Ten-year-old Andrea Mangiapelli is a menacing lefty pitcher for the Jampol Paint and Hardware Little League baseball team in the Bronx, N.Y. On a recent summer night, the biggest obstacles in his path were not the power hitters of Star Ace and Son but the numbers on a tiny clicker.
"He's got 40 [pitches] going into this inning, but he'll probably come out this inning," said Dominic Venditti, manager of Jampol Paint and Hardware, the team's sponsor.
Mangiapelli is running up against the newest rule in Little League baseball: the pitch count limit. Pitchers Mangiapelli's age are not allowed to throw more than 75 pitches in one game.
Little League International -- with more than 2.3 million players worldwide -- put the rule in place due to the sharp rise in arm injuries to young pitchers.
'We Never Counted'
"It certainly is alarming," said Clarke Holmes, director of Sports Medicine at Georgetown University. "We just shouldn't be seeing 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds in our office with these types of injuries, and we didn't see them 5 to 10 years ago nearly as frequently."
One of the long-held, unspoken customs of Little League baseball was when you find a kid who can actually throw, stick with him.
Until now, pitchers were usually kept in "basically until I felt that they weren't doing the job," said Venditti. "Well, we never counted, so we never knew how many. They could have thrown 150, 200 in five innings, you wouldn't have known it."
And the young pitchers were often taxing their arms in more than just Little League. These days, the best Little Leaguers are also playing for their school teams, traveling teams and maybe all-star teams, not to mention any other sports they might play. Those arms would be used and used and used.
Protection or Politics?
The new rule forces kids to take a rest and forces managers to give more players a chance to pitch, which isn't always easy.
"Some kids can hardly reach home plate from the mound," said Venditti, "and you really have to work hard to get them to that position where they're good enough to reach, or strong enough to reach home plate with the ball."
Despite the challenges the rule poses, Venditti and Ray Coloa, the manager of Jampol's opponent, Star Ace and Sons, saw reasons to like the rule.
"It's tough, but then again it's about the kids, not hurting the kids, protecting the kids. So be it. If we lose that way, we lose," said Coloa.
But some parents aren't happy about the new rule. Tyrone Bowman, whose son plays Little League, said when he first heard that the rule was coming he thought, "Uh-oh… here comes another nightmare for Little League."
To some this is just another example of how we baby our kids these days -- creating more rules, and more "big brother" safeguards. Bowman said he thinks the new rules are driven by politics.
"They're just sitting there panicking -- every time one kid gets hurt out of a million it's time to change the rules," he said.
Call to the Bullpen
So what about the kids themselves?
When pitcher Mike Barath was removed from the game, he wasn't too happy about coming out. And when it was Mangiapelli's turn to hand the ball over, he didn't want to come out either. But even the 75 pitches had taken a toll. When asked if his arm ever hurts, Mangiapelli said, "Yeah… it hurts mostly in my shoulder."
For Mangiapelli it was, in fact, time to come out. Maybe the rule-writers are onto something.
With the new rule in mind, the winner of the epic battle between Jampol Paint and Hardware and Star Ace and Son is maybe not the most crucial outcome in this game. Maybe the most important outcome of the night was that no one got hurt.