A couple years ago, Douge Schildgen had one of his best pitchers miss the entire final season of his high school career.
The player had been pitching non-stop for nearly three years, being a part of the high school team, Legion team, a traveling team, and winter camps. It was the excessive throwing that took its toll, and he was shut down with lingering arm issues.
In his 14 seasons as the head varsity baseball coach at De La Salle High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Schildgen has had to deal with this scenario too often.
“The biggest thing for me now is, when is the break going to come now with all the specialization and the increase in travel and club ball?” said Schildgen, who started seeing the problem seven years ago when travel ball really started picking up in Minnesota.
Schildgen would like to see a mandated time period in which players, especially pitchers, are forced to take some time away from the game. He thinks the most logical time frame for a player to rest his arm is around October to December, or about three months.
“I think there should be at least two, but my gut says three,” said Schildgen, who has coached at the college level at Augsburg College and North Hennepin Community College. “Everything I keep reading from the old-time pro guys is telling me there should be four. These guys should be playing another sport. These guys should be playing basketball or playing football or hockey. That should be their offseason from baseball, from throwing.”
If a player steps away from baseball for a period, however, they should continue to work on conditioning, Schildgen noted.
If there is going to be a mandated break period, who is going to enforce it? Schildgen doesn’t think travel baseball coaches would demand their players take time off because that’s money out of their pockets.
Schildgen feels the travel ball coaches have more sway with players because their parents are dishing out thousands of dollars to coach the kids. Plus, travel coaches often have more eye-popping baseball resumes, some having played in the minor leagues or even big leagues, than their high school counterparts.
“They hold more water per se than your average high school coach that coaches English eight hours a day and then goes and coaches ball,” Schildgen said.
“Being a high school coach, I’m sure if I had my own business and I’m raking in these kids, I’d probably have a different viewpoint. I think there’s got to be a shutdown period, probably from Thanksgiving until after Christmas break or even after, say, Columbus Day until after Christmas break. Then you slowly get back in.”
So, does it come down to state high school associations who should mandate breaks for baseball players?
“I think at some point someone’s got to step in,” Schildgen said. “The only people that I think have a leg on it is the state high school league.”
Starting in the 2017 season, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) — the state’s governing body — will use a pitch count. If a pitcher throws 1-30 pitches, he can throw the next day. Between 31-50 pitches, the player has to take the next full day off. Between 51-75, it’s two days off, and 76 to the maximum 105 pitches is three days off.
The new pitch-count rule will be a hot topic this weekend when the MSHSL holds a coach’s clinic and meeting.
Schildgen believes implementing a pitch count is a positive step forward, but it doesn’t solve the problem of a player pitching year round.
Schildgen is looking forward to the upcoming season, which gets under way in mid-March. He has a couple pitchers who he thinks are good enough to make it at the Division II college level. The longtime coach has had some words of advice for his young hurlers.
“I just said to them, ‘Hey, you haven’t taken any time off now since you were an eighth-grader,’” Schildgen said. “‘So you’ve been pitching year-round now for two years. There are only so many bullets. This is going to go eventually. Do you want to pitch in college? You’re going to have to take some time off.’ I think I’ve enticed one kid to take some time off — at least to not pitch. He’s pitching in a tournament this weekend and then he’s going to shut it down until mid-January or early February.”