Youth baseball: Curve balls out, showers in

Posted: Wednesday, 26 March 2008

TROY – For many in Alabama, early spring signals more than just the arrival of warmer temperatures. It’s the beginning of baseball season.

Athletic trainers at Troy University – who see and treat many youth sports injuries in southeast Alabama – say conditioning is the key to a successful baseball season, whether its school-based play or on recreational league teams.

“Warming up properly is a key,” said John “Doc” Anderson, associate professor and chair of Athletic Training Education at the University.

“Run first, then do a ballistic warm-up and then stretch,” he said.

Among other tips for baseball players:

  • Drink plenty of fluids such as Gatorade, PowerAde or water and stay away from carbonated beverages
  • Save those arms – young pitchers shouldn’t throw curve balls and Anderson cautions pitchers from throwing too much
  • When the shoulder or elbow starts to hurt, stop throwing and “see the medical staff at Troy University ASAP,” Anderson said.

Troy University senior pitcher J.J. Whetsel knows the value of saving an arm early in a baseball career. Last season, a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament required surgery. That injury, he told the Dothan Eagle, was caused by throwing breaking balls before his body had fully developed.

“Throwing curve balls at an early age isn’t good,” he said. “I didn’t know that then. I would have just laid off them, throwing just changeups and fastballs – but I’ll do that for my kid.”

TROY head baseball coach Bobby Pierce echoed Whetsel’s advice: “There are two things to remember. First, younger players throw it incorrectly. If they do throw it correctly, the growth plates really aren’t in a position to support the elbow area for that pitch.”

For collegiate baseball hopefuls, Pierce said the damage from throwing the pitch could result in injuries that would dash any chance of playing college-level baseball.

Anderson said another issue for athletes is that of staying clean. In short, Anderson’s advice is to “take a shower.”

“One of my biggest concerns for kids is staph infection,” he said. “That really scares me and we’ve had some deaths in Alabama from them.”

The exact staph infection: MRSA, or Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, an antibiotic-resistant skin infection that has been reported in clusters since 2000 within the competitive sports population. The bacteria is being spread among participants in competitive sports that often have risk factors for infection including cuts, scraps, open wounds, skin trauma from turf burns and shaving. The bacteria is believed to be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, sharing towels or equipment, according the National Collegiate Athletics Association’s Committee in Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports.

Anderson adds that treating cuts and scrapes immediately with Staphaceptic gel or triple antibiotic ointment also goes a long way. Another key to a healthy season is to properly treat strains and sprains.

Dr. Amanda Andrews, also a professor of athletic training education at TROY, recommends that ice be applied for 20 minutes to strains and to alleviate swelling after a lot of throwing.

As the temperature continues to rise, she also cautions players and coaches to wear appropriate clothing – such as breathable cottons – and keeping practice times out of the hotter times of the day.

“Again, a key to successful practices is plenty of fluids and watching for heat-related issues,” she said.

When injuries do occur, she said it was important to follow up with medical care.

“If it’s a serious injury such as a broken bone or neck injury, leave the player where he or she is and call 911 for an ambulance. Don’t move a serious injury,” she said. “If a concussion is suspected, the player needs to see a doctor soon.”

Returning to play after any type of injury should be only after a doctor has approved the player for activity.