Youth baseball groups at odds

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson The Clovis Little League organizations, right, and the Clovis Baseball Association had signups on Saturday at the Master’s Center. The Clovis Baseball Association hopes to increase participation through United States Specialty Sports Association affiliation.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

While it’s not exactly a “basebrawl,” a difference of opinion is making its mark before the first pitches are thrown this youth baseball season.

At odds are the upstart Clovis Baseball Association, aligned with the United States Specialty Sports Association, and the long-standing Little League organizations in Clovis, American and Zia.

Proponents of USSSA baseball, largely high school baseball coaches, say the program offers flexibility on a local level, more opportunity for players and a smoother transition into the high school game — an area where Clovis is the only New Mexico 5A school with only Little League as its feeder program.

Those affiliated with Little League fear USSSA would be cost-prohibitive, and they would prefer to stand behind a local track record that dates back to the 1950s.

Players who join Little League pay a $55 entry fee and are placed on a team with a chance to make their league’s all-star squad and play in the tri-county tournament. The CBA has a $40 registration, with a team fee of $400, and can travel to or host weekend tournaments.

Drew Hatley, an assistant baseball coach at Clovis High School and the president of the Clovis Baseball Association, felt minds would change like his did last year when he first saw a USSSA tournament in Texas.

Hatley said he saw pre-teen runners taking leads, which isn’t allowed in Little League. As a result, Hatley said, pitchers have pick-off moves and infielders are holding runners on, instead of waiting until high school to learn those skills.

“It’s like playing flag football until you’re a sophomore in high school,” Hatley said.

With USSSA, Hatley said, leagues can change rules to conform to a Little League style of play, and allow leading off at any age. The CBA allows “open bases” for its 10-and-under division.

Other rules could be changed by local boards, including time limits and pitch limits.

Andy Cox, who has been involved with Clovis Little League for 20 years, thinks the rules of Little League are designed to protect kids and keep games entertaining.

“You’re going to have a hard time throwing all of those kids out,” Cox said. “You’re just going to have a snowball fight.”

Cox said if the answer is to conform a USSSA league to Little League standards, there’s nothing gained by leaving Little League and its track record in Clovis.

Also, he said, the wrong combination on a board could lead to local rule changes that backfire.

“Sometimes they’re not thinking about the kids,” Cox said.

Members of the CBA said they want to make the switch because it benefits youth in the long run. High school coaches point to the jump players have to make when they turn 13 and go from Little League fields (60 feet from base to base, 46 feet from the mound to home plate) to Major League Baseball sizes (90 feet between bases and 60.5 feet mound to home).

With USSSA, Clovis High coach Greg Hill said, there are options to change distances incrementally so players aren’t quickly discouraged.

Cox agreed there’s a jump, but said kids usually pick up the game by mid-season. And he’s not ready to leave Little League for a few rule changes.

“That’s a global organization,” Cox said. “We (also) just got information in the last couple of weeks that Little League is doing a pilot program for the 70-foot diamond for the 12- to 13-year-old kids.

“I couldn’t see enough gain to change our league.”

Hill and others call the pilot program a token move that doesn’t address other issues.

Sammy Cordova of Clovis has coached in both Little League and USSSA. He likes both leagues but fears USSSA would be more cost-prohibitive when players travel for tournaments.

“You’re spending $800 just on a weekend,” Cordova said, listing registration fees, lodging and meals. “It’s hard for a lot of people to afford that.”

Hatley said weekend tournaments aren’t required, and would not interfere with local league play. The key, he said, is the opportunity is there if kids want it.

Bobby Light, who has spent 51 years in Little League and is currently the assistant district administrator, said “everybody’s got to make their own choice.” As far as youth being under-prepared, he said coaches need to take some accountability.

“If they would work with Little League like they’re talking about (with USSSA), it would have been a lot better Little League program,” Light said.

Hill said whatever league parents and players choose, high school coaches owe kids that presence. But he feels people are simply arguing over what patch the players have on their uniforms.

ON THE WEB
Little League:
www.littleleague.org
Clovis Baseball Association: www.clovisbaseball.com
USSSA Baseball: www.usssabaseball.org