Tutoring Trend Reaches the Mound

The Wall Street Journal—April 2, 2011

More youth pitchers between the ages of 8 and 18 are seeing private pitching tutors than ever, according to college coaches and several instructors in the New York area. And with parents prepared to spend in excess of $50 for every 30 minutes that an expert spends imparting pitching know-how to their children, it has also turned into a lucrative business.

Even the players increasingly view tutors as a necessity to augment their normal coaching. Dexter Zemit, a 17-year-old junior at the Dalton School, said he had never been able to count on his various teams' coaches to offer much individual help—if only because they must divide their attention among a whole squad of players.

"The most instruction I've gained has been from camps and individual lessons," said the young pitcher, who aspires to play at the college level.

But even more significant to parents is the knowledge that throwing a baseball overhand is an unnatural motion, one that humans are not built to carry out repeatedly. That is why instructors emphasize pitching effectively and pitching safely.

Few can emphasize the safety side of it with more authority than Mickey Levinson, the physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery who runs their Thrower's Program. Working at the primary medical facility for the Mets and Yankees, Mr. Levinson has treated some of the most prized arms in the major leagues—jerseys signed by Johan Santana and Mariano Rivera hang on the walls.

And, just as sound mechanics can help lessen the risk of injury, coaches agree that there is one mistake that will definitely put a young pitcher in greater danger—throwing breaking pitches too soon. They might bamboozle middle-school hitters, but over the long run, curveballs and sliders can severely hamper a young pitcher's dreams of playing at higher levels.

So coaches stick to teaching three pitches first: four- and two-seam fastballs and some simplified version of a changeup. Mr. Dishman said he usually holds off on teaching breaking pitches until high school. The idea, Mr. Levinson explained, is to be sure the pitcher is "skeletally mature"—that his fingers are long enough to throw it and that his arm is ready for the additional strain.

"It's usually not the kid who asks for it. It's usually the parents," said Rich Dishman, another minor leaguer turned instructor who gives lessons through Hospital for Special Surgery. "'Other kids are throwing curveballs. When can my kid start?' You have to decide. Do you want your kid to be a 12-year-old hero or do you want him to progress?"

Read the full story at wsj.com.

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