Pony Baseball Inc. has adopted a new date for determining player eligibility each season, moving from April 30 to Aug. 31.
The rule change begins at the start of the 2018 Pony Baseball season. Any player whose birthday falls between April 30 and Aug. 31 will move up one age level from where they would have been under the previous cutoff date.
It’s the first age determination date change made by Pony Baseball since 2006, when the cutoff date was switched to April 30 from Aug. 1.
“It was an easier transition in 2006 than it is now,” said Abe Key, president of Pony Baseball International. “Just with any change the vocal minority is heard. A lot of parents and some administrators are upset over the change.
Key said several youth baseball organizations, including Pony and Little League, starting talking in 2014 about making the change.
“One, this (age determination date) lines up with the traditional start of school in most states,” Key said. “And secondly, Pony was founded principally on the 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14 age groups. And that lines up better in tournament competition, which is a small byproduct of the program in general.
“It was not a decision taken lightly. It was not a decision made overnight. We talked about it, researched it and gathered opinions, which were considered.”
Key said while some favored “grandfathering” players, the overall perception was that the transition period would be 14 years in total if you go from 4-year-old to 18-year-olds.
“That’s too long of a time period,” Key said. “At the end of the day, we feel this will be good and it will pay dividends.
“Pony Baseball is intended for players of all skill levels to participate. Pony is not for elite athletes alone.”
Two of the area leagues that register Pony Baseball teams — Washington Youth Baseball (WYB) and Vesta Youth Baseball — have made moves to keep some players progressing through the various leagues at what had been the normal pace.
WYB will allow players to register and decide what age level they are going to play (under the old rule or new rule). If a participant plays in a league age group at that does not coincide with the new Pony rule, that player will be ineligible to play in Pony Baseball-sanctioned tournament play at that particular level.
Vesta president Von Braddock said his league “preliminarily” voted to adhere to the new rule in all age levels, except for “grandfathering” those Pony players, who would have been considered 14-year-olds in 2018 so they can play Pony League baseball in 2018. Those in that category will not be eligible for sanctioned tournament play at 14-and-under. However, if those players played in half of their community Colt League team’s games in 2018, those players would be eligible to play in Colt (15- and 16-years-old) sanctioned tournament play. That would require such players to be “double-rostered” playing on both Pony and Colt teams during the same season.
Vesta is made up of communities in Washington and Greene Counties and Monessen in Westmoreland County.
Pony Baseball contends that by making its program younger, all players will compete on “a level playing field,” at the tournament level. No player will be older than the level of play he is participating in during Pony tournament play.
“We’ve asked our area representatives to go back and talk to their own communities,” Braddock said. “Part of the discussion is what (WYB) did. We did talk to (the) Babe Ruth (youth organization). We preliminarily voted to grandfather the 14-year-olds and everyone else would just follow suit (the new Pony rule). It was unanimous.”
Vesta will make a final vote at its next meeting at the end of the month.
As for Washington, Rick Herrnberger, president of WYB, said while it is not pulling out of Pony Baseball, it is simply giving the kids impacted by the new rule the opportunity to play by it or the old-age determination date. It could lead to a reduction in Washington sanctioned teams through the Pony ranks — which include Shetland (6U), Pinto (8U), Mustang (10U) and Bronco (12U). In the past few years, Washington combined with Canonsburg to form the Founders League and it is from that player pool where the Washington County Pony World Series team is selected. That team serves as the host to the annual Pony World Series at Washington Park’s Lew Hays Pony Field. No other youth organization besides Pony allows for a host team in its various World Series’, according to Key.
Pitch Counts replace Innings
The Pony Baseball rules committee has changed two rules, effective for the 2018 season.
Pony Baseball will follow a pitch count as opposed to an innings limit per day and week, as it has previously. The move is similar to those made in high school and college baseball and is recommended by MLB Pitch Smart Guidelines.
The organization also adopted the new USA Baseball Bat Standard for the coming season.
As of January 1, with the exception of the -3 bat (BBCOR certified), all other 2-1/4-inch and 2-5/8-inch minus factor bats (-5, -7, -9, etc.) must be certified with the USABat licensing stamp on the bat in order to be used for league and tournament play, Pony said.
The 2-1/4-inch and 2-5/8-inch minus factor bats (-5, -7, -9, etc.) used in 2017 will be illegal to use.
All 2-3/4-inch barrel bats are not permitted in all Pony Baseball divisions. Palomino 18U players are only allowed to use 2-5/8-inch -3 BBCOR certified bat and Thorobred 23U players are required to use wooden bats only as specified by MLB.