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A Little League checklist

These days, parents are almost as big a

These days, parents are almost as big a part of the team as their kids. (June 12, 2008) Photo Credit: James A. Escher

Back in 1968, George Taggart played ball for the Hicksville Baseball Association. Today, he's a coach for the club.

Times have changed since his youth, when parents just dropped kids off at the local elementary school for Little League practice and games, coaches could bury an inept player deep in rightfield, and a trip to another state to compete was a far-fetched fantasy.

Today, parents are sometimes too integral a part of the sport; it's mandatory that every child play in every game; and competition culminates in tournaments in which whole families pile into the car for a multiday mini-vacation.

T-ball starts at age 4, but the real "pitching" games start at age 6. More than 42,000 boys and girls played baseball or softball in town Little League clubs on Long Island last year.

Is your player just starting out this spring? Here are some things to know:

Every child will play in every game

The mandatory play rule requires that each child bat at least once and play at least three consecutive outs in the field, regardless of ability, says Steve Barr, director of media relations for Little League Baseball and Softball, based in Williamsport, Pa.

Kids are expected to be nice

When Taggart was a kid, if he struck out with bases loaded, his teammates would give him a hard time on the bench. Today, that's not tolerated, he says.

Volunteers will have background checks

Little League partners with a company that gives each local league 125 free background checks, which involves each volunteer filling out a form, Barr says.

The fields and equipment are likely more advanced

When Taggart was a kid, games took place at local grammar schools -- now kids may be playing on a $3-million turf field, he says. Kids used to wear heavy cotton uniforms that had to be turned back in at the end of the season, says Steve Acevedo, coaching coordinator for Freeport Little League; today, uniforms are made from lighter polyester and are yours to keep.

Play will get more intensely competitive more quickly

"Kids at 10 years old in 2011 are doing what two generations ago kids were doing at 14 or 15 years old," says Dan Keller, author of "Survival Guide for Coaching Youth Baseball." For instance, throwing curveballs. In later elementary school, league travel teams require tryouts, and then teams may compete in Maryland, Massachusetts and Delaware. "We never dreamed of that as kids," Taggart says.

READERS' ADVICE

When my son was a Little Leaguer, the team manager, as the boys ran out on the field, would say, 'Remember, if you win, fine. If you don't, but you played a fair game, gave your best and had fun, you are already a winner.'" -- Patricia Ross, Northport


If your kids are displaying true natural talent in the sport they play, invest in that talent with encouragement, nourishment and, yes, cash." -- Gerard McGibbon, whose son Jonathon played Little League in Lindenhurst and now plays first base and outfield for Clemson University in South Carolina


Get involved! Yes, it's real easy to drop off your son or daughter to practice or a game and come back an hour or two later and pick them up. Help out with field maintenance or the snack stand." -- Michael DeBlasi, former coach for West Islip Little League


The game is the reward for all the practice. Enjoy the reward with your family and have fun." -- Christopher Goodis, whose son Matthew, 9, plays at Sunrise Little League in Oakdale/Bohemia


Kids: School comes first. Get your homework done don't rush] before games and practices." -- George Taggert, Hicksville, Little League and travel team coach for 10 years


Unfortunately I have witnessed many times over the years that children are taught by parents and coaches alike that it is OK to be so aggressive that they cause bodily injury to an opposing team member.... That isn't the way to teach children to play a sport of any kind." -- Chrissy Puleo, Centereach, whose two sons play for Middle Country Youth Association

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