It seems like every baseball article or website out there is talking about Tommy John surgery. The increase in the procedure and the ages of which it is happening has raised a lot of concern in youth baseball. There are several experts out there looking at what is causing players to go under the knife at such young ages. Rather than focusing on pitch counts, overuse, curve balls, mechanics, workouts, crazy coaches, weighted balls, etc… I want to bring up a few things that get overlooked but may have an impact on the Tommy John epidemic. One word – Inconsistency
If you’ve ever attended a youth baseball tournament or game, you know that there is a very small chance that the mound in one game looks anything like the mound in the previous game. Some venues have dirt mounds, some have turf mounds, and some don’t have a mound at all. The dirt mounds are very rarely taken care of so holes and stability become an issue while pitching. This lack of consistency can cause pitchers to manipulate their mechanics, increasing stress on vital areas like the elbow or shoulder.
Just like the mounds in youth baseball, the actual baseball itself can vary from tournament to tournament or even game to game or pitch to pitch. Most games start with a new ball but as the game goes on, baseballs get scuffed, exchanged for less than perfect balls, and sometimes even a slightly heavier ball makes its way in there. The inconsistent feel of the baseball can cause pitchers to grip the ball slightly different or tighter than usual. Once again putting more stress on areas of the arm that are prone to injury.
Pitchers have three tools that they use while pitching, a mound, a baseball, and in some cases, a rosin bag. If these three things are inconsistent from pitch to pitch or outing to outing, then we should expect injury or a breakdown at some point,right? Add the fact that we are asking our kids to throw more pitches in more games in longer seasons, it is no wonder that injuries are happening at a rapid pace in the U.S. We are exposing them to more inconsistent environments. As you reach higher levels in baseball, these things start to become more and more consistent. In professional baseball, every mound is nearly identical, groomed prior to each game. Baseballs get exchanged if there is any chance of a scuff. It is not a perfect environment but dang close.
So what can we do about these inconsistencies at the youth level? It would be an enormous task to try and regulate every mound and every ball. At this point, I think the best we can do is to be aware of it. Teach our kids to throw a pitch when they feel comfortable. If a mound is bad, do some maintenance work on it, if a ball is bad ask the umpire for a new one. If you feel comfortable using a rosin bag, buy one and take it in the game with you. In my opinion, the more consistent a pitcher is with their tools, the lower the risk for injury.
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