Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Little League Draft, Part One, How It Works

Yes folks, it’s baseball season again.

My boys are very excited. I am mostly looking forward to it. This will be the last year that my oldest son, who is twelve, can play in Little League, and therefore the last year we will have the craziness of three kids in the sport. The Little League season starts with the try-outs and lots of speculation about if they will get rained out or not. Tryouts are followed by the secretive and mysterious draft, which I have come to realize most parents don’t understand and many are suspicious and fearful of. So I decided I’d like to understand more about the Little League draft.

I asked the powers that be if I could go to the draft. I was met with a little surprise and some concern and curiosity. The powers that be checked with the other powers that be, and I was given the go-ahead. Wow. I was a little surprised. I agreed to not use names, but we all know you don’t have to use names to skewer someone. I actually felt like it was some sort of display of blind trust in the goodness of human nature to let me attend the draft. They didn’t have to give me permission to go, it is a closed process. And I found out why.

Since my oldest two are playing Majors this year and I know most of the kids and coaches, I thought that would be the best one to attend. Also, my husband is coaching so he could give me some insight, answer questions, and act as my bodyguard if necessary. Majors is the highest level of play in Little League, consisting of the oldest players and the most skilled players. The oldest players are twelve, turning thirteen at the very end of the season. If a child turns thirteen on or before April 30th they are not eligible to play. In our league, the majors division consists of all the twelve year olds, some elevens and very few ten year olds who are skilled enough and physically mature enough to play with the older kids. Our league has five divisions. From the five and six year olds playing t-ball, they move through A, AA, and AAA (also called Minors) until they are ready for Majors.

So what is the Little League draft? The draft is a system of assigning players on teams. As far as I can tell, each League does it a little differently. This is how it works in our league.

The process starts with try-outs. The players are grouped by age and asked to perform several different skills while all the coaches watch and take notes. This is the time when your son won't catch the ball. But don't worry, the coaches can tell if your son is capable of catching the ball.

To some parents, the tryouts are stressful. Click here to read about an article about the stress of tryouts by a mom in a nearby League. I just recently got a phone call from a good friend who was freaked out during her son's first Little League try-outs. I had to get my husband on the phone to explain how it worked and talk her down.

After tryouts the players are grouped into divisions based on age and to some degree by skill, but this is a loose grouping. The number of players for each group must roughly fit the number of teams and coaches for each division level and the number of kids has to fit between the minimum and maximum number of players for each team. It's number juggling. Then the players are seeded by the coaches. This means they are ranked, best players being number one, the next best number two, and so on. Where players are seeded is a subject of much discussion, argument, political maneuvering, and manipulation by the coaches. The seeding is like a sport in itself. But they must come to some kind of general agreement before the draft can begin.

Coaches’ own children must also be seeded, even though those players are automatically put on the team with their volunteer father (let’s assume for now that this is a good idea).

Then, at the draft, each team gets to choose one player from the players seeded first. This is also called a first-round draft choice. Then, reversing the order that the teams chose the first round, they choose the second round. So the team that got the last player seeded as number one gets the first pick of the remaining players. Then the third round goes in the original order, fourth round goes in reverse order, and so on until all the teams are filled. If a coach’s child has been assigned as, for example, a fourth round choice, that team does not get to pick during the fourth round and the child is automatically assigned to the team. All the coaches and assistant coaches’ children are placed on their team in whatever spot they have been seeded. Once the coaches have made all their picks and the teams are full, any players remaining did not make it into the division and they are put into the next lower division. Therefore, the Majors draft must happen first, then AAA, then AA, then A. Players who are very young or have never played baseball are assigned to T-ball.

The purpose of the draft is to make sure that all the teams within a division are more or less equal. Our league has the philosophy that fairly equal teams means a better experience for the players. Does the draft actually produce equal teams? In my observation as a Little League mom for five years, I think it does. It’s the differences in coaching that can make a team better or worse.

As I mentioned, the draft is a closed process, meaning only the coaches and league officials that need to be there are present. Parents are not invited. I think there are several good reasons for the draft to be closed, the first being the fact that the players are ranked. The coaches probably do not wish to justify to parents how or why their child is ranked at a certain level.

So despite the fact that the draft is a closed process and that I have two children in the draft who have been ranked, I was given permission to attend. As the time grew near I got a little nervous. It’s a bunch of volunteer coaches, all men, some very loud and excitable, even obnoxious at times, some quiet and fiercely competitive, getting together to try and create the best team they can within a system designed to make it all fair.

Sounds brutal. Sounds exciting and very entertaining. Sounds like I might even get to see a fight.

So what was the draft really like? That’s coming up in The Draft, Part Two, Frickin’ Prescient appearing very soon on this blog. Or as soon as I have time to write it between driving kids to baseball practice, acquiring all the uniform parts and pieces, and stocking up the freezer in preparation to be home only two evenings a week for the next few months. Oh yeah and I have to go to a scorekeeping clinic tonight too.


Anonymous said...

For a female who would have nothing to do with any kind of sports except crewing in college, you have come a long way baby. What a conscious mom you are!

Laura said...

Thank you so much for sharing your baseball draft experience! I've been so curious about this and we've been sitting here wondering the same thing for our 2 boys! Brilliant...mystery solved.

Laura said...

Well I google-searched how to figure out the little league draft and your blog came up. So thankful for you sharing! I love that you were in there behind closed doors with all those dads and testosterone. It was brilliant and now the mystery is solved. Have fun this season....our boys are still waiting to hear what team they were "drafted" to!