Stapleton: Pitch limits make sense

NorthJersey.com—May 2, 2009

Travis Della Volpe hopped out of the car on the campus of Montclair State University and, in his mind, was ready to pitch.

His body – more specifically his left elbow — should have told him otherwise.

The standout ace for Wayne Hills threw his equipment bag down, grabbed his glove and jogged over to the mound, intent on proving his talent.

This was an opportunity for Della Volpe to show some college coaches he deserved a chance to play for them; 30 or so chances to make his pitch for a shot at the next level.

“At that point you’re so tempted to give everything you have and show everything you’ve got for 30 to 40 pitches,” Della Volpe said. “You know you shouldn’t because of what it might do to your arm, but the temptation to ignore that and try to impress everyone is definitely there, and it carries over to the season.”

That temptation is what gets teenage baseball pitchers hurt.

The will to compete is one thing; doing so in spite of causing potential injury is another.

From high school games and college showcases to fall and summer league participation, the strain placed on the arms of young pitchers has never been greater.

Anyone who tells you we’re doing just fine without NJSIAA-mandated restrictions on pitch count in baseball is not placing priority on the safety of those who matter most.

Some people get it; too many don’t.

It’s unfortunate we would have to regulate common sense in high school sports, but in this case, such regulation is absolutely necessary.

When it comes to protecting teenage baseball pitchers, pitch counts are one of the most effective ways to do that. In many ways, it’s the last practical option.

It’s been a decade since I sat with former Paterson Catholic pitcher Vito Marichal in the office of Dr. David Altchek at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

He had just undergone Tommy John surgery, and the popularity of the procedure to repair torn ligaments in a pitcher’s elbow had arisen from its ability to rescue a professional athlete’s career.

In Marichal’s case, it was being used to preserve a teenager’s childhood dream.

He was a varsity cautionary tale at age 16, and we talked about the wear and tear on young pitchers’ arms, how overuse by the masses was only going to get worse.

Those conversations with Altchek and Marichal have proven to be prophetic.

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