When I began playing baseball, there was no color TV; ESPN was simply ESP — and it dealt with reading minds.
Little League Baseball of America was seven years old (it’s now 65) and those of us lucky enough to play wore flannel jerseys, had batting “helmets” that were more like earphones and used wooden bats.
If we broke our bat, nails were employed and electrical tape became the new grip.
Baseball shoes? My 1957 Little League picture shows 11 of us in sneakers.
Bat bags? Hmmmm. Guess we never heard of those.
Pitcher Joey Jay — the first bonus baby in baseball — was the first Little Leaguer to break into the majors. The Milwaukee Braves paid him $20,000 to sign in 1953.
Oh, and the distances between bases? I remember them being far apart — but always the same distance away.
Sure, things have changed. I don’t need to tell you how. (Note to dads: Next time you spend $219 on your kids’ A2000 fielder’s glove, know that my Alvin Dark model Spalding cost $3.10. I fielded like it was worth every penny.)
But in watching and coaching more than my share of youth baseball over the past gazillion seasons, it’s interesting to point out what a panoply of baseball is available to our kids today.
In 1957, it was Little League followed by Pony League or rec league followed by high school. For a 12-year-old, it was 46 feet from pitcher’s rubber to home and 60 feet on the base paths — period, next sport.
When the Davis Wolf Pack, a bunch of solid U13 players, ventures into Little League’s Section 1 tournament next month, it will mark at least the fourth field with different dimensions on which guys like young Jonah Watts have played in the past nine months.
You see, Little League has come up with a new division, called 50-70. Open to kids 11-13, it is designed to ease would-be Derek Jeters into the greater distances.
It is also feeling its way to acceptance. Little League apparently still wrestles with its dynamics.
In Little League, our kids get a nice run on comfortable, smaller fields.
Travel teams, which have blossomed into competition for young baseball talent, play at exaggerated distances — 54-80 being a common reading.
Once a player is 13, DLL offers him Junior League and everlasting dimensions of 60-6 and 90 feet.
Now, thanks to Little League of America comes the 50-70 division.
So new, so confusing is this new “standard,” that no one in our District 64 cared to form a single team and the Northern California Little Leagues are still trying to decide where the Section 1 tournament will be played — even though a handful of districts are having their 50-70 gatherings as we speak.
For coach Tyler Gibson’s Wolf Pack, a phone call a few weeks ago evolved into the team getting the green light from Little League officials to enter the tournament — despite not having played a single official Little League inning this spring.
There’s nothing wrong with the Wolf Pack joining in. I think it’s a moment for the ages — the first district crown won by osmosis — but it shows clearly that more homework needs to be done on this 50-70 thing. Little League, for all its good intentions, may have muddied water that is already murky when it comes to competing with travel ball defections. (More about that at a later date.)
Another consideration is field availability. It costs money to designate a separate field for the new dimensions.
And money is a social roadblock for some districts. Inner-city baseball numbers are dwindling. When kids believe a $250 bat, $150 cleats and a $220 glove are imperative to play at even the lowest levels of Little League, those without the wherewithal to finance such a buy-in choose another sport.
For now, our mystical District 64 champs — assistant coach Mike Finerty chuckled when he asks when does the team get its pennant — will be an interesting participant in the yet-to-be-announced Section 1 tourney.
If we just knew where and when, we’d love to see how the pioneering Wolf Pack does next month.
While I Have You Here… Recently we featured a handful of Davis Water Polo Club members who have earned national team placements this summer. That article touched briefly on some of the past standouts who have matriculated from Davis to wide-reaching prominence.
Thanks to a couple of readers, I’m reminded that we failed to mention a couple of the earlier-days club members — Kris Koblik and Ashley Miller.
Koblik was a club and college All-American who played at Stanford. Miller was Sac-Joaquin Section Player of the Year, a high school All-American, national team member and two-time captain at Cal.
These two former Blue Devils helped both the school and DWPC programs grow.
And the list certainly can go on…
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.