell you what: People have strong and interesting opinions about kids, parents and the dynamics of organized baseball. E-mail writers were evenly split on the Troy Neville episode. Half agreed with the decision to remove him from the 11-12 team. Others saw the decision as poorly timed, and an overreaction. A sampling:

Art Sinclair, longtime sports director at WCBM Radio: "Will Troy's pitching velocity suddenly decrease if he is promoted to a 13-14 league? Do the older kids have harder heads than the 11-12 kids? . . . Penalizing a kid because he has exceptional ability seems fundamentally wrong."

Mike Comeau: "Rec baseball, particularly in-house (as opposed to travel teams or club teams) should be about fun, balanced competition and safety above all else. The compromise suggestion [not letting Troy pitch, making him use a wooden bat] sounded fair. Being the Nolan Ryan of an in-house rec team simply is not that important and, if being on the team with his buddies and playing another position for a couple of weeks is that bad, perhaps something is out of whack. I agree the timing of this maybe isn't the best, but the correct decision late is better than never."

Richard Sherrane, former president, Annapolis Baseball Club: "My experience as a parent and a league administrator is that, while a child may have the physical skills to compete with children two or three years older, the mental and emotional aspects of their game are not at the same level as the physical aspect. . . . I recommend to the parents that they contact one of the Metro League clubs, where it will be possible to keep Troy in his age group but playing with his peers."

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