Big League Protection

In the past month, at least two children in the United States have died while playing baseball. CBS News Health Contributor Dr. Jordan Metzl, who is also a sports medicine specialist, shared some advice on The Saturday Early Show on how to keep your young ballplayer safe.

The two children who died playing baseball suffered from a condition called commoto cordis. Dr. Metzl says that is the medical term for a rare disruption of the heart's electrical system resulting from a blunt impact to the chest that leads to cardiac arrest.

It is largely the result not of the force of the blow, but from an incredibly timely blow contacting the chest directly over the heart at just the wrong time: the precise millisecond between heart contractions that throws the heart into a lethal abnormal heart rhythm called "ventricular fibrillation" or VF.

Ventricular fibrillation causes a useless quivering of the heart that results in a complete cessation of circulation, instantly depriving the brain and other vital organs without circulation and oxygen. The blows usually causes no identifiable structural injury to the ribs, sternum or to the heart itself.

There is a piece of athletic equipment called a heart protector that is worn under children's baseball jerseys.

Equipment that is strongly recommended but not required by the International Little League Organization:

  • HELMET WITH FACE MASK: A batter's helmet with a face mask is not required but recommended because it can protect a young player from being hit in the face with balls.
  • ALUMINUM BAT: There has been some controversy over non-wood bats recently. But Little League research shows them to be far safer than wood bats, and more cost-effective. The reason: wood bats for Little Leaguers are made of inferior wood, and tend to break in any case if not used correctly, resulting many times in a two-foot splinter of wood pinwheeling into the infield.
  • LIGHTNING DETECTOR: Little League recommends that each league use any one of the relatively inexpensive lightning indicators for games and practices. The league should have a policy that says play must stop and players must get to shelter when certain conditions make lightning a possibility in the area.
  • BREAKAWAY BASES: Little League recommends the use of breakaway bases instead of the traditional stationary base. The breakaway base dislodges from its anchor when impacted with any force from the side. Thus, when a runner slides into a base too hard, the base "gives," instead of injuring the player's foot or hand.
  • GROIN PROTECTORS: Groin protection is often overlooked, but it is very important for baseball and softball players to use groin protectors. Every player should wear an athletic supporter that includes a pocket for a "cup," even if that player is not a catcher. Getting children accustomed to wearing these at an early age is a good idea. Groin protectors are being manufactured for girls now, too.
Children also need to be protected from overuse injuries. How would you spot one in your young ball player?

Two of the most common overuse injuries in Little Leaguers are what we call Little League elbow and Little League shoulder.

It happens when players, typically pitchers, throw too often. If a young player complains of pain in either of the two areas, these complaints should be taken seriously.

The Little League organization is doing its part to prevent these problems. They recommend that pitchers only be permitted to throw in six innings per week. If a pitcher delivers only one pitch in a game, he or she must rest for a full calendar day before pitching again. If he or she pitches in more than three innings in a day, he or she must rest three full days before pitching again.

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