When I began coaching my kids in youth baseball, I could not wait for the next season to start. It was only two years into my coaching career that I suggested starting a Fall league while I was on the board of directors. I learnt quickly that being part of any decision making group, was more to just hearing the positives and negatives about an issue and voting on it. The individual agendas that came up along with other surprises were a wake up call for me. When I proposed the Fall league, I was opposed every which way and felt excuses were given not to have it as opposed to looking for ways to get it going. Finally, I overcame the objections and was given the task to come up with the parameters for the Fall league. I knew this would be a process and whatever we did the first year, some changes would be made to make improvements if this was going to become a regular part of our league. I went back to my original notes and I’m happy to say that the Fall league has been alive and going on for over 30 years. Here are some of the things I did that first year right from my original notes.
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1.Run it like pre-season football-
Before I met with all the coaches which amounted to eight, I explained that unlike the regular season this league should be more about skill training than wins and losses. There will be pitching restrictions that will be enforced and if you are looking to win a championship, don’t get involved. The whole concept of this league is developmental. I wanted players who never pitched or played infield to have that chance.
2. It’s a training ground for coaches and umpires also-
Here is something that I received a lot of backlash from. I insisted that the home plate umpires be the managers or coaches from our major or minor league divisions. I also insisted that the base umpires be some of our 14 and 15 year olds who wanted to ump during the regular season and get paid. I felt that it was good for the regular managers and coaches to see what it is like to umpire a game.
3. Limit the innings players are allowed to pitch-
I wanted to develop and give players who never pitched a chance to do so. The first year each team was scheduled to play 6 games. I arbitrarily came up with a formula that no player can pitch more than 12 innings the whole season. I figured 2 innings per game for any one pitcher was plenty and this would force managers to use other players to pitch.
4. No uniforms, only colored t-shirts-
Because the regular season ended just a couple of months before, the only uniform addition would be colored t-shirts for every team and a cap. This worked out fine and limited any extra expense for the league. We kept the expense down for registration to $20.00 per player.
5. Two practices for each game-
Because I insisted on only 6 games despite some managers wanting to play double headers every weekend, I insisted each team practice at least 12 times during this Fall season which is 2 per game. I gave suggestions without being overbearing and telling the managers how to run their practices and made sure I stayed away from them. I encouraged them to seek out resources that had drills and made a one-page hand out naming the resources available at our local library.
6. Picking teams-
This is key and takes some time. I knew because coaches would be using first time pitchers, some games would be walk marathons so parity was very important. I worked with regular season managers and came up with assigned teams that were fairly even in talent.
7. Batting order logistics-
Unlike the regular season where there were 12 players on a team in this league, we had 13 on a team. All players would bat 1-13 and there would be free substitution. So a manager can change fielders every inning. This was an easy one that all the managers were on board.
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The results from the first year were mixed. For the players it was mostly positive. There were a couple of coaches that were too over zealous about winning. Either they didn’t understand the original concept I explained to them or they just wanted to do it their way. I had to come down strong on one of the managers. The biggest mistake I made was the pitching innings. My idea of developing pitchers was great in theory but, some of the games just went too long. The following year I increased the pitching limit to 3 innings per game. The 6 game season allowed pitchers to pitch 18 innings. But I put a 4 inning limit per pitcher per game. If a game was getting out of hand, the manager can bring in one of his better pitchers to keep the game moving. The umpire situation did not work and I ended up umping more than I wanted to. The next year we had to increase the registration fee to pay for umpires.
One of the residual positive effects of the Fall league was that tryouts for our major league division usually were held at the end of October. The Fall league became a perfect lead into these tryouts. The bottom line is if you have empty fields in the Fall and know there are kids that don’t play sports in the Fall or love baseball, this can work in your own league. I am a huge believer in not concentrating on just one sport. With that said running a Fall league is a great opportunity to keep kids engaged for a few extra weeks of baseball with a more relaxed atmosphere. If you are involved in recreational baseball, look into starting a Fall league. You have beautiful fields dormant during a beautiful time of year. Why not make use of them?
Marty Schupak has coached youth sports for 25 years. He has written 11 books and produced 26 sports instructional videos. His is the founder of T-Ball America.
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