KEWANEE — Baseball is a game of numbers.
Enthusiasts delight in tracking batting averages, recording strikeouts and talking about the latest in sabermetrics.
At this year’s Nolan Keane Baseball Classic — the number that matters most will be pitch counts. Tournament organizers are placing limits on how long pitchers can stay on the mound.
“Most tournaments don’t have pitch counts,” says tournament director Nicholas Welgat. “You could see kids throwing 150 to 200 pitches in a weekend. We’re trying to go against that; protect their young arms.”
Welgat says that the organizers of the tournament have been swayed by medical data showing that over-pitching of young arms can lead to serious injuries later on in their careers.
The Nolan Keane Baseball Classic, now in its sixth year, runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Each division will participate in Gold or Silver medal tournaments on Sunday after earning their seeds through pool play on Friday and Saturday.
The event has 81 baseball teams competing in eight age divisions. Most of the entries are traveling teams, like the event host, the Kewanee A’s.
Games will be played at Northeast Park and Windmont Park in Kewanee, Neponset Field in Neponset and at diamonds in Howes Park in Annawan.
Welgat says the Kewanee A’s already have a self-imposed rule about pitch counts. He said its teams will only participate in tournaments that have similar regulations.
For this weekend’s games, a 9- or 10-year-old pitcher has a limit of 75 pitches. An 11- or 12-year-old has 85, a 13-year-old has 95, and players ages 14 and older have 105.
“More and more orgs are taking that step,” Welgat said. “We’re trying to lead the way.”
The classic continues to serve as the principal source of fundraising for the Nolan Keane Memorial Fund. Welgat says 100 percent of the proceeds from the tournament goes to the fund, with shirt sales and raffle tickets providing the majority of the money raised. To date, the annual tournament has raised more than $15,000.
The fund provides financial assistance to families battling cancer, experiencing medical issues and other hardships. Welgat says in the current calendar year, an additional two area children and their families have been helped because of the fund.
The tournament honors the memory of Nolan S. Keane, a Kewanee collegiate baseball player who was diagnosed with Stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme and died in 2013, five years after his diagnosis.
The tournament, which started as a nine-team tournament for the coach-pitch division for players ages 8 and younger, has grown each year. Welgat says that there will be 148 games played during the three days. He’s arranged for 30 umpires to work the 11 separate diamonds. In addition, there are volunteers selling shirts, operating concessions and otherwise helping to support the running of the games.
“It’s quite the endeavor,” Welgat says. “I now spend nine months of the year planning and preparing for the tournament.”
The tournament is seen as an economic boon during the Father’s Day weekend, with large groups filling area restaurants.
Welgat says the tournament will follow guidelines of the United States Specialty Sports Association even though the tournament isn’t sanctioned. The USSSA provides governance of 15 youth sports, though it is best known as an umbrella organization for elite baseball and softball competition.