announced on September 27 that it will expand its pilot program involving use of the "50-70" field for the 2011 spring season.
Last year this optional program was available as a 12-13-year-old division for leagues choosing to use Junior League rules - most notably allowing baserunners to take "leads" from bases before a pitch reaches home plate - but on fields with 50-foot mounds and 70-foot basepaths. It was viewed as a transition from the 46-60-foot Minor and Major League field to the 60-90-foot field normally used for Junior League and beyond.
Based on feedback from leagues around the world, Little League will continue the program in the coming year and has added the option of an 11-12-year-old 50-70 division. In this new "supplemental" pilot program, Junior League rules will be used, but the bats must be the 2 1/4" barrel variety approved for the 12-and-under divisions. 11-12-year-old Tournament Rules (All-Stars) would remain under 46-60 rules.
This style of baseball is still optional, but I would expect some area leagues to try it out next season. Several of them have an 11-12-year-old Majors Division anyway (MPTLL's is 10-12), so rules and field modifications would be the biggest changes.
50-70 baseball has its pros and cons. Many leagues want to provide the so-called "real baseball" experience and offer the transitional field to this age group prior to moving up to the 60-90 field. They also, for safety reasons, want to increase the distance between hard throwing pitchers and hard-hitting batters. No doubt, 46 feet can be dangerously close.
But others say that the majority of 11 and 12-year-olds are not ready for the larger field. There is also the tendency for 50-70 games to be decided by too many easily stolen bases. And some coaches have said they prefer to be able to focus on teaching fundamentals like hitting, pitching and fielding without throwing in the additional aspects of leads, pickoffs and more stolen bases.
Regardless of how the pros and cons balance out, it is clear that Little League sees a considerable amount of demand for 50-70 baseball, and it is making the attempt to be more flexible in providing options rather than having leagues leave for Ripken/Babe Ruth or some other national organization. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out over the next couple of years.