Crying foul over the curve ball

By Crystal Britt

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - It's that time of year again, many of you are probably enjoying America's greatest past time.

The problem is, it's slowly becoming just a thing of the past for some up and coming pitchers.

A lot of trainers across the country say there's an epidemic in youth baseball with too many shoulder and elbow injuries.

Major League Baseball great Tom Glavin is on a campaign of his own. "I wouldn't let a kid at 11 years old throw a breaking ball. I never threw a breaking ball until I got to high school", said Glavin.

Some coaches here in the Heartland say there's a lot of pressure out there for kids to spice things up on the mound, which could prove dangerous.

12 year old Trey Kirkpatrick of Bernie, MO has big dreams of being a big leaguer.

Trey gets a little extra coaching at Balls n Strikes in Cape Girardeau. It's a softball and baseball training site for kids ages 4 to 18 years.

"I decided to retire and put efforts into doing what I do now", said Todd Pennington.

Pennington was an All American at SEMO, and went on to play pro ball for five years.

"I was probably 15 when I learned a breaking ball", said Pennington.

Pennington says that's about the right age, anytime before could be dangerous.

"Later on they get passed up because everyone else starts developing, and they have no fast balls because they threw all curve balls", said Pennington. "I discourage kids from throwing a curve ball as long as they can."

Jackson head baseball coach Tatum Kitchen was a pitcher in his day.

"My dad was a high school coach at Cape Central. He was very adamant about me not throwing curve balls", said Kitchen.

Kitchen now tells his players the same thing.

Junior Ben Stearns says he learned the hard way.

"I can dh for them, but can't throw", said Stearns.

That's after a pretty devastating game on the mound last summer.

"After the first curve ball I threw, I felt a pop and what I thought was a tear", said Stearns.

That tear didn't heal, and in September Ben underwent Tommy John surgery.

"The curve ball is a good pitch to use when you need it. Looking back after surgery I wish I would have waited", said Stearns.

Coach Kitchen says, "I'm sure there are people who would disagree saying you need to work on them when your younger, but you don't want to mess with those tendons that are still growing."

It's a lesson little leaguers like Trey Kirkpatrick are taking to heart.

"They tell me I'm not ready to throw a curve ball yet", said Kirkpatrick. "I'm okay with that because it could mess your arm up and you couldn't pitch the rest of your life."

Another big factor here outside of the breaking ball, is the fear that these kids are flat out overworking their arms.

Too many young players and coaches perhaps are not getting the less to play longer.