Benefits of Fall Ball at Oxnard Youth Baseball
Fall ball is generally seen as a developmental league for young players to improve their skills and get ready for the next level of baseball. Fall ball is also a little more relaxed and a little less competitive than the regular season. The focus is to prepare for the next level of baseball: learning the new rules, getting used to the bigger field dimensions (and the bigger players in the next age bracket), and developing the skills necessary to play at a competent level with their peers.
What does your player learn in Fall Ball?
In general, what a child learns in fall ball depends on the level at which he or she will be playing. Here are some examples of how rules differ in PONY Youth Baseball from one level to the next:
Moving up from the Shetland division (ages 5-6) to the Pinto division (ages 7-8):
Shetland is the age in PONY Youth Baseball where the child hits off of a pitching machine during games. When a child moves up from the Shetland division to the Pinto Division (ages 7-8), they now pitch competitively to each other. This means that they have to learn how to hit off of a live pitcher. Moving from Shetland to Pinto may be the most-important year to play fall ball. In Pinto, pitchers are now trying to get batters out as opposed to a pitching machine which is meant to teach kids how to hit. In other words, a pitching machine throws strikes that are meant to be hit, but a pitcher throws pitches that are meant to be missed.
Along with learning how to hit a ball off of live pitchers who throw at different speeds and in different locations, the kids also need to learn how to pitch. This is, perhaps, the most-specialized skill in all of baseball, and the Pinto division is the first level at which the kids get to learn how to do it.
Another change in Pinto rules is that players are now allowed to steal bases. In Pinto, players are allowed to leave the base to try to steal as soon as the ball leaves the pitcher's hand (at least at Oxnard Youth Baseball - check your league's official rules as they may differ). Furthermore, a runner on third base is allowed to steal home on a wild pitch or a passed ball (past the catcher). These are all new skills that are vital for baseball success as players develop, and they all start in the Pinto division.
NOTE: if your child has already excelled at age 7 in Pinto, it may be best to move up to Mustang. In Pinto - especially in fall ball - there are a lot of kids who have never seen live pitching before, and there are a lot of kids who have never pitched before. With a season of Pinto under your belt, it is frequently less-challenging for experienced and more-talented players to play against players who are completely new to the world of live pitching. By moving up to Mustang for fall ball, your 8-year-old will be challenged more and will learn the next level of baseball ahead of time.
Moving up from the Pinto division (ages 7-8) to the Mustang division (ages 9-10)
The biggest rule difference when moving up from Pinto to Mustang is that a base-runner can take a lead off of any base at any time, just like you see in Major League Baseball. Not only do the kids need to learn how to take a proper lead, they also need to learn how to retreat back to the base the right (and safe) way if a pitcher tries a pick-off move. The new base-running rules also mean that pitchers have more development in store for them...
In the Mustang division, pitchers will learn how to pitch from the windup and the stretch, and they also need to learn the proper way to attempt a pick-off move to each base. This also means that they have more to learn about what is and what is not a balk as this rule will be enforced from here on out in their playing career.
Aside from the runner taking leads and the pitcher learning to hold them on, the field also gets bigger. The mound is further away, the bases are further apart, and the outfield fence is also further away from home plate. Mustang is the level that kids play where they can finally equate just about everything they do on the field with the games they watch on TV.
Moving up from the Mustang division (ages 9-10) to the Bronco division (ages 11-12)
Moving from the Mustang division to the Bronco division doesn't offer much in the way of rule changes, but the field gets even bigger. The bases, the mound and the fence all get further away making it even more challenging for the kids. If your child is already excelling at the Mustang level and is eligible for another regular season in the Mustang division, you may want to consider moving up to the Bronco division for fall ball. This will provide an added challenge and will also allow him or her to see what the next year will be like. And who knows: you may just find out that your child is ready for the Bronco division ahead of schedule.
Moving up from the Bronco division (ages 11-12) to the Pony division (ages 13-14)
This is where baseball gets even more real. At this age, you're playing on a field that is very near to Major League Baseball dimensions. This is where the field may get "too big" for some players, and it also gets a lot more competitive as the age bracket goes up. The Pony division is very often the last preparation level the kids have before deciding to try out for a high school team, so fall ball is a great time to gauge the skill level and potential of players who want to play high school baseball and beyond.
General Tips for Playing Youth Fall Ball
It is frequently recommended that you allow your child to play up one level, even if he or she has another year of eligibility at the current level. For example, if your child is 8 years old and has another year of eligibility for the Pinto Division in the Spring (regular season), having him or her play in the Mustang division will allow you to gauge the player's potential. In Mustang, he'll face a combination of kids who are new to baseball altogether as well as some experienced 10-year-old kids who throw harder (and more accurately) than he's ever seen in Pinto. Once fall ball is over, we recommend that you objectively assess how your child did, whether he or she had fun, and have a conversation with your child as to whether he or she should stay in Pinto or move on up to Mustang. This also applies to moving up from Mustang to Bronco early, or even Bronco to Pony. It's up to you as a parent, and it's also up to league rules.
When you sign up for fall ball, check in with your league officials to see what your league allows in terms of letting kids play up a division in fall ball. Also, if you're worried about whether fall ball will interfere with another sport or activity your child is participating in, don't worry. Coaches should understand that fall ball may be secondary to, say, football season and especially school work! Fall ball is generally much-less strict than the regular season as coaches know that they have to spend more time teaching the kids the new rules and how to play by them as opposed to refining skills to try to win a league championship.
Fall ball is meant predominantly as a learning league that should keep kids having fun as they adapt to the next level of baseball.