by Gary Kahn
In my previous article, I focused on Tyrone Baglione—a talented youngster from South Africa who played this past season for SKSB Arrows Ostrava. During my time down here in Cape Town, there are quite a number of other individuals that I would like to highlight to the European baseball community due to their impacts both at home and abroad. Additionally, I would like to take opportunities to highlight particular nuances of South African baseball—both positive and negative. For this week, I would like to outline a particular negative…
I am a firm believer that the environment an athlete is posited in has a direct effect on the individual’s development and performance. Given, many athletes worldwide have risen to superstardom after spending a poverty-ridden childhood with a lack of resources. However, it is natural to deduce that there is a positive association between proper athletics facilities and increased performance. With this pretense known now to the reader, I would like to begin this critique on South African baseball facilities in regards to the absence of bullpen mounds.
Baseball and academics have taken me to places spanning the globe and I have seen a number of idiosyncrasies in respect to baseball field setup. For example, I noticed Sweden is a big fan of the short porch in left field—Karlskoga has a “Green Monster” of a net that might only be a 260 foot shot and Rattvik has their left field foul pole at somewhere in the 240-250 feet area. This is actually quite curious due to the fact that the Scandinavian nation has an abundance of lefty hitters. Is there a problem with something like this? Absolutely not. Sure, as a pitcher, you would like the fences to be a bit farther back so you can be more challenging with your pitches. However, both teams have to deal with the same dynamic and it does not have a direct effect on a given athlete’s performance (outside of possibly the HR column in the stat book).
Enter South African baseball facilities. Each Major League club has a regulation-sized playing surface with varying degrees of field quality depending on how well manicured each club keeps their respective ‘pitch’ (as they call it down here). What the majority of the baseball clubs lack is a proper bullpen area. When a team shows up for a competition and there is no mound to utilize for warming up, respective pitchers for both sides will not adequately be prepared for competing without some sort of warm up routine off of a raised pitching surface. This can both affect their performance for the given game and also put their arms at risk for injury due to inadequate preparation before a strenuous activity. On the macro level, how can there be an efficient pitching development scheme for a club when there is not enough mound space to utilize for a multitude of pitchers at different age brackets? Without the facilities to utilize, young pitchers are at a loss in regards to development and are at a high risk of injury.
So where does the fault lie–on the club level or the baseball commission level? Each baseball club has a certain budget and (if present) an amount of funding each year that it chooses to disperse in its own autonomous way. If there is enough money available to utilize for the development of pitcher’s mounds and the money goes to something arbitrary such as new alcoholic stock for the bar, then the fault does herein lie particularly on the club level. However, not many clubs in the Western Province (and South Africa in general) have the luxury of significant funding. On this tangent, the fault would lie with the South African Baseball Union in their lack of fiscal commitment to develop the sport further.
On the pretenses of arm fitness, competition preparation, and position development, it is extremely crucial for pitching mounds to be located at every baseball field. Not just the Major League complexes, but all fields in South Africa! If South Africa wants to continue competing at the highest level as well as further their success in international play (such as the upcoming World Baseball Classic), an aggressive motion needs to be taken by all clubs to join the rest of the baseball world by installing bullpen mounds for their pitchers to utilize.