Joining the TYBA this year added a new wrinkle for youngsters trying to learn baseball and softball. Leagues for boys and girls ages 5-6 used modified hitting rules, allowing kids to see pitching at a young age.
Coaches seemed to enjoy the new challenge for kids, who had usually only hit from tees before transitioning to coach-pitch rules at age 7. This season, athletes saw three pitches from their coaches. If they were unable to put the ball in play from the three pitches, the tee was brought out and they were still allowed to get in their swings.
“The new rules allow a wider range of skills sets to be successful and progress in a safer environment,” said FNB mortgage coach Justin Tanner. “Before this option, 5-6 players had to play up into coach-pitch and risk playing defense against kids three years older than them in order to have the opportunity to progress as a hitter.
“They are becoming a better hitter sooner. They have to shake off the signature uppercut T-ball swing to put the ball in play.”
Tanner saw great results all season, with his FNB mortgage squad running through the boys league featuring five teams. Southern Manufacturing Group was the top group in the three-team girls league.
Travis Wilson, an assistant on the WCMS baseball team, coached in the girls league. He also was impressed with the way the girls were able to improve while not being overwhelmed.
“I think it is a non-threatening atmosphere for girls that age to learn the basics and have fun,” said Wilson, who helped with Graves Family Orchard. “They really increased their knowledge of the game. Although each girl is on a different level, they all improved their batting stance and some basic fundamentals of hitting.”
Athletic Director Terry Beard helped institute the new rules this season. Though he saw some of the struggles, he was happy with the league and had a present waiting for each participant at the end of the season.
“I think it was a challenge for players. At the end, we gave everyone in both leagues a trophy,” said Beard.
While the leagues were a success at growing players, Tanner doesn’t want to see the tee fully abandoned. He is pleased though that the league is making forward-thinking changes.
“The batting tee is a great training tool. Players at the high school, college and professional levels use them on a regular basis to maintain good habits and correct bad ones,” said Tanner. “The value is that some changes are being made that are improving the quality of players, who will one day have an opportunity to represent their county and possibly give themselves an opportunity to pay for a college education.”