Little League Baseball in Florida’s District 26, which covers all of Manatee County, has required criminal background checks for years. Now the rest of the nation will follow suit.
Little League International announced a series of rules changes on Wednesday, including mandatory background checks of sex offender registries and other criminal records for coaches and others involved with running teams.
District 26 automatically disqualified a person from volunteering if their name popped up as a registered sex offender. The decisions for a person with a criminal record were made by the league on a case-by-case basis. That discretion is eliminated effective this year.
“No local league shall permit any person to participate in any manner whose background check reveals a conviction, guilty plea, no contest plea, or admission to any crime involving or against a minor or minors,” Little League International said in a statement announcing the rules changes.
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Beth Van Vranken, the district 26 administrator, expects further clarifications from the governing body in the coming months about what sort of criminal records will be automatically disqualifying.
“It’s just adding a little bit deeper restrictions as to who can volunteer,” Van Vranken said.
The other major off-field rules change are meant to further tighten residency requirements in the wake of a scandal two years ago that cost Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West its 2014 Little League World Series U.S. title. Instead of allowing report cards to be used as proof of residence, players families will have to show a school enrollment form, as well as documents from each of the three residency categories and a birth certificate. Little League allows 17 documents to be used to prove residency, such as tax records and utility bills, divided into three categories.
Van Vranken said District 26 has never had any residency issues and doesn’t expect this change to affect the local leagues.
Notable rule changes Mandatory criminal background checks School enrollment replacing report cards for proof of residency Option to announce intentional walks rather than throw four pitches Option to require players to constantly keep one foot in batter’s box Ejections for those stealing signs
On the field, Van Vranken plans to leave the rules changes up to the individual leagues. Little League is giving the leagues the option to force batters to keep one foot in the batter’s box during regular-season games and allow intentional walks to be announced rather than thrown. Umpires also will have the jurisdiction to eject players or coaches they determine are stealing signs.
The intentional walk rule, in particular, stands out, not just because of its pace-of-play implications, but because of the concern about arm injuries. A declared intentional walk will still count as four pitches against a player’s pitch count.
“It’s going to save pitchers’ arms,” Van Vranken said. “In the grand scheme, they’re not rule changes that the presidents or the boards are up in arms about. Before I go to these meetings, I present these to all the leagues and get their opinions on them before I vote on them when I go to congresses and things like that.”
Van Vranken will meet with presidents from District 26’s six leagues — Braden River Little League, Buffalo Creek Little League, Lakewood Ranch Little League, Manatee National Little League, Manatee American Little League and Palmetto Little League — this month to establish rules for interleague play. Van Vranken doesn’t have the authority to create the rules on her own, but she knows what she will suggest.
“I will probably encourage the leagues to adopt because it’s very difficult come tournament time to break habits for the kids and things,” Van Vranken said. “I will encourage them to do throughout the season or at least for the second half of the season so that they get used to it before tournament time.”