Simulating real game action in indoor venues is very difficult

ASK CAL

March 26, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

I'VE ALWAYS THOUGHT that evaluating a player requires putting them in game situations and seeing how they react rather than just observing a specific skill in practice (e.g., batting practice). Often, in this part of the country, practice is limited to indoor work because of the weather, which limits practice to a lot of skill-type work, which is important but doesn't put the players in a game situation. Do you have any suggestions in creating game-type situations when stuck indoors?

Brad Chelton, Columbus, Ohio

DEAR BRAD / / This is a difficult question, because when you talk about indoor practices, there are so many different venues. Some teams practice in one small gym, some have access to drop-down or permanent batting cages and some rent unused buildings that have enough space to work more on situations. The fact is, however, that most teams that practice inside are limited in terms of space and time. While it is possible to play a hitting game implementing a point system and using pitching machines (with baseballs or dimple balls if you have batting cages or softer foam or plastic balls if you don't), this still is not a real game setting. For most indoor venues, simulating real game action is going to be extremely difficult.

For some reason, many coaches, especially the "travel" team coaches, seem to be in a hurry to pick their teams. I know that teams' seasons are starting earlier than ever and that there are a lot more pre-season tournaments, but I would recommend showing a little more patience when possible and waiting until you can get outside at least once before picking your team. No one is forcing you to pick a team after three indoor practices except you. If someone is, then explain your dilemma to that person. You may even want to take a few extra players that you are not sure about to your first tournament.

If you play in a cold weather market, and the first time you will get outside is in a tournament located in a warmer climate, what is the harm in bringing a few extra kids so that you can be comfortable with your decisions? This should be really helpful to you as long as you explain the situation to those players and their parents. Picking a team and cutting players is difficult enough, so don't rush it. Give yourself every opportunity to make the right decisions.

My 11-year-old son was put on a Little League team called the Yankees. Because of this and other influences, he has become a (ugh) Yankees fan. Now he has his bedroom painted blue with mostly Yankees posters and paraphernalia. My question is, am I being a bad father for allowing and even slightly encouraging this (I admire his determination), or is this just a harmless, rebellious phase kids go through?

Russell Nagel, Ellicott City

DEAR RUSSELL / / Our mission at Ripken Baseball is to grow the game of baseball worldwide. Any time a kid falls in love with the game or a team, I think that's a good thing. Instead of using his love of the Yankees as a point of contention, have fun with it. Assuming that you are an Orioles fan, play up the rivalry between the teams. Talk about the history and why the teams and fans don't like each other. Use the time when the teams are playing each other as time to bond and teach lessons about the game and life. Be a good winner when the Orioles win and shake his hand when they lose.

Even if your son isn't rooting for the same team that you do, sports can be a great opportunity for a father and son to spend quality time together. Use it that way. Remember that kids change their minds all the time. Don't pull your hair out if they root for your favorite team's rival.

A few of the kids in our local PONY League are going to be 14-year-old freshmen in high school. Do you think they should finish their PONY ball before switching to high school ball because of the different base path and pitching distance lengths?

Steve Frush, Hagerstown

DEAR STEVE / / Many kids around the country make the jump to 90-foot base paths when they are as young as 13. Some actually make that jump directly from 60-foot base paths, and the adjustment is extremely difficult. I believe that some intermediate distance, whether it's 70, 75 or 80 feet is extremely beneficial for kids before they make that leap.

The simple answer would be to advise the kids in your league to stick with PONY ball. However, the answer is not that simple. Everyone develops physically at different rates, and some kids at that age are capable of playing successfully on 90-foot bases. It's simply impossible to make a blanket statement about each kid.

I would recommend for each kid to give the high school team a shot while still trying to practice with the local PONY team until cuts are made. Those who are capable will make the team and others will have something to fall back on.

...................... Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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