Dear Athletic Support: My son is twelve. He just recently started asking about joining a local travel league baseball team. Up until this point, I’ve been reluctant to get our family involved in travel league. I’ve heard horror stories about overzealous coaches, crazy parents in the stands, and tournaments every weekend. I always told my wife we’d wait until our son asked to join a team before even considering it. Now that he’s asked, I’m starting to wonder if he’s really ready for this. Is he physically prepared to play ball alongside these other boys who have been playing religiously for such a long time? My son’s best position is pitcher. He has a solid fastball. He can throw just as hard as the other kids in our city league, but he really doesn’t have any other pitches. At this age, how many pitches should a pitcher have in his arsenal in order to be competitive?
— Reluctant Dad
Dear Reluctant: Let me start by applauding your approach to travel league baseball. It reminds me of something I once read about Archie Manning. Archie didn’t let his boys play football until 7th grade. Even when young Peyton and little Eli were begging him to join the local peewee teams — Archie wouldn’t budge. His reasons had more to do with safety and quality of coaching, but I think your decision is similar, and also very wise. It’s always best to let the kids make the call when it comes to commitment.
In regard to pitches in a twelve-year-old’s arsenal — it depends.
It depends on the speed of your son’s fastball. If he’s blowing it past the batters now, then he can probably get by with just a fastball for another year or so, but sooner or later he’s going to need some more weapons.
Changeups are always a good place to start, especially if your boy’s throwing fireballs. Be wary of curves. Curveballs can put a lot of torque on young pitchers elbows, especially if taught wrong.
Another thing to consider (this doesn’t seem to be the case for your son, but is still worth mentioning): young batters have trouble hitting a curve! Which means young pitchers can grow overly dependent on it.
Every curveball thrown is one less fastball. In other words, if a travel league pitcher gets to where all he can throw is a curveball, that could hinder his ability to develop into a well-rounded pitcher.
In the end, stick with the horse you rode in on. If your son joins the travel league team and begins to feel outmatched, then it’s time to start thinking about teaching him new pitches. If you don’t know how to throw a changeup or a curve, maybe the travel league coaches can teach him!