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Forget Williamsport, these kids need more field time

Column by Steve Yingling

What are South Lake Tahoe Little League players’ best-known attributes?

Their short attention spans?

How about their use of wool gloves instead of the leather variety?

What about their ability to execute the hit and slide?

Little League baseball is serious to those who play the sport, but the season, like the campaigns several other towns around the lake experience, is a joke.

Players and coaches are expected to teach the game of baseball in a compressed six-week period – two months if they’re lucky. As one of the tougher team sports to master in our society, baseball’s learning curve is more conducive to seasonal play or day-to-day instruction.

But that’s not plausible in our mountain community where winter’s unpredictable hand often reaches into late April and May, as it did this year.

Because the opening of Little League was pushed back to the beginning of May, players were expected to pack an 18-game regular season into a six-week period, followed by league playoffs and all-star tournaments.

“With the way the weather went this year, the season happened so fast because we had to play so many games in such little time. It was frustrating for a lot of coaches and the kids, too,” said South Tahoe Little League President Fred Mercado.

Why not stretch the season as Little League coach Jack L. Harrington is recommending? The fields are available. How many times do you drive by the Little League fields on Rufus Allen Boulevard in mid-to-late July and seen them deserted?

Harrington, a former University of Southern California pitcher, suggests that the season begin in early to mid-May and extend through July or later.

Consequently, South Tahoe players would no longer participate in the postseason all-star tournaments in Reno and Carson City.

Instead, Harrington proposes that Little-League all-stars from around the lake participate in a season-ending tournament.

“That would make it a lot more fun and healthier for our kids, and we wouldn’t have to end the season by the end of June,” Harrington said. “I don’t like shutting off (97) percent of Little League early so 3 percent can go down to Reno and get beat up. This way, a majority of our kids would get to play longer and in better weather and get to play in an all-star situation.”

It should be noted, though, that Tahoe teams made a solid representation in recent all-star tournaments. All three all-star teams won two of four games.

The only drawback with the late-and-longer season is that players won’t be eligible to qualify for the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Not that it should be a concern since Tahoe clubs’ only view of the August Classic has been from the big box in their living rooms.

“I don’t know what the answer is to be quite honest. Anything we do there is going to be conflicts and people upset with the decision, but it doesn’t hurt to change,” Mercado said.

Mercado and the league’s 14-member board enacted change this past season when teams were required to play three games per week for a stretch to complete the season.

“That really changed the nature of the pitching because most major teams had two really strong pitchers. Some had three, but all of a sudden teams found somebody who they didn’t think could pitch that could. A lot of people really enjoyed it,” Mercado said.

Later this month, the league board will begin discussions about a proposed split from all-star competition and the possibility of instituting a lake-wide series.

“Jack wants to get as much baseball in as possible, and that’s understandable. We’ve talked to Truckee and North Tahoe board members and maybe even Placerville about doing a lake series because we’re more on par with those teams,” Mercado said.

At the very least, the league expects to push back the start of the season into early or mid-May.

“The last few years we’ve always started in April, but it’s so cold then that when the kids hit the ball their hands vibrate off the metal bats. We would like to go later, too, but then people have vacations, too,” Mercado said.

Oftentimes tradition is difficult to change, but at the same time baseball isn’t meant to be played in a six-week season. After all, the big-leaguers play 162 regular-season games while no other major sport exceeds 82.

If I had a vote, it would be cast for the lake-wide series.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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