Little League baseball is getting younger.
Last year Little League, in an attempt to align itself with International Baseball Federation rules and address the fact that so many of its players turn 13 during the season, voted to change the date used to determine the league age of its players from April 30 to Dec. 31. Essentially, whatever age a player turns in a given calendar year is now his league age. This applies only to baseball, not softball.
Although the new age determination dates go into effect this year, Little League has made some temporary adjustments to smooth the transition. Those born prior to Jan. 1, 2006 will continue to use the current age determination date of April 30 for the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons. This means those who played as nines in 2014 will be grandfathered in under the old dates until they retire from the program, according to District 16 administrator Joe Baglieri.
However, those born between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2005 who are league-age nine this year (2015) will find that when the change is fully in effect 2018, in what would have been their final year of Little League under the old rules, they’ll turn 13 and will not be eligible to play.
Although that’s how the rule is written at this point, Baglieri said Little League has received a lot of feedback on the change and as a result, there could be revisions made before the 2018 season. Baglieri said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the Dec. 31 date changed to Aug. 31. Under this scenario, a player would not turn 13 during the regular season or during all-star play.
Although he voted against the change, Baglieri said he isn’t opposed to it, just how it was being implemented.
“In the long run, it’s a good idea to get the 13s off the small diamond. A lot of parents didn’t want their kids in a program where a bunch of 13-year-olds were throwing at them,” he said, adding that some of the 13s are six- feet tall and some teams, particularly once you get to all-stars, have several older, bigger players.
“It’s overwhelming,” he said.
One age group that will be impacted by the change immediately will be some of those who played as sevens (those who were still seven prior to May 1) in 2014. They’ll jump to a league-age of nine this year because they’ll be turning nine at some point in 2015.
Although all leagues will have to use the new age requirements, they will still be able to set up their major and minor league divisions as they see fit. It is and will continue to be up to each league to decide whether to allow nine-year olds to play in the majors. One side-effect of the change, Baglieri said, will be the creation of a large group of nine year olds that will briefly impact numbers as players move through the majors.
“Overall, eventually, it’s going to even out and be fine,” Baglieri said. “I think people will have more fun. You won’t have to worry as much about the big kids being overpowering.”
In an explanation on its website addressing its reasons for implementing the change, Little League said in recent years it has heard from young parents that the perception is the program had become a teenage program (at the major league level) due to the dominance of chronological aged 13-year-olds playing during the regular season and all-star tournaments. These parents, the statement said, felt that Little League should return to purely a 12- and-under program.