High School baseball loosens off season restrictions, keeps eye on pitch count

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WILMINGTON— Every summer the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) invites all coaches to Greensboro for clinics, product demonstrations and rules interpretation meetings. This year, baseball coaches across the state learned out-of-season practice guidelines had been changed.

Ashley High School pitcher Kevin Mintz. Photo by Hannah Leyva.
Ashley High School pitcher Kevin Mintz. (Photo by Hannah Leyva)

In the past, coaches could work with only eight athletes (one less than a full squad) per day without any restrictions on duration. Programs have also been limited by certain “dead periods,” during which coaches are unable to hold any workouts.  These “no practice” days coincided with tryouts for in season sports and the beginning and end of each semester.

Under new state rules, two weeks have been added to the dead periods.  According to Ashley High School’s head coach Brian Stewart, the good news for teams is that there are now no limits on the number of athletes who can attend workouts. The only caveat is that practices must end after 90 minutes.  These changes open up many possibilities for skill development.

Sept. 16 marked the first day high school baseball fields were full of players ready to begin workouts under these new guidelines.  At Ashley, nearly 30 athletes have been improving strength and agility. They’ll be learning the intricacies of team offense and defense.

Junior varsity players may be the greatest beneficiaries of the new rules, according to Ashley long-time assistant coach Ben Stroehl, who said those players were often left out of these practices because of the limit on participants.

Brad Pennington tags out a runner during Saturdays victory. Photo courtesy- Mike Gans.
Brad Pennington tags out a runner during Saturdays victory. (Photo courtesy- Mike Gans)

At Hoggard High School, head coach Jeep St. Ledger lamented that rain and wet fields have hurt teams more because the increase in dead periods means limited available days to practice. As he instructed eight infielders and assistant coach Tommy Bowker worked with six outfielders recently, St. Ledger said that many players on the field under the old guidelines would have required coaches to be in the dugout watching.

“Everyone is adjusting to the new rules and realizing that there are positives and negatives to the new guidelines,”  St. Ledger said.

The North Carolina Baseball Coaches Association (NCBCA) has been working with the NCHSAA to improve practice rules.  The NCBCA is also on the front lines in gathering information for the National Federation of State High School Associations on upcoming pitch count guidelines.  Last year, coaches across the state kept detailed statistics on their pitchers and sent their data to the NCBCA. That group as it determines how much these young arms should endure.

Coaches are working with organizers, with the NCBCA as an intermediary, to get the most from their athletes while keeping them safe from injury.  Restructuring out-of-season practices and upcoming pitch count limitations are just two ways they can accomplish this goal.