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Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Hook's revenge

By Tim Keown
Page 2

A two-word guide to watching the Little League World Series: Curveballs win.

There's not much more to it.

Little Leaguer
When little leaguers are taught to win at all costs, it means their arms must pay the price.
At 12 years old, they shouldn't throw breaking balls, especially not at the rate these kids are throwing them. But the temptation is just too great. It's easy to see why kids throw them and coaches teach them with blatant disregard for the long-term impact on a kid's arm.

To put it bluntly, even the most advanced 12-year-old simply can't hit a breaking ball thrown from 46 feet. It isn't a scientific fact, but empirical evidence suggests it might be close.

And by the way, it's easier for a coach with limited knowledge to teach a curveball than a changeup. Think that has something to do with it?

Watching these games is enough to make you want to return to school to become an orthopedic surgeon. I watched a kid in one of the regional finals the other night throw curve after curve. First-pitch curves. Curves ahead in the count, curves behind in the count. The count's three and one? Why, it must be time to break one off.

This kid threw 75 percent breaking balls, no lie. He couldn't pass the salt in a straight line. He threw so many that his mom was going to have to brush his teeth the next morning.

There are the occasional pitchers -- Barry Zito is one -- who can throw curves from the time they're eight years old, and never have any problems. But for the most part, anybody with knowledge of the subject will tell you it isn't sensible to put that much added stress on the arm at that age.

The best observation I've heard on the issue came from former big-league pitcher Mike Krukow, now a broadcaster for the Giants. According to Krukow's theory, if you think Little League is going to be the peak of a kid's baseball career, throw as many curveballs as you want. If you think a kid might have the talent to pitch after Little League, even at the high school level, throw fastballs and changeups.

This Week's List

  • It's early, of course; but it could be the second coming of Francisco Rodriguez: Oakland's Jairo Garcia, a 21-year-old who made his big-league debut Monday after firing his way through three minor-league stops with 89 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings and a 0.70 ERA.

  • Larry Brown's boys lost to Italy and struggled to beat everybody else, so you know what that means: Gird yourself for a whole new raft of pontificators claiming the rest of the world has caught up to the United States in basketball.

  • When, in reality: It says more about how we've come to play basketball than it does about anybody else.

  • No, he isn't a Hall of Famer, but say this about the retiring Edgar Martinez: For a three-year stretch, from 1995-1997, he was the guy you wanted at the plate if you needed a big hit in an important game.

  • And if you're grading on a curve: Give Edgar the Hall of Fame vote over Fred McGriff, desperately seeking 500 after his release from the Devil Rays.

  • Peja wants out, Vlade is gone and Greg Ostertag is in: Sounds like Chris Webber might join Kobe as the guy who gets to prove how he can do when it's all his team.

  • Right now, as this is being written, FX is running one of the all-time guilty pleasure movies: "Joy Ride."

  • With all the wacky straight-outta-Boston goofiness surrounding the Nomar deal, here's an unsolicited piece of advice: He better make sure he sits out every fifth or sixth game -- whether he needs to or not -- or else Red Sox ownership might send someone out to take pictures for insurance purposes.

  • At least he could have said he was joining the Peace Corps or something: Ricky Williams' reason for retiring -- the man just wants to smoke his weed in peace, OK? -- has to go down as the lamest ever.

  • "Hey, Edna, just for kicks let's send Little Jimmy to State, so's he can learn to be good 'n strong": In one of the most unbelievable moves ever by a public institution, North Carolina State's football program hired drug cheat C.J. Hunter as strength coach.

  • Not to go all libertarian on you, but: If you're a resident of North Carolina, is there a way to deduct your portion of Hunter's salary from your taxes as a means of protest?

  • And finally, one other lesson we've been taught since the Little League World Series has hit mainstream television: The biggest kids have the biggest, loudest moms.