ARCADIA LITTLE LEAGUE BLOG
By Dominic Verstegen 


CAN I PITCH? ... 4.28.17

I hear the words as I fall asleep at night. And when I awaken from various nightmares.

I've been coaching Little League for several years. Ever since we introduced kid pitching into the game around age 8, all the kids on my team have wanted to pitch. No matter how bad they are at pitching.

Like, one time I let a particularly pitching-challenged kid throw to a few batters. He threw 16 straight balls, give or take. I went out to the mound to change pitchers, and as I was walking off with him, he said that was fun, and asked when he was going to pitch again.

Ever since then, like many other coaches, I've told the kids not to ask to pitch, or to play any particular position. Stop me if you've had this back and forth then:

Can I pitch?

No. If you ask to pitch, you definitely won't pitch.

Can I not pitch?

Hilarious. You're off the team. I hate you and your family.


I always tried to let every kid on my team pitch, at least once a year, until I started coaching in the Majors division. That's tough, and not something every coach does, even though we don't keep standings in the younger divisions. 

It's difficult to criticize any coach's decision about who and where to play the kids. We're all trying to find the right competitive balance. It's OK to try to win the game, and part of that is batting the good hitters early in the lineup, and pitching the little superstars. But it's also important to give every kid a chance, and develop an interest in the game, which is hard to do if a kid is relegated to right field the whole season.

Again, there is no definitive right or wrong answer. Certain kids just aren't put on this Earth to pitch. Just like I wasn't put on this Earth dance. That doesn't mean I don't want to dance. There have been a couple of weddings I've attended where near the end of the night, I've apparently expressed an aggressive desire to set my wings free and fly despite no assurance from anyone that my doing so was appreciated or even acceptable.

The point is that it's tough - all kids seem to want to pitch, including some that maybe aren't cut out for it. Hopefully we as coaches and parents can navigate that in such a way to manage the kids' expectations, give them some opportunities somewhere, and keep them interested in the game.

And hopefully I learn to control myself when Celine Dion is played at my nephew's wedding this fall.
             


THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR SEASON (IS HERE).... 3.13.17

The 2017 Little League season is here! The first games are Monday, March 13, and the week wraps up with a huge parade and celebration on Saturday, March 18. The parade starts at Tavan Elementary School at 8 a.m., travels down Osborn to Ingleside where each team will be announced as they enter. There is a party at Ingleside afterward, with bouncy houses and food for the whole family.

This is all part of the 60th Anniversary Celebration for Arcadia Little League - although this may once again become an annual event.

A lot has changed in 60 years. When the league first started in 1957, kids would ride their bicycles to the fields, maybe with a baseball card pattering against the spokes. That continued through the '80s when I was in Little League, still wearing jeans to the diamond - even on picture day. 

It wasn't long after that when kids started to look the part a little more, first wearing batting gloves and baseball pants, and eventually all sorts of important accessories including rope necklaces and camo compression sleeves. 

Changes in youth sports generally have also affected our league we used to have players continue in Little League until they were 14 years old or even older; now most kids' last year is their second year of Majors, when they're 12 years old, as more kids shift to club baseball even as young as age 9 or 10.    

Through all the changes, though, baseball has remained. The game is still the game. Like Terence Mann said in the all-time classic, Field of Dreams,

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come." (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwB7fRI-jp8)

So even though the bats and gloves are $300 engineered pieces of art, and the kids get post-game treats instead of post-game jobs and cigarettes, the game is still the game. It's hard to imagine anything else turning 60 being so beautiful. (Except for Vanna White, who is also turning 60 and remains an angel).

Who knows what changes lie ahead. Perhaps advanced statistics will trickle down to Little League, and we'll implement aggressive defensive shifts to keep down opponents' wRC+.  Perhaps the kids will start wearing even more accessories, like fanny packs or slankets. 

All we know is that the game will remain. Come celebrate with us.


PERFECT PRACTICE POINTERS... 2.15.17

Practices are officially underway for our 2017 season!  It's not just the players who are rusty; it's the coaches, too. Here are some tips for how to make the most out of those crucial pre-season practices to ensure your Little League team isn't the worst team in the history of the league.

First practice speech - Talk to the kids about all the important things right off the top. They may never listen again. My kids are usually well behaved for about the first 30 minutes of the first practice. By the second week they've stopped listening to me altogether. And by the end of the season, several have formed street gangs and illicit side businesses. Luckily, in the first 15 minutes of the season, I already set their expectations, explained our team philosophy (try hard and have fun), and even snuck in some baseball instruction so the knuckleheads learned something at some point during the season.

YouTube - Half of Little League coaches consider themselves the world's foremost expert on youth baseball instruction. The other half is slightly terrified and is worried the kids will discover that they're frauds who don't know anything about the game. Fortunately, for those of you who fall into the latter group, YouTube has a million clips and videos with drills to use, general coaching advice, and stuff like Domingo Ayala (https://www.youtube.com/user/DomingoAyala), a "YouTube star" who disguises instruction in funny sketches that even moms and dads will find funny.

Diamondbacks Seminars - If YouTube isn't enough, what about attending one of the free, first-class seminars the Diamondbacks put on to help coaches learn to coach (https://web-secure.mlb.com/campaign/gfi/?dir=ari_coachclinic&c_id=ari)?  You know, people don't rate the DBacks farm system very high. But with their substantial investment in Arizona Little Leagues (providing jerseys, camps for the kids, and free instruction for the coaches), maybe they're just taking advantage of a market inefficiency and focusing on even younger athletes than other teams, leading to a string of championships in the 2030s?  Have you considered that, ESPN's Keith Law?

Music - Playing Little League teaches the kids about more than just baseball; it teaches them about life. A big, if not the biggest, part of life is 80's and 90's rock and roll. Therefore, my players always know not just the proper mechanics to field a grounder at the end of the season; they also know who Guns n' Roses and Prince are because we're rocking out to them during practice, which makes everything more awesome.

Break it Down - My son is a catcher. I told him about 418 times to get in front of outside balls. Much to my dismay, he consistently ignored this sound advice. Then one time another coach told him to point his left knee sideways and push off to get in front of outside balls. He immediately understood and started doing that. The lessons:  1) breaking down the simplest of tasks to even simpler tasks helps kids understand; and 2) I'll probably die of frustration if that's a thing.

Stations - One kid hitting and 11 kids shagging balls isn't the best way to maximize the kids' skill development. Having several different hitting and/or fielding stations going at once gets the kids more time on the ball, and interested because they're not standing around doing nothing. You'll need the help of other parents, but that's a good thing. Like Yogi Berra said, "Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets."

Keep score - It's hard to get the knuckleheads to try hard during practice sometimes. If you make a game out of the activities, you can fool them into doing it. How many catches in a row?  Who can do something the fastest?  Why do you think it's cool to wear flat brimmed hats?

Fun - At the end of the day, it's all about having fun. They'll keep coming back to the sport if they have fun while doing it. Take some time to play king of the bases, take BP from the edge of the grass for a home run derby, or read them hilarious blogs about little League baseball. Do whatever you can to keep it light, and keep it fun.  



TRYOUTS - Who is the Most Nervous?   1.25.17

Tryouts for this Little League season are here! On the mornings of January 28, and February 4, 300+ kids in the older divisions will work their way through a 1-2 minute baseball tryout exercise where they attempt to field a few flies and grounders, pitch, hit, and throw a couple of balls as best they can. They'll do this in front of a horde of onlookers; including coaches, fellow players, and parents. 

If that sounds stressful, you're right! But who is under the most stress? Let's take a look.

PLAYERS:
Catching, throwing, and hitting a baseball or softball is fun, but obviously a little difficult. Fielding a ball with a crowd of prospective coaches evaluating your every move is crazy difficult. Like, figuring out the kids' 34-button video game controllers difficult.

And have you tried to catch a fly ball lately? I went out to the outfield during an early season practice last spring to give the kids some instruction, and when that first fly ball was sent my direction, I had about as good of an idea of where it was going as I do when my wife says, "Do you remember what I told you about what I wanted for our anniversary this year?"

Bless these kids' hearts. This situation has the potential to cause unlawful amounts of anxiety. 

Fortunately, at least for the boys, they probably hardly notice because their minds are filled only with dreams of YouTube stardom for when they flip a water bottle onto its cap or some such nonsense.

PARENTS:
Being a parent while your son or daughter is running through the tryout gauntlet is rough. You know that everyone at the field at that moment is solely focused on your son or daughter's performance, and considers their performance to be a direct reflection of the quality of your parenting and your own athletic prowess. 

Well, maybe they're not thinking that. Heck, maybe they're not even paying attention to anyone but their own child. After all, you didn't even notice the other kids trying out before your son or daughter. Frankly, you're just wondering how they got that many kids to stand there in line without someone fighting, or just the pure volume exceeding a legal amount.

COACHES:
I'm one of the coaches who gets to sit there and evaluate all the kids as they field a couple of fly balls, ground balls, pitch and hit. Based on their performance over about a minute or two, I'm supposed to grade them accurately enough so that when the draft happens, I don't wind up with a terrible team, thereby making the whole season a long one for the kids and parents.

The problem is that after about two kids, they all look the same. You can only field a grounder so well or so poorly. And the fly balls? As I noted above, the first fly ball you see after months away from the game is a mystery deeper than Drake's popularity. So even if a kid catches the first fly ball, you can't trust it. Sure, there are a couple of little superstars who are better at baseball and softball than is normal and they catch these balls as effortlessly as Taylor Swift glides across our cultural landscape. But they're the exception.

Evaluating the kids is tough. Fortunately, so long as you look serious and maybe scribble some doodles on the sheet they give you, it looks like you know what you're doing, and it all works out in the end.

BOARD MEMBERS & VOLUNTEERS:
You scoff at this one. How could a disinterested volunteer have any anxiety at tryouts? Well, you try being the person who has to tell an angry parent that wants their child to play up a division, play down a division, play with Jimmy, or not with Johnny, that those things aren't possible. Reasonable people can turn into lunatic politicians in the blink of an eye when you have to pass along bad news about their kid. 

Beyond that, there's just those of us in charge of herding the children into lines, hitting grounders to the kids cleanly and evenly, and catching their pitches, trying to protect those nearby, and ourselves, from their occasionally errant throws. 

So there is some anxiety even for the volunteers who you wouldn't even think would be nervous. 

At the end of the day, there's probably no reason to be nervous for tryouts. And even if you are, dealing with that is a good life lesson, just like so many baseball things. 


Top 10 Gifts for Your Little Leaguer... 12.16.16
Please visit our Amazon Store - to purchase any gifts. Arcadia Little League will receive a portion of your purchase!

#10.  Bat
Probably the coolest thing you can get your Little Leaguer is a shiny new bat. Gone are the days of those simple dented gray cylinder we used to use.  Nowadays, the kids are using composite bats that feel like a summer's day at the beach when you make contact, and look shiny and complicated. Of course, these bats can exceed $300 in price, which is pretty needless until the kids get to be older  like 25 in my book. Well, no. We actually broke down when our son was 10. His whole team used it except for him. He preferred some other kid's shiny orange bat. Lesson: Kids are weird.

 #9. Helmet
Just like bats, helmets have been seriously upgraded since the 80's. Kids don't share a couple of team helmets anymore. Everyone gets their own. And they come in in any color and finish you want, from shiny, to matte, to camo. Be careful if you order a shiny one, though. Surprisingly, our children aren't as careful as you'd expect with their helmets as they return to the dugout, and they tend to get kicked/scuffed/thrown, or somehow just lost altogether.

#8. Batting gloves
Settle down, you say.  Not looking to spend a fortune, but still wanting to stoke the flames of passion for baseball and the quickly approaching Little League season?  Batting gloves are the perfect solution.  And really, with how gross the kids are, getting them some gloves to just wear around the house isn't a terrible idea, either.

 #7. Tee
There's almost no better practice than hitting off a tee.  And it's a scientific fact that there's nothing more fun than hitting a baseball. Getting a tee may just fool your kids into practicing. A perfect gift.

#6. Baseball cards
A terrific stocking stuffer. There's something about opening up a pack of baseball cards that is exciting, and can plant the seeds of real fandom. And with how the Diamondbacks did last year, we can use all the help we can get in stoking fandom.

#5. Cleats
Spending money on cleats that your son or daughter will surely outgrow in a few months isn't fun. But knocking out one round of new cleats as a Christmas present helps. It's like how my parents used to wrap up underwear for Christmas, only cleats aren't as embarrassing to try on in front of the extended family.

#4. Bat bag
Those helmets, bats and dill pickle flavored sunflower seeds aren't carrying themselves. A cool new bat bag might just encourage the kids to organize their stuff. Bonus: If your kid is a catcher and you get one of those huge catcher bat bags, you can use it to store certain patio furniture in the off season.

#3. Glove
Not surprisingly, gloves cost more than small cars nowadays.  But they have some really cool designs, and you can even customize them, so it's definitely worth it.  Pro-tip: Consider buying a used glove on eBay or at a local secondhand shop to save yourself the time and inevitable frustration of trying to break in your new $400 glove.

#2. Net/cage
A net to pitch and hit into is a great training aid, especially when the kids outgrow the soft/waffle balls they can hit in the yard. We went ahead and sprang for a complete batting cage so we can hit live pitching or off a machine. When we first put it up, it was so much fun that we forgot to give our kids a turn for over an hour. Look, Mommy and Daddy need gifts, too, kids, and that handmade card with a certificate for a free hug isn't doing the trick.

#1. Weird arm sleeve
Kids love those needless compression arm sleeves. We got one for our son and he started wearing it around the house, so we told him to only wear it when he actually needed it. He never wore it again.


IT'S ABOUT THAT TIME... 11.15.16
It's only two months until tryouts and the beginning of the Little League season. That means it's time to dust off the gloves and bats and work the kids back into regular season shape. Unless your son or daughter is on a club team and they already are.

Participation in club sports has been growing at a rapid rate for the last 20 years. Kids used to join club teams when they were older. Nowadays, there are club baseball and softball teams for 9 year olds.

There are pluses and minuses to this. Having these options is great for kids and families who want to play baseball or softball more than during just the regular Little League season.

On the other hand, many people believe that kids should play different sports and participate in a range of activities. Club sports, with their longer seasons and greater time commitments, discourage that. The balance many people strike is doing one club sport and still participating in other activities, too. That makes for a busy schedule for our kids. But that's fine  if they were home more, it would just mean more bottle flipping and we certainly don't need that. 

Fortunately, most of the kids that play club baseball from our area still play Little League, either instead of, or in addition to, club baseball. That's good for the league, and good for the kids who get to play with their friends from the neighborhood and school. Sure, the kids who play club ball may have a higher skill level than the kids who don't because of all the extra practice they're getting. But is it so bad to be one of the best kids on the team?... No really, is it?  I personally have no idea.

There's something special and different about Little League  playing in the neighborhood, with and against your buddies, having a chance to play in the District and State Tournaments with all that pomp and circumstance, and maybe even in the Little League World Series on ESPN. It's a big deal. And it's right around the corner.


WELCOME BACK... 10.20.16
Welcome to Arcadia Little League. It's October, which means that we're gearing up for the 2017 season. Registration is open and tryouts for the older divisions are just around the corner. By the first week of February, we'll have 800+ kids on baseball and softball teams, starting another great season. 
 
2016 was a great year. The highlight of the year was probably our "Little League" team (the 12 and under age division, whose Little League World Series ends up on TV) making it all the way to the state championship game, further than any other team in our League's history! 
 
Obviously any run to the state championship game is exciting. But all our boys had cool nicknames, like Rhino, Daytime, and Kansas City, so the experience was even more amazing.  I've personally tried to give myself a nickname several times over the years, once trying to get people to call me "Sweet Music."  I even got a personalized license plate that said "SWTMUSC," but people just called me Sweat Musk.
 
At any rate, the 12 year olds' run to the state championship was very exciting for those boys and their families, and the league as a whole. In addition, 3 of our other 4 all star teams advanced to their state tournaments, again a first for the league; the kind of top to bottom success reminiscent of the 1990s Yankees' teams, this year's Chicago Cubs lineup, and any album Taylor Swift decides to grace us with.
 
That success was made possible by all the kids playing in the younger ranks, and the terrific parents and coaches teaching our kids the game. There wouldn't be 10, 11 and 12 year olds playing in the state tournament without 4, 5 and 6 year olds playing t-ball and coach pitch.  
 
And after all, success isn't just measured by how many games our all star teams win; it's all the kids learning the game, making friends, and getting some quality pictures for their parents' Facebook pages.
 
Here's hoping for more of the same this season. 

 
NEW BEGINNINGS... 10.15.16  
We have a couple of new things this season. First, we have a new League President. David Davis stepped down after three great years at the helm. Jack Krawczyk was elected as the new President. Jack is an ARLL alum, has served on the Board for several years, coaches high school and club teams, and has three kids still playing in the league.  He might be the most qualified League President in the history of league presidents.
 
We also have this fancy new website.  Some of the great things about it include:
  • It looks cool.  As a parent of a Little Leaguer who wore a single brightly colored camo arm sleeve, even as the temps rose above 100, I can attest that looking cool is very important. 

  • Second, the website is super functional. You'll be able to do your registration completely online, saving you the trip to show your child's birth certificate and 18 forms of ID in person. Isn't the future amazing? 

  • Lastly, the website features this little blog deal. I'll be writing about all things Little League, so check back periodically for updates, or follow ARLL on Facebook and Twitter. 
 


Early Registration - Coming Soon
Arcadia Little League
4340 E Indian School Rd, Suite 21-228
Phoenix AZ 85018

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