Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Youth Baseball: Bats, Wood or Aluminum?

In 1924, a patent was issued for the first metal baseball bat, but metal bats were not used until Worth introduced the first aluminum baseball bat in 1970. I was a little league player in the early 70's and I vividly remember when kids around the league started to use them. By the mid 70's every team had at least one aluminum bat for players to share.

Metal bats became very popular when Easton introduced a better and stronger aluminum bat in the late 70's. That is when I got my first aluminum bat. I remember it like it was yesterday, it was gold with black letters. When the bat met the ball it sounded different, but I don't really remember it changing the game significantly for me.

Innovations continued as bat manufacturers realized there was a market for $300+ bats. In the early 1990's lighter and stronger bats made of titanium were introduced. Then bats with double wall construction and high tech composite materials were introduced. All of the innovations were designed to propel the ball faster and further. Of course parents anxious to see their kids succeed or at a minimum keep up with the Jones' keep buying the best and most expensive bats on the market. And the crack of the bat was forever replaced by the ping of a bat.

I didn't realize it until this past weekend, but baseball lost something in the process.

Arguments for high tech metal or composite bats
  • Better weight distribution with a center of gravity closer to the handle to make it easier to swing. 
  • Greater bat speed potential leads to more power to hit the ball harder, faster and further.
  • The Trampoline effect - the bat compresses on impact and then springs back pushing the ball forward.
  • Bigger sweet spot which is much more forgiving translates to more hits.
  • More durable - aluminum bats do not break as easy as wood.
  • Cost efficient. Metal or Composite bats can be much more expensive to buy compared to wood bats, but cost savings can be realized over time because they are more durable.
Arguments against high tech metal or composite bats
  • Greater bat speed potential leads to more power to hit the ball harder and faster and this puts the pitcher and other players in jeopardy of serious injury. Kids are getting seriously injured and even killed by batted balls that rocket off of the high tech bats.
  • Bigger sweet spot which is much more forgiving leads to more hits even against nasty pitches. There are lots of rules in place to limit the number of pitches a pitcher can throw in a week, a game or a tournament. These rules are in place to protect young arms. If wood bats were used, there would be less cheap hits and therefore less pitches required to get through an inning or game. Wood bats would save young arms.
  • Defense becomes more important. Games with wood bats are decided more on skill and less on technology. 
  • Strategy becomes important again. Manufacturing runs with bunts and "hit and run" plays become more viable options. Kids therefore learn the game more completely. 

The Main Point

After watching a wood bat tournament this past weekend, I have become a big fan of wood bats. A game played with wooden bats is pure baseball. It is baseball at its very best.

Games 52, 53, 54, 55

I just watched a great wood bat tournament this past weekend. It was baseball at its best. The eight best teams from the tri-state area converged to match skills not technology.

My son's team won 4-3 in extra innings, lost 1-0 in extra innings, won 7-6 in extra innings and then lost in the semi-finals. Pitchers pitched and fielders made plays. There were very few cheap hits. There were more bunts and situational hitting. It was really fun to watch.

Ironically enough, my son who has been in a prolonged slump hit a pop up 15 feet beyond second base. The second baseman got a late jump. The shortstop got a late jump and the centerfielder did not get a good read. As a result, the ball dropped in for a cheap hit. My son hustled right out of the box and slid into second base with a double. His coach didn't say a word about his hustle. The opposing coach yelled at his players, he said, "If you guys hustled half as much as that kid he would be out and not on second base. Nice hustle kid." Despite the long slump he continues to play with passion and I am proud of him.

The 1-0 loss was against our arch rival, the team that denied us a CABA World Series Championship by beating us in the finals 2 years ago. In the second inning, my son was up with a runner on third. His coach called for a suicide squeeze. My son put a perfect bunt down the first base line. The run scored and my son was safe at first with a single and an RBI, or so we thought.  The umpire called the ball foul. He claimed that he saw the ball hit my son's foot. I have video of the play and the ball was no where close to his foot. Nic's team would have won in regulation 1-0, but instead lost the game in extra innings 1-0. That is how it goes when a player is in a slump.

My son caught both games of the doubleheader on Saturday and the semi-final game on Sunday. He played flawlessly and threw out another base stealer. One of the dads from our team came up to me and said how impressed he is with Nic. Namely, that he does not take his hitting slump into the field with him.

I bought my son a Mad Dog bamboo bat prior to the tournament. My son loved it. Mad Dog Bats




13 comments:


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