Wood Bat Softball League Ends

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The CPR efforts Patrick Walker and Joseph Harris desperately applied to the dying wood bat softball league were to no avail.

The ailing patient died because only one team registered for the league during the two-week signup period.

Last week, Walker and Harris -- recreation coordinators and supervisors for the town P&R department -- cited last rites by abandoning plans for the summer league.

"We canceled due to lack of interest," Walker said. "That was a disappointment to us."

At one time, the wood bat league was a popular Payson P&R offering. But when former recreation coordinator Teddy Pettet resigned four years ago, interest in the league waned.

"There were several coordinator changes and we continued to offer just the basics until we could get somebody in place we knew would stay for awhile and have the ambition to again offer the (wood bat) league," Walker said.

Walker believes that down the road there will be a place in the local P&R program for wood bat play, because it is both safer and unique.

The safety issue has turned paramount in many American Legion youth baseball leagues that have banned alloy bats.

In a resolution to return to wooden bats, Legion baseball officials wrote, "Aluminum bats are not allowed in the major leagues and, with the safety of the player at stake, as well as to properly reflect the standards of the major leagues, should not be used in the American Legion Leagues."

At least six teenagers were killed playing baseball when American Legion was using alloy bats.

One of those, Brandon Patch of Miles City, Mont., died in 2003 after being struck in the head by a batted baseball. His death prompted a Billings high school coach to ditch his team's alloy bats and others around the state to follow.

Walker understands why alloy bats can be dangerous.

"The ball comes off of a metal bat at a faster speed than it does off a wood bat," Walker said. "It's called Ball Exit Speed Ration or BESR.'

With higher BESRs, safety is an issue because players must be on the alert for screaming line drives that can cause injury and even death.

Especially susceptible to injuries from batted balls off alloy bats are the pitchers.

In New York last year, city officials banned the use of alloy bats, but the new law had to survive a challenge in court.

James Oddo, the councilman who argued for the law, said that a judge's ruling that the ban was legal is a "green light to return the game to its roots, to give kids back a better, purer and safer brand of baseball."

Wood bats one of a kind

As for wooden bats being unique, Walker said, "There is a different feel of a ball coming off a wood bat."

Also, there are those longtime sports fans who disdain the use of alloy bats saying the crack of a wooden bat is one of the unique evocative American sounds.

Another argument often heard in favor of wood bats is that they give a much better "sound signature" to the defenders, allowing them to determine if it was a good hit or not. The distinctive sound gives them help in knowing how to play a batted ball.

There are those recreational softball players who favor wood bats saying they make the game more authentic, playable and enjoyable, especially in smaller parks.

Since high-tech metal bats, a product of modern technology, can send softballs soaring hundreds of feet, more home runs are hit. Which means, there are fewer opportunities for defensive plays and the games turn boring and mundane, some players claim.

Although wood bats are the foundation of modern day softball and baseball, the only leagues that use them exclusively are the pro ranks, and some American Legion programs where metals bats have been outlawed.

Although the NCAA continues to approve of the use of metal bats, there are 11 collegiate summer baseball leagues, such as the Cape Cod League, that use wooden bats.

For the sponsoring Payson P&R department, an advantage of wood bats is that officials and umpires don't have to worry about illegal bats, which is a huge problem in metal bat leagues.

Some players try to sneak in high-tech, hollow core, titanium and alloy bats that can turn even the average hitter into a second coming of Babe Ruth.

Broken bats

About the only danger using wooden bats is they can splinter.

"Infielders, especially the pitchers, need to watch for a broken bat head here and there," Walker said.

Broken bats were a huge problem for the P&R department and players when Pettet organized the first wood bat league in Payson.

"We went through nearly 30 bats in the first game alone due to the poor quality of bats we had purchased," Walker said. "That was something we learned from and bought better bats."

Although the wood bat league is DOA, the town will host both men's and women's softball leagues. Play in both began June 23.

Walker is reminding players that ASA rules with town modifications will be used and not the USSSA code. For more information, call Walker or Harris at (928) 474-5242, ext. 7.

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