Bat Changes, They are A-Coming
For the past few days I have been writing about the recent controversy and the moves and mandate by professional baseball to secure the safety of its fans and players in 2009. With the advent of the maple bat came problems that baseball did not think would effect their fan base and on field players with shards of bat coming to harm them. After the increase in injuries and incidents concerning the maple bats. The Frontier League took it upon itself to ban the maple bat model from league play until they could be made safer for everyone in the ballpark.
Along with this bat companies and the MLB have established studies and procedures to help eliminate a lot of the past problems with the maple bats. MLB instituted a mandate that all bat from this time forward will be tested to check for seepage and grain before they leave the factory. If the bats are not deemed to be ” certified ” by the inspector, they will not be able to be used in a baseball game. This is just a first step by both the bat companies and MLB to secure the safety of everyone and to again bring back confidence in the game.
It is truly a first step as the MLB scientists and bat engineers and development teams further try and discover and update bat designs and shapes to eliminate this current terror from the field. With further safety developments and new techniques, the factories and MLB will further the upgrading of the current bat design and institute mandates and rules to insure the safety of everyone around the game. But there are also people outside the realms of the baseball community have solutions or inventions that could also speed up the changes and revolution of the baseball bat.
People like New Jersey inventor Ward Dill, who is a MIT graduate and inventor of a bat that is said to be almost unbreakable by today’s standards. Okay, so the bat is not totally unbreakable, but it is guaranteed not to break, crack, or shatter for an entire year, or Dill will replace it free of charge. What current MLB bat company can say that in a contract? Dill invented this bat as an alternative to the current metal bats used in the college ranks and below.
With the MLB never going to the metal bat as an option, it give a great alternative to teams that have players who might be professional prospects to help them develop their skills for the next level, where wooden bats are the mandate. As stated before, the bat is guaranteed to not break, shatter or crack for an entire year. This revolutionary maple bat consists of 12 wedges of wood bond by space age polymers and adhesives and employing a unique clamping technique.
“The result is that it is very strong, and as a result of it being strong, it is safe.” Dill boasted at a news conference. ” It is impossible for this maple bat to shatter in the way the maple bats shatter in the major leagues today. The worst thing that can happen is a crack.”
To solidify his point, Dill conducted a exhibition of a player taking batting practice using just a single bat. After a usual batting practice routine, the bat was examined and there were no cracks, or signs of wear and tear on the model. And most importantly, the bat did not break even after a change in grip and facing of the bat.
The bat also plays the baseball like a traditional wooden bat. A sweet spot on this bat is still a sweet spot. It also resonated with the same crisp sound upon impact that current bat models make with contact with a baseball. Dill currently has his model out in 6 independent sporting goods stores in the New Jersey, New York area. The bat would have to undergo extensive MLB testing before it can be released and approved for game use by any of the leagues minor league or major league clubs and players.
That might be the next step for this “bat of the future“, but to some people the price tag might seem high until you consider all of it’s good points. The bat is currently on sale for about $ 100 dollars for an adult model. This would be a considered a luxury for most baseball players, but considering that most metal bats are going for over that amount, it might be a bargain. Also to consider is the fact that since it is guaranteed for one year, it will be replaced without cost. The usual bat prices for a wooden maple bat are between $ 50-75 dollar a bat. Considering you might need at least 12 bats a year, the saving are huge for a minor league or amateur player.
Another inventor in the northeast also thinks he has the solution to the MLB problem with a wood that is currently unavailable in the US. A retired history professor who still plays baseball in the amateur ranks has an invention that will eliminate the problem. George Preston is not your typical museum curator. He currently runs a small museum on 162 street in Harlem in Sugar Hill, but his love is baseball. Even at 69, Preston still plays right field and second base on his amateur fast-pitch baseball team.
But it is his invention of a bat, made from a wood unknown in America for bat production that might be his greatest discovery. Preston began to notice in 2008 that bats were breaking in the majors more frequently than they once had. More and more players were having their bats made from maple instead of ash–ash trees were under attack in North America by a wood-boring beetle, and hitters found that maple produced a harder and lighter piece of lumber.
But maple bats are also more brittle. Hitters have complained that their bats can explode on impact, even when the ball connects with the thickest part of the barrel. The result has sent players and fans ducking for cover. Preston, who had recently retired from teaching art history at City College of New York in 2006, began looking in Ghana for trees and wood that could be used to make bats that wouldn’t break. He found a tropical hardwood tree that grew straight and had the right weight and density.
He taught craftsmen in an area village how to spin the tree’s logs into bats and dry them in kilns, and now he brings home a load of bats after each trip to West Africa. He’s sold a dozen of them to players in his league ( they’re $90 each ), and he uses one himself every time he’s in the batter’s box. He’s applied for a patent for the design. Preston has used the bats for several years and has proof that the bats crack, but do not fall apart or even expel shards like the current maple bats. He even remarked than even when they do crack, the still drive the ball and do not just fall apart upon impact.
Preston finishes each bat himself with a Danish clear varnish that give the bat a dark red tone. Then he stamps each bat with the same logo, ” Made In Mamfe-Ghana Baseball Ltd.” Fine craftman ship and detail go into each bat, with the final inspection falling upon his shoulders before he ships or delivers bats to local players or teams for use in games.
“Major League Baseball needs to do something about all these bats breaking before something really bad happens”.
Preston held one of his bats on his shoulder as he looked out over the Bronx, where cranes jutted into the air over the construction site of the new Yankee Stadium.
“I’d like to sell these to one major league club and let the battle with the fastball begin,” he said. “This bat would be great for Johnny Damon. Damon’s always breaking bats.”
So as we can see, America is also getting involved in the move to make the MLB ballpark safe again for everyone. People in all walks of like want t feel safe and secure when they enter or watch a sporting event. Until 2008, the people in the front rows and above the dugouts in baseball did not have much to fear except for the odd foul ball. But last season they had a new reason for fear and constant field vision during games. MLB and the bat companies are doing more and more to secure the confidence in the public again.
But it is the invention of America that might finally find the answer and the solution to this controversy. Maybe it will be the independent baseball bat manufacturer who finds a solution, or maybe someone like Wade Dill or George Preston will develop a solution then get involved with MLB or another manufacturer and turn a dream into a safe haven for everyone who enjoys baseball.