Booher: Summer baseball in need of fixing

Booher: Summer baseball in need of fixing

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Booher: Summer baseball in need of fixing

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Yes, rules for summer high school baseball need to change. And, yes, there are some serious conversations that need to be had.

But after reading Matt Schoch’s excellent piece last week about the way the old guard of Springfield’s summer baseball is trying to salvage the annual, July 4 holiday tournament, this shouldn’t go unnoticed:

Players who might not get to play are now getting that very chance in both the Springfield Amateur Baseball Association and parts of American Legion, thanks to other players joining teams with a more regional focus.

That’s a good thing.

Dan Murphy, frustrated by the rules and what not, concurs. He’s a longtime umpire and an organizer of the Price Cutter Holiday Tournament, whose finals are at 3 p.m. today at Meador Park.

“You’re looking at the juniors who sat the bench now starting in the summer programs,” Murphy said. “It’s giving a lot of these schools with a senior-dominated team, they can get their (younger) guys playing time.”

It’s important to emphasize that reality. Teens and their parents may assume opportunities are limited. It’s not to say playing time is guaranteed. But there are opportunities. And, for high school teams, it eventually creates much-needed depth.

That said, it’s stunning to hear that a holiday tournament in its 42nd year could soon be a thing of the past.

At issue is that the Missouri State High School Activities Association, through a vote of school administrators a few years ago, adopted a 25-days-only contact rule in the summer for all sports. Baseball seems affected the worst.

It means high school baseball coaches who lead their local American Legion clubs — or coach teams in the SABA — are allowed only 25 days of direct work with their high school players in the summer.

Two questions come to mind: 1, could SABA and legion clubs secure a retired coach or parent to manage their teams instead?; and 2, can the state association lift this silly edict?

I threw the first question at Murphy. He fired it right back.

“They aren’t professional high school coaches. What’s a parent more interested in?” Murphy said. “Winning.”

“You talk to a high school coach, and what’s his focus?” Murphy said. “Developing a team.”

Murphy’s passion is to be appreciated. Unfortunately, the reality is that the state association rules are unlikely to change.

That’s why officials and coaches within SABA and legion ball should work together and get creative.

Maybe it’s two high school programs banding together so that coaches can stretch the 25-day rule deep into the summer. Maybe have two teams, with the non-high school coaches — many legion teams have a college player as an assistant — handling one of them.

Jack Steck, part of the old guard, agreed about the need for creativity.

“We just can’t keep going like we are,” Steck said.

Then again, it shouldn’t be this way.

MSHSAA should exempt baseball from the 25-day contact rule. But when I recently took my case to the association, the response was odd.

Said association spokesman Jason West, “Now all sports are on equal footing.”

This is where I disagreed. MSHSAA is comparing apples to oranges.

Consider the striking difference between baseball and basketball.

Basketball players get almost year-round playing time, because it’s an indoor sport. The regular season runs from November to March. Throw in gym times around those months, plus the 25-day contract rule, and hard to see development time suffering.

Meanwhile, the high school spring season always deals with unpredictable weather, and that’s within a small window from March to late May.

At that point, high school coaches leading summer teams get 25 contact days within about 90 in the summer, with many tying to beat the start of football season. Worse, winters typically don’t allow for time on the field.

Now, in West’s defense, he’s working for an organization that is only carrying out the will of the state’s school administrators.

As I understand it, baseball coaches and administrators in southwest Missouri were opposed to the rule.

But whoever was opposed to it, they should know that the rule is hurting baseball, especially in a state that’s produced quality baseball players who have climbed from high schools on to college and the pros.

“It seems like when I started this 42 years ago, it seemed like the season went into August,” Steck said. “Now when you get into July, it’s almost over.”

Baseball? Over in July? That’s not right.

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