Shawn Gorman was never a superstar, but he was pretty good.
He pitched in the fall, in the spring and in the summer. He pitched in Little League and Pony League, then on an AAU team and for Gateway High.
He pitched as long as his coaches would let him. He pitched until one summer AAU game when he heard a pop. Pain seared down his arm and he was through pitching for a while.
Gorman's problem is one that's become all too common among young pitchers. It's overuse. Too many pitches are turning into too many problems for kids who should have years left in their arms.
Little League International is trying to save young arms.
This season the organization set a pitch-count limit. If an 11- or 12-year-old throws more than 60 pitches in one day, for example, he must then rest three days before pitching again. He cannot throw more than 85 pitches in one day. The numbers vary by age.
The pitch-count rule might save kids from a few overzealous Little League managers. But it won't save kids from their own ambition and the toll year-round pitching takes on their bodies. It won't stop them from playing in too many leagues.
"By far, how much you pitch is the most important issue," said Dr. Glenn Fleisig, research director for the American Sports Medicine Institute. "It's more important than if you throw curveballs, it's more important than the mechanics."
Little League's new rule has meant coaches have had to pull kids when their pitch counts got too high. Sometimes that's meant pulling a pitcher who's hit a stride.
In Maitland, Little League managers get a warning on the first violation of the rule, a one-game suspension for the second and a year-long suspension for the third. Early in the season, Sid Cash, a Maitland Little League manager, said a few managers had received warnings.
"Coaching is all a gentleman's agreement anyway," said Cash, who took his Maitland team to the 2005 Little League World Series. "Counting pitches is something different. I think the main thing is you [have to] get used to having it."
"I like the fact that the effort is to be made that you're protecting kids arms. I'm not sure most coaches kept pitch counts [before]."
Bishop Moore High Coach Dave Wheeler said it's been "a long time coming" in a Little League culture where often a child's future is ignored. The only problem is, it's not Little League alone that affects a child's future.
"The reason I went 11 years without missing a start is because I grew up in a cold climate in New York where we could only play a few months out of the year, and I didn't become a pitcher till my junior year," said Frank Viola, Lake Highland's former baseball coach and a former Cy Young Award winner.
"It's scary to be a kid with talent who's pitching now. I think you're going to be burnt out before you have an opportunity to reach your goals."