February 9, 2014

DPRD returns pitching machines for more leagues

More than 18 walks a game.

Officials at the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department say they found that was happening in the softball and baseball games played in their youngest leagues that allow pitching during the past two years — games that might last four innings.

“Basically, the only players seeing any action are the pitchers and the catchers,” DPRD Director Steve Card said.

And the catchers, he said, were mostly walking to the backstop to pick up the ball.

Many youth are choosing to take part in more competitive sports at a younger age, Card said. The abundance of such teams — referred to as select or travel teams because they generally travel regionally or farther to take part in tournaments — mean that many of the most talented players are not in local recreation leagues anymore.

“With the growth of travel ball, the pitchers just aren’t there,” Card said. “The batters aren’t getting many pitches to swing at, and the players out in the field aren’t seeing any action.”

The DPRD’s youngest baseball and softball players — ages 4 and 5 — hit off of a tee. They make the transition to hitting pitches at age 6. Officials worried that the previously mentioned difficulties with pitching were making the games less fun for the players and that it could discourage them from continuing in the sport.

The department had not used pitching machines in more than a decade before bringing them back last year for 6-year-olds, which they say worked out well.

“This year we are bringing back pitching machines for softball 10-and-under and baseball 9-and-under,” said Steve Roberts, the department’s youth sports supervisor. “The pitching machine will consistently throw strikes. A pitching machine game will go six innings, an hour and 15 minutes. There are maybe four strikeouts in a game and no walks. Everything will be happening out on the field. The kids will get to hit the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball.”

Card said the change will allow players to get better at those aspects of the game.

This year, 6- and 7-year-olds and 8- and 9-year-olds will play baseball with the pitching machine, while those 10 and older will play with live-arm pitching in county-wide play. And 6- and 7-year-olds and 8- to 10-year-olds will play softball with the pitching machine, while 11-12-year-olds will play with live-arm pitching in county-wide play.

“Over 95 percent of our kids aren’t going to play high school baseball,” Card said. “So we hope that by making this change, by creating more action for them, we make the time that they do spend playing baseball more enjoyable.”

Officials say that with so many sports to choose from in the spring, making the games more action-filled and keeping the players involved is a key to sustaining the baseball and softball programs. Young players have long been able to play soccer, and this year the recreation department plans to expand its youth lacrosse program and also hold two track and field meets. In addition, they are looking at setting up both youth and adult dodgeball.

“We’ve done some of these (sports) in the past, but our programs have never been this expansive,” Card said.

Registration for DPRD youth baseball and softball is currently underway and will run through Friday. Registration is available online at mydprd.com or in person at the John Davis Recreation Center at 904 Civic Drive. The programs are free. To learn more, call Roberts at (706) 463-2860.

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