Headquartered in Waco is the Little League Southwest Region, an unsubtle reminder of youth baseball’s popularity in Central Texas.
In recent years, medical professionals have expressed growing concern about injuries on the diamond.
“Youth baseball is a huge concern,” Dr. David Haynes of Baylor Scott & White Southwest Sports Medicine said.
Five years ago, Little League launched an intermediate division for athletes 11-13. They play with a 50-foot pitching mound and 70-foot base paths. Little League International’s Senior Director of Communications Brian McClintock said the design was meant to help young players transition from smaller diamonds to more conventional fields.
“We are seeing increases in injury in that age group, whether or not it is related to the change of distance, I’m not sure. I think it probably even started before that,” Dr. Haynes said.
A more likely cause for the injury spike is simpler than a dimension change. It’s actually probably the result of young players spending more time on the mound, according to medical professionals, coaches and parents.
“We didn’t start seeing these numbers of injuries to children until we started playing year-round,” parent Jeff Kilgore said.
Dr. Haynes said injuries he used to see in 17-18 year olds and college players are now being found in 11-14 year olds. He said the injury increase was “exponential.”
Andrews Sports Medicine in Alabama is world-renowned for its successful surgeries on athletes. In 1996, youth players accounted for only three percent of Tommy John surgeries, which reconstruct the elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament — something that often becomes torn or ruptured in Major League pitchers. By 2010, the number of younger players requiring the procedure had ballooned to 31 percent.