Tumblin, whose Northwood team became the first from South Carolina to record a win at the LLWS, is now coming to the conclusion of a fall season during which he helped coach some of the same Northwood players through the transition to games on a full-sized field.
After a potentially taxing regular season for pitchers, he and the other coaches in the Simpsonville Rec League use different approaches for the fall season while putting a little less time into the game.
“We kind of try to keep the baseball there but make sure they’re playing some other sports, experiencing some other things in life and especially taking care of their arms,” Tumblin said. “After playing from February or March until August, now is the time to let their body rest, especially their arm.”
Playing baseball still requires somebody to throw the pitches, but Tumblin and his fellow coaches in the four-team rec league try to decrease the burden.
They use more pitchers and have them throw fewer pitches. And while the coaches don’t necessarily tell the kids to hold back, they do send a message that deemphasizes pitching.
“We’ve limited how much they play; we’ve limited how much they pitch,” Tumblin said. “We don’t have them throw nearly as much off-speed stuff.
“It’s probably 90 percent fastballs.”
The result is a different style of game in which the players focus primarily on their hitting and fielding. With top pitchers throwing fewer innings, the scores can climb a little higher, and there may be more action on the base paths, but there are positives to that experience.
“We tend to just have a little more fun with it,” Tumblin said. “It’s a lot less competitive. We use the fall to try to let some guys play some positions they don’t normally play.
“Especially moving to the (larger field), we let everybody on the field pitch. Everybody’s arm is fresh.”
Tumblin’s players are at the age where they are moving from 60-foot base paths to 90-foot paths, so every pitch and every other throw on the diamond is longer than it used to be. That adds to the importance of being careful, especially when decreased practice time in the “off” season reduces the amount of time players spend building up their arm strength.
“That’s one subject that I’ve thought about more this fall than most falls,” Tumblin said. “The throws are longer. We’re protecting those arms.”
With less practice between games, pregame warm-ups are important.
“We’re playing two games a week, but we’re not practicing, so we’re making sure everybody gets really loose before games,” Tumblin said. “We’re moving guys around a lot so kids are not consistently making the long throws from third or shortstop.
“It’s mainly about pitchers, but also the other guys because of all the time off.”
When coaching in the fall league, Tumblin focuses more on addressing those safety issues than he does on winning.
While players are moved around the field, they are shuttled on and off the mound regularly.
“Most of our guys are basically throwing just one inning,” Tumblin said. “And if that inning gets stretched out, we’re taking them out. Nobody’s really pitching much more than one inning, and just about everybody’s getting a shot to do it.”
Tumblin said he would have his own son, Ben, take 3-4 months off from throwing while playing basketball this winter. When Ben dabbles at all in baseball, it will be an occasional trip to the batting cage while letting his arm get some rest.
From GameChanger and Tom Robinson.