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Offseason play, even with lighter ball, keeps kids' interest

The Baltimore Sun

DEAR CAL -- My kids like to play Wiffle ball inside during the winter, but my older son's elite team coach said to stop because it messes up your timing with the bat. Is that true?

Walt Sandifer, San Antonio, Texas

DEAR WALT -- First of all, let me say that I think it's great that your kids like to play baseball so much that they even look for opportunities to play a form of the game during their offseason. When I was a kid, I can't remember many days when we didn't do something baseball-related - whether it was getting a group of kids together to play at a local field or playing "tape ball" in our backyard. We used a chair for the strike zone and learned to throw all kinds of pitches. It was a fun, low-pressure way for us to keep playing baseball, and it didn't seem to have any negative effects on our baseball skills when it came time to play for real.

As I've written here before many times, baseball gets serious for kids very quickly these days. The "elite teams" you speak of have the luxury of playing in a lot more structured games than I ever did as a kid, but with that structure comes pressure and the possibility of burnout. I think it's great that your kids enjoy the sport so much that they have found a fun way to continue playing the game in the offseason. Personally, I would encourage them to continue. If you are concerned about their timing, consider taking them to a batting cage occasionally and allowing them to hit real baseballs. At the youth level, the key is to foster a love of the game, and it seems as though your kids already have that.

DEAR CAL -- I was overwhelmed trying to buy a new glove for my 13-year-old child. What's the most important thing to consider when getting a new one?

Brittany O'Brien, Columbia

DEAR BRITTANY -- The key to buying a new glove is comfort and fit. It is really an individual choice. Over the years, certain stereotypes about gloves have developed. For years, middle infielders used smaller gloves to help them transfer the ball faster when turning double plays, and outfielders used larger gloves to get more reach when chasing fly balls. If you go back over time, however, the middle infielders were smaller guys who felt more comfortable using smaller gloves. Since I came into the major leagues, it seems as though there are more and more bigger players playing middle infield, and they are using bigger gloves than in the past. Obviously, the mitts for catchers and first basemen are more specialized.

The first consideration is that the glove fits snugly on your child's hand so that it isn't too flimsy when he or she is trying to catch batted and thrown balls. But, since your child is still growing, I don't think you want his or her hand to be jammed all the way in there, either. If the glove fits well, he or she is comfortable with it and seems to be able to handle it effectively, the next consideration is the amount of time you have to break it in. Some gloves come "diamond-ready," which means they are softer and more broken in than other gloves. There also are more expensive, higher-quality leather gloves that need a lot of work. If your child needs a glove for quick use, I would suggest one of the softer models. There are a lot of gloves out there that are good quality and won't cost you too much money, so just search until you find something your child is comfortable with.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askripken@baltimoresun.com.

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