In conscious memory, youth baseball leagues in Howard County set pitching mounds at 46 feet from home plate and the bases 60 feet apart (46/60). 

Russiaville Youth Baseball League (RYBL) is taking those standards and moving them back for league play, beginning in 2018. The pitching mound now will be set at 50 feet for the major league level (12U), and the bases will be relocated to 70 feet (50/70) from home to challenge the 12U players but also better prepare them for the next level of play when the bases move to 90 feet from home plate.

“The Kokomo leagues right now go from 46/60 to 60/90. It’s a big jump. I coached at Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth levels. You watch a kid run the bases for the first time at the 60/90, and they think they’re never going to make it,” said Northern Indiana Cal Ripken Commissioner Dave Smith. 

At the August meeting, the RYBL Executive Board voted in favor of switching to 50/70 baseball for several reasons.

“50/70 baseball at Russiaville has been discussed for several years.  Our advanced play team, the Russiaville Rams, which plays in tournaments on weekends, has played in 50/70 tournaments for several years. Coaches and parents who have experienced 50/70 baseball have encouraged this transition for RYBL,” said RYBL President Scott Sipes. “When players progress to the next level of play at age 13, they jump to a full-sized infield, which is 60 feet six inches from the pitching rubber to home plate and 90 feet between bases. From 46/60, this is quite a transition all at once. 50/70 provides a transitional distance for players to progress more gradually.  We feel kids who play 50/70 will be physically better prepared for the next level of baseball, as well as better prepared in terms of base running, rules, and fundamentals of the full game of baseball.”

Although the RYBL players will compete in 50/70 ball during league play, the question remains which All-Star tournament trail they will enter in the Ohio Valley tournament. Just because a league plays its regular season at 50/70, they are allowed to choose the 46/60 or 50/70 tournament trail.

Introduced in 2007, 50/70 ball was implemented in Cal Ripken Baseball to off an “additional option” to play, as players today are advancing faster than players of decades ago. The 50/70 tournament trail at the national level has grown quickly, with the 46/60 tournament shrinking over the last several years. Despite the falling numbers nationwide, the Ohio Valley and a contingent in Massachusetts continue to see strong numbers in the shorter distance.

“One thing we have learned from the Cal Ripken State Commissioner, Dave Smith, is that most leagues in northern Indiana, in the Hamilton County area, and in other states in the Ohio Valley Region, have already converted to 50/70 fields.  The trend nationwide for Major Leagues is moving to 50/70 fields. RYBL is converting its facilities and league play so that we are positioned to provide the best opportunities for area kids to advance and succeed in baseball. We believe the handwriting is on the wall that Cal Ripken Major/60 All-Stars are waning both in the number of teams and competitiveness, while Major/70 is growing each year,” Sipes said.

“Everybody still has the 46/60 tournament trail. We still have a 12U World Series,” said Smith. “Will it ever completely go away? I don’t think it will, but it will be a lot smaller version.”

The added distance of the mound and bases will add new skills for the players to learn. Runners will be allowed to lead-off, allowing pitchers to work on their pick off motion. Balks also will be introduced.

Sipes said that as play develops over the season, the league will evaluate game play and make adaptations and improvements to league play.

With the changes to play, some physical changes will be experienced on the field. Sipes said the league will need to remove 10 feet of sod from the infield. RYBL will add some drainage to that area. They plan to remove the existing clay mound and replace it with a portable turf mound. Since both 10U and 12U levels play on the field undergoing the changes, anchor sleeves will be used to mark the difference in base distances. Keeping the existing distances will allow for city tournament games to be hosted as well as All-Star tournaments. They will not need to make adjustments to the outfield fence as it falls within the Cal Ripken guidelines.

As the demand for bigger, stronger, faster athletes works its way to the lowest levels of play, RYBL is hoping to stay ahead of the demand of travel baseball by making these adjustments to their 12U program.

“Another consideration for RYBL in making the decision to convert to 50/70 is to combat players leaving the league to play for outside travel teams.

We feel that providing a more advanced play league on a transitional sized infield will help attract and retain players at Russiaville and better position the league and its players for the future,” Sipes said. “RYBL will welcome Howard, Clinton, and Carroll County area players aged 11-12 who wish to play 50/70 baseball to play in our league, subject to Cal Ripken boundary rules.

“Our strong hope is that other leagues in the Kokomo and Howard County area will transition to 50/70 baseball in the near future. If that occurs, District All-Star play with other teams in our district will be possible for Major/70.”