The Little League International Tournament is in full swing, and it is a true test of the coaches' aptitude in math, and diplomacy.
Peter Geaglone, Lakewood Ranch Little League’s 8-10 All-Star team manager, is one example. Like the others, he has to solve time management dilemmas because tournament rules require every player to get on the field for at least six defensive outs and an at-bat.
When everyone on the team is used to being their regular team's star, getting subbed out, or being a sub in the first place, can be a blow to the ego. It takes a deft hand to manage it all, Geaglone said, and doing so starts before the team’s first game is even played.
“It is part of our team selection process, how well everyone will get along,” Geaglone said. “It’s not just physical ability. It’s attitude and ‘What can you bring to us mentally?’ There are certain kids where if they are on the bench, they check out. They do not even want to be on the team. So we do have to be aware of that.”
It’s not just substitutions. Geaglone and his staff (Matt Johnson and Dutch Neuweiler) also must be cognizant of pitch counts. Eight-year-olds can throw a maximum of 50 pitches in one day, while 9- and 10-year-olds can throw 75. A mandatory number of rest days afterward varies with the number of pitches thrown.
Breaking such a rule can be costly. A manager who fails to comply with the pitch count rules will get a minimum two-game suspension, and one who fails to follow the “mandatory play” rules for substitutions will be suspended from the rest of the tournament.
Luckily for Lakewood Ranch, that should not be a problem. Its manager knows the details front to back.
“We have this rule book — I call it the 'green book,'” Geaglone said. “I read it for pleasure. Some people find that troubling.”
The team has started its tournament run with a strong offensive output, defeating Buffalo Creek 6-2 on June 15 and beating Manatee 15-0 on June 18. It plays Manatee (which defeated Buffalo Creek 11-6 in an elimination game) again on June 26, and will earn the District 26 title with a win. If Lakewood Ranch wins, it will advance to the 8-10 State Tournament, held July 5-8 in Dunedin. That will be the culmination for this age group, but 10-12 teams (and older) can advance past that and into the Regional Tournament, and then finally the Little League World Series.
Lakewood Ranch is a talented team, and as for egos, Lakewood Ranch seems to have few. Amir Simmons, who threw three shutout innings in the win over Manatee, said the team has meshed well together, helped by the fact that many players have been on Little League teams together in the past. First baseman Cole Vogel, who had two hits and an RBI, said having to sit on the bench can be hard, but whatever the team needs is what must be done.
“I just like playing with the team, getting outside,” Simmons said. “We are all trying to show off our skills and win.”
Vogel believes the sacrifices he and his teammates are making will be worth the end result.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.