Last spring while playing pitcher for his T-ball team, our then 8-year-old son was dropped instantly to the ground by a hard-hit line drive to his eye. It was a very scary moment, but luckily, after a trip to the emergency room, everything checked out fine.
Fortunately, Quinton was playing on a T-ball team that uses reduced-impact factor baseballs. They are the same size and weight as Major League hardballs, but with softer cores, making them less likely to cause serious injury. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Journal of the American Medical Association recommend the use of RIF balls and believe they result in reduced risk of ball-related injuries among young players. We believe that if Quinton had been playing with a hardball, his injuries would have been much worse.
Unfortunately, many kids in Oak Park do not play T-ball with low-impact baseballs. Instead, parents choose whether to sign their kids up for a T-ball team utilizing a traditional hardball, or a RIF ball. However, many do not understand the difference, or even know one exists. Others are afraid their kids will be at a disadvantage if they play RIF ball. The only difference between the two leagues is the ball – everything else is the same.
Outside of Oak Park, RIF balls are used almost exclusively for T-ball. We surveyed more than 20 local communities and could not find any that use a hardball for kids playing T-ball. We also found that 6- and 8-year-olds do not play on the same teams like they do in Oak Park. Proponents of the hardball seem to believe that using the RIF ball puts kids at a skill disadvantage because it isn’t a “real baseball,” but clearly, based on its widespread use outside of Oak Park, this is not true. Even communities with competitive high school baseball teams – like Elmhurst, Joliet and Barrington – use RIF balls for T-ball. River Forest does, too. Our view is that the hardball and RIF-ball leagues should be consolidated and a new coach-pitch league should be instituted for 8-year-olds to prepare them for player-pitch leagues. However, since parents must currently choose, our intent in this letter is to shed light on the ball-choice issue and encourage other parents to look at the experts’ advice, consider the risks involved and make an informed decision.
After reading this, some will discount our view or think we are simply overreacting, but that would be unfortunate. For boys just learning to play baseball, we feel safety and fun should be the most important considerations – a point we hope others would agree with. We are thankful that Quinton will play pitch-ball this year and is still eager to play the game. His younger brother will again play RIF ball. Oak Park Youth Baseball sign-ups are on Jan. 23 and 30. We will be on hand with the coaches to answer questions and explain the differences in the two balls and leagues. Please stop by.
Oak Parkers Lisa and Brian Kitzman are the parents of two boys who attend Beye Elementary School and like to play baseball.