The sound of the crack of the bat has replaced the ping in many baseball games this summer.
More U18, U17 and U16 baseball games and tournaments are being contested using wooden bats rather than aluminum bats.
“They've had this for a few years now,” said Cherry Creek U17 Connie Mack coach Jeff Mielnicki. “It's great. The games are a lot shorter, there's more strategy, teams are bunting more, and they are playing baseball the old-fashioned way, getting runners on, moving them over and getting them in.”
There has been a trend of going back to wooden bats, mostly for safety reasons. The wood versus metal debate has been raging for years and will likely continue.
Baseballs come off metal bats faster, and that trampoline effect makes it hard for pitchers, coaches and infielders to defend themselves from balls hit towards them. Aluminum bats are generally easier to swing and have a larger sweet spot or center of percussion.
New BBCOR (Batted Ball Co-Efficient Of Restitution) regulations state the ball exit speed ratio can't exceed .728 because that is the point at which a pitcher loses his ability to protect himself.
Players using wooden bats have to develop good hitting fundamentals because the bats don't produce as many cheap hits as with metal bats. However, wooden bats break more easily than their metal counterparts.
Pro-aluminum-bat advocates and companies argue that hitting with metal bats these days is more like using wooden bats and the astronomical scores of many games have been reduced.
“With the new BBCOR regulations, the metal bats are much more like wooden bats compared to two or three years ago,” said Ponderosa coach Jarod Nicholson. “Three or four years ago they were swinging lightning rods and balls were flying out of parks everywhere. We don't see that any more. I thought it would be a more obvious change.
“For me, the guys that should hit home runs still hit home runs with BBCOR bats. It's probably the guys that shouldn't don't anymore. That's probably the biggest difference.”
Many programs like Ponderosa's use wooden bats in the summer, fall and preseason workouts to stress hitting fundamentals that must be solid to be a good hitter with a wooden bat.
“Hitters are learning two things,” said Mielnicki. “They need to keep their nose down and focus more on the sweet part of the barrel. They are finding not only are they not getting the cheap hit, they are breaking their bats. We do a lot of tee work, focusing on the barrel.
“What we have found over the last few years, at least on my teams, we have some players that have better averages in the spring and not as good in the summer. And some of the average players actually have better averages in the summer because they adjust better for some reason.”
Nicholson claims hitting with wooden bats helps his players.
“It does make them better,” he said. “It's one of those things where the kids aren't swinging for the fence with wooden bats. I like that. I tell our kids I'd rather have them hit a line drive in the gap. That's kind of our philosophy here. It makes kids stay within their shoes a little bit.”
Chaparral summer coach Ryan Serena agrees.
“Wood bats help players refine their swings,” he said. “You don't get as many cheap hits with wood. I think it's good to use wood. The players do, except when they break the bat. It's an $80 swing of the bat.”
Cherry Creek right fielder and pitcher Jack Gillet enjoys hitting with a wooden bat.
“When you use wooden bats, it is a different kind of game at the plate,” he explained. “The wooden bats do make you focus on executing the right way in order to drive the ball hard.”
Ponderosa's Brandon Kryzanski claims you have to learn how to hit with a wooden bat.
“I like using wooden bats because the power off the bat is like the pros,” said Kryzanski. “It's just getting used to the wood bats. If pitchers pitch inside on me with wood bats that will break them, so it teaches you to get your hands through quicker so you don't get jammed. Then you switch to a metal bat in the spring, and you get an inside pitch but your get your hands through quicker and it is going to go a lot farther than with a wood bat.”
Eric Tokuyama of Ponderosa claims it is easier to identify the good hitters when everybody is using wooden bats.
“Wood bats help you in the summer get your natural swing and you have to find the sweet sport,” he said. “It shows how good of a hitter you really are.”
Blake Goldsberry, a shortstop and pitcher for Cherry Creek, prefers aluminum bats.
“Wooden bats are OK but they break pretty easily,” he said. “Personally, I prefer the aluminum bat because you get more pop and drive the ball farther than you do with a similar hit with a wooden bat.”
Jim Haag owns Haag Bat Co. in Parker, and his sales of wooden bats have swelled this year.
The company sells four models of wood composite bats that are manufactured with fiberglass fabric reinforced outer layers, bonded on with a waterproof resin. The bats, which sell for $120, come with a four-month, 120-day replacement warranty policy.
“This is our tenth year of business,” said Haag, whose son Alex played at Ponderosa and Regis College. “We're anti-aluminum. We look at it as wood is the best thing for baseball. It makes them better hitters; if you can hit with wood, it's a lot better for you. The next level, college and getting drafted, they want to see you hit with wood. The whole wood bat concept is growing. A lot of states are going to wood only, no metal.
“This is our best year ever. The first three months of this year, we've sold more wood composite bats than we did in the first nine years. The economy is better, we're out into different states, colleges in Arizona and we're one of the approved vendors in New Mexico with their high schools. We've done over $100,000 in sales this year.”
New Mexico, North Dakota and schools in New York City have banned the use of metal bats. Massachusetts and Montana introduced proposals to eliminate aluminum bats in high school games, but neither passed.
No proposals to use wood-only bats in spring baseball for boys or girls softball in the fall have been presented to the Colorado High School Activities Association's Board of Control.
“What I would love to see is high school baseball with wood bats and to play nine innings,” said Nicholson. “Wood bat games are significantly quicker and faster, so to me that would be the best of both worlds, to play with wood bats for nine innings, that's real baseball.”