BIDDEFORD — Alex Smith may never again be in a position where so many strangers were concerned about his right arm.

Every time the 12-year-old threw a pitch for his Falmouth Little League team during a recent state tournament game, three officials behind home plate took note. Every half-inning they would compare their figures, then relay them to the coaches.

The goal? To make sure Smith wasn’t overworked under guidelines suggested by the American Sports Medicine Institute and adopted by Little League baseball in 2007.

It’s Ground Zero in the battle against arm injuries, and it soon became clear that everyone involved in the game was aware how close Smith was to throwing 85 pitches – the maximum allowed for 11- and 12-year-olds in a game.

In the sixth inning, with Falmouth leading a team from Hampden 6-1, catcher Ike Kiely called a timeout to inform everyone that Smith was near the end of his line. The grownups laughed. They didn’t need the reminder.

“You’re going to make a good coach someday,” Falmouth Coach Matt Rogers told Kiely, who returned to his crouch.

Outside the press box door, a player from Saco exulted. “He threw 85?” he asked no in particular. “Yes!”

The Saco player’s interest was personal and telling. He knew Smith wouldn’t be allowed to pitch again in the tournament because rules require four days of rest for any player who throws at least 66 pitches in a game.

Pitch counts are ingrained in Little League baseball, America’s most enduring youth sports brand, for a reason. The rules are universally praised by doctors and researchers with an interest in curbing the rise in elbow and shoulder injuries.

Coaches like Dan Michaud of Biddeford, one of the officials charting pitches at the tournament last week, are happy to have the guidelines.

“I like the pitch count,” said Michaud, who has been coaching Little League for 25 years. “Sometimes you get dads who are pulled in to coach just because they’re needed and they’re willing to help, but maybe they don’t understand the rules. So having those rules written down, you take the decision away from the coach. It’s much better than the old way, where it was by innings, because you could have kids throwing well over 100 pitches,”

It forces teams to have more depth at pitcher. And further restrictions that prevent Little Leaguers from playing catcher for more than three innings and pitching in the same game – or prevent a pitcher who’s thrown 40 or more pitches from also catching – can make it difficult when assigning positions.

But few question that it’s worth it to maintain healthy arms.

Rogers takes the pitch-count rules even further. He also coaches a travel team, which includes eight of his Falmouth Little League players.

The others are required to give him the name and email address of their other coaches so he can check with them on how much pitching the child has done. If they can’t give him the information, they don’t pitch. And though there are no pitch restrictions in travel baseball, Rogers imposes his own.

“We’ve lost tournament games where kids have thrown 118 pitches against us. And those are from 50 feet, this is from 46,” Rogers said, nodding toward the Biddeford Little League field.

“I’m rotating three pitchers and they’re using one. I can’t put a kid through that.

“I’d rather lose the game than have you run the risk of an injury.”

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