Swinging a wood bat can really help young hitters develop faster. First off, wooden bats tend to be weighted differently than aluminum / metal bats. This difference alone helps hitters develop the muscles they use to swing, and really builds bat speed faster than just working with aluminum. Also, the sweet spot on wooden bats is smaller than that of a metal bat, and forces hitters to be more selective at the plate. Because wood bats have smaller sweet spots, it forces hitters to only swing at good pitches.
Typically hitters who train with wood bats swing at fewer bad pitches, and wait for that pitch they can drive on a more consistent basis. Being more selective at the plate and having more bat speed are two things that coaches at all levels look for when they evaluate hitters. Simply switching to wooden bats for practice will help hitters develop the skills necessary to play and be more successful at the next level. With the school season ending, and the travel ball season starting to ramp up, do yourself a favor and start swinging a wood bat. You’ll see improvement in your production at the plate in no time.
I came across one of these “wood bats” the other day.
This is a popular “composite” bat that you’ll often see in somebody’s bat bag as a “just as good as a wood bat”. The DeMarini S-series “wood” baseball bat. A kid was using the bat in the hitting facility I work at and quite frankly, the bat irritated me. I looked at it and thought – How can anybody look at this thing and think it is a wood bat? After having it gnaw at me for about an hour and spending some time bitching to a few people who would listen, I decided to actually do some research and see if I was getting worked up over nothing. So I used the google button and made a few calls to some people in the industry that I know and came up with some things I will share with you momentarily. But before I do that and possibly ruffle a few feathers, I want to relate some town ball history that I happened to be present for that will illuminate why this bat vexes me so.
Wood Bats & Minnesota Town Ball
Here is a factoid that I have discovered is not known by all town ball players. Minnesota town ball, regardless of class, used to be an aluminum bat league. That’s correct, it was not always a wood bat league. For those of us who were there this is a “well duh” type statement. But I have found that many younger players are unaware of this. It is, however, quite true. Prior to 2002 town ball players used aluminum bats. So how did it change? Well, that is an interesting story in itself.
In the late 90’s aluminum bats went through a transformation. Bat makers started using new technologies that led to lighter bats that produced a “trampoline effect” that caused the ball to pretty much explode off the barrel like a .50 caliber bullet. Consequently, balls started flying out of ballparks. Even guys who were little or previously popless started regularly hitting jacks. Five of the top ten highest single season collegiate home run records and highest team totals occurred between 1997-1999. And seven of the top ten highest team home run totals per game happened between 1997-2002.
I played my collegiate years right before this bat explosion. During this “Negative Five Era” as it came to be called, I was playing Independent pro ball using a wood bat. When I was released (for being too handsome, not because I sucked) I came back to town ball and was amazed. There were guys with 20 jacks all over the place. Dude, Minnetonka hit 93 bombs in 1998. I’m pretty sure like 10 of them were hit with one hand and floated over my head in left field at Parade Stadium in the state championship game. The truth is, it wasn’t really that fun. When someone hit a home run people barely noticed, and if a batter laced a double nobody even looked up.
Worse than that, it seemed to be getting dangerous. Pitchers were seriously in harms way. I witnessed several hurlers get absolutely torched. I was catching a game when Tonka legend Tony Richards took a ball about an inch off the ground and a foot outside past our second baseman before he could even move. It was actually scary to throw to some guys.
So our team decided we didn’t want anyone’s blood on our hands and switched to wood bats in 1999. I know that sounds cocky, but we had one of our own pitchers smoked in the dome and it came a fraction of an inch from ending his career (he really had a career too as he ended up being drafted by the White Sox). Plus we had some big boppers of our own. At 6’3″ and 260 lbs of shred town ball hall of famer Chris Johnson had a legitimate chance of murderizing someone, or at least putting them on a liquid diet for a long time. Anyway, we played the entire 1999 season with wood bats and finished 2nd to Minnetonka in the class A state tourney that year. We weren’t on a crusade to get everyone to use wood. We just found out it was more fun. It was real baseball and we had to work hard to compete.
The next year Wintz trucking, who had used wood for part of the previous year, went to wood all year long (at least I think they did). Then, finally everyone changed over in 2002. After playing with wood I will never go back to aluminum (or whatever passes for aluminum these days) again. Wood totally leveled the playing field.
Which brings me to this thing again…
Here is why I don’t like it. It is just like those stupid juiced aluminum bats. It is cheating. Allow me to illustrate why.
When I was playing Indy ball we had a dude who corked a bat. He had a hole bored in the center and filled it with cork. Then he plugged the hole and sanded it down. We all took BP with it, crushed some homers and agreed it was the coolest thing ever. My team mate did not use it in a game however. I guess he read this rule:
Major League Baseball Rule 6.06(d)
A batter is out for illegal action when he uses or attempts to use a bat that, in the umpire’s judgment, has been altered or tampered with in such a way to improve the distance factor or cause an unusual reaction on the baseball.
and he thought “yeah, that’s cheating.”
Here is a cross section of a corked bat…
Here is a cross section of a DeMarini…
Yes, you are seeing that right. A DeMarini “wood” bat is not really a wood bat. It is mostly plastic. It looks a lot like a corked bat. An awful lot. But you probably already knew that. the question is, so what?
The answer is, the bat gives the hitter an advantage. The bat is designed to be lighter and worse than that, the handle is made out of carbon fiber material. The same crap they make hockey sticks out of these days. It flexes and then snaps back faster than a solid wood bat does. Here is some actual copy from a DeMarini ad…
“This maple/composite design provides players with an ever so slight amount of flex that is not typically found in a maple–‐only wood bat. This design also produces a slightly end–‐loaded feel and a larger sweet spot for more trampoline and more power than your conventional wood bats.”
There is that darn word again “trampoline”. By this companies own admission, their “wood” bat DOES NOT even perform like a solid wood bat!
So here comes the argument – Yeah but they don’t break. It is true that they break far less often, but they are not indestructible. They now cost about $200. There are several reputable companies that I am aware of that offer discounts to town ball players and make great wood bats. You can get 3-4 bats from these companies for around the same price. Will it be a little more expensive to swing real wood – perhaps for some guys it will (depending how bad your swing is). Well, it was an adjustment to swing wood when we went to it in the first place. Nobody complained then. Because it was more fun and made the game even.
All of this leads me to my point, these bats should be banned from town ball, or any league or game that is dubbed wood bat baseball. The bat race that we broke free from in 2002 is just starting all over again. Lets nip it in the bud and swing real wood bats. The Roy Hobbs organization has already banned these bats stating that they are no different (and even worse) than a corked bat. It is embarrassing to me that the state that went to wood bats first has to take its cues from another organization. I really don’t know where to start, somebody take it from here…and then maybe the Lorax and all of his friends will come back again.
Just because your high school or college baseball career is over, doesn’t mean there aren’t outlets for you to get your baseball fix in. Wood bat leagues and wood bat tournaments are organized all over the place, and I recently had the pleasure of participating in one such tourney in Florida.
And as I’m about to land in Chicago for a short layover and get ready to connect to my flight home, I’m a little run down, a tiny bit hungover, utterly confused with the time zone changes with daylight savings, and a lot sentimental. My trip out east was supposed to be a simple nine day getaway and mixing in some play time at an international wood bat baseball tournament that I was lucky enough to be invited to.
The twenty-seventh annual wood bat event is called the Roy Hobbs World Series, and it’s held down in sunny warm (read ridiculously hot and humid) Ft Myers, FL. This place is filled with alligators, manatee, dolphins (we actually swam with dolphins!), and strip malls as far as the eye can see. I assumed I’d have some fun, but what I didn’t expect was the rewarding experiences, valuable moments, remarkable new friends, and memories that will be etched in my mind for a very very long time.
We played 8 nine inning games in six days…..that’s 72 innings in under a week, and I was on the field for 68 of those. We finished with a bronze medal going 5 and 3 (side note: we swept two doubleheaders. Not an easy accomplishment). What. A. Grind. By far the most games I’ve been on the field for in about 30 years of amateur sport. Anyone who says baseball players aren’t athletes needs to give that a whirl. I have a feeling they may have a change of heart. I played pretty well. Well enough to not completely embarrass myself, but that’s not the point here. The real reason this post gets the long-wind treatment is the colorful cast of characters I had the pleasure of suiting up next to. There were so many brilliant anecdotes, inside jokes, and puns for days. We ripped on each other like we’d the been brothers since birth and conducted ourselves like the four year old snot-nosed punks we really are. We fought like champs and overcame almost every adversity. This group was outstanding.
There was a sergeant of an organized crime unit from the Chicago Police Dept who gave us a glimpse into his chilling job description; a CEO of nearly a billion dollar company who timed out to fly to New York to close a deal with Baumbardier; a head coach of a junior college baseball team; and of course the Founder and VP of MaxBat…..a wooden bat company built from scratch whose customized products are used by hundreds of Major Leaguers. These are just a few of the back stories of the MaxBat squad.
I was accompanied by three other local Victoria, BC boys. We were the Canadian content and we represented our country well. I feel like we turned some heads and showed our American hosts we’re not all beaver-pelt hunting Zamboni driving igloo builders, eh. I remember hearing one of our Uber drivers say, “Victoria, Canada?? Not the first place you’d look to find good ball players.” We laughed. We knew what kind of players we were. We went about our business, prepared the way we know how, and crushed pints like true Canucks. It’s in the handbook.
In the locker room, we were the most boisterous and raukus of all the teams in there. We held kangaroo court after each game and awarded bucks for every slight infraction on and off the field. Wore the wrong color undershirt? That’s a buck. Come to the airport with an expired passport? That’s a buck. Lose all your gear in transit? Thats a buck. I did all of those things btw.To say we didn’t hold back would be an understatement. We owned the week.
Team MaxBat is filled with salt of the earth family oriented hard working men all brought together purely for the love of of this fickle game (and pints). I’m more than honored to call these people my friends. I can only hope they feel the same. Until next year, compadres. I wish you all the best.
As summer ball and wood bat leagues come to a close and college and high school player’s return to school, the real offseason starts to set in. While some use this time to relax and just get back into the routine of going to class, good players know this is the time to get better. This is the time to look back on what has got you to where you are. What have you done well? What do you need to work on? The offseason is where you get stronger, where you refine your skills, where weaknesses become strengths. This is the time where instead of sleeping in, you’re out of bed by 5:30 to get to that 6 am workout. You may not be playing games, but baseball season never really ends.
They say that the fall is where you become a family, and spring is where you prove it. The summer was fun to play ball with old friends and get your share of cuts in with that custom MaxBat wood bat….but as the leaves turn, so does the mentality. It now becomes time to get back with the boys and create that family. Every team is different and every year is different. You may not want to get up early to work out, but your teammates are right there with you pushing you to be your best and get that max rep. The offseason is where good players become great. You may not have coaches instructing you on what drills to do or when to get in the gym, but just because no one is watching doesn’t mean you don’t work hard. Extra tee work with a wood bat, or that extra bullpen, or that extra sprint are what make you ready to perform your best once spring rolls around.
The point I am trying to make is enjoy this time. Cherish the opportunity you have to play the best game on earth, no matter what level it may be. Be motivated to get up early or stay up late to work on your craft. As a former college player myself, and only being out of college for a few months, I can already say I miss the workouts after class and just hanging with the guys. Being able to play baseball every day were the best days of my life. Enjoy every game of catch, every cut off the tee, every feeling you get when hitting the ball squarely with a wood bat, every ground ball…..because while this may be the greatest game, we can’t play it forever.
The wood bat movement for softball is something that really caught my eye. I have played slow pitch softball for a few summers now and have always thought that the metal bats used today are way too “hot”. I agree that having to have a home run limit is something that should immediately be a red flag. Not to mention, everyone now apologizes if they hit a ball up the middle.
In baseball, we are taught to drive the ball up the middle. As a baseball player myself (currently in a wood bat league), and a huge numbers and analytics nerd, I decided to do some research on the numbers.
A study was done out of Mamaroneck High School comparing metal bats and wood bats and swing and exit speed. The average swing speed was 8 miles per hour faster with the metal bats. The exit speed difference for someone of my age (22) was 14 mph faster off of the metal bat as compared to the wood bat.
If you take these numbers and put them into game like reaction times, you would find that with a wood bat, you have 0.04 more seconds to react on a ball hit back at the pitcher. Now this may not seem like a lot of time, but that can be the difference between getting your glove up to catch the ball and being hit by a hard line drive. As a pitcher who has been hit by a line drive back at me, I will take all the time I can get. In terms of softball, the base paths are 20-30 feet shorter than baseball, depending on the league. This reaction time is now reduced even more, which has caused pitchers and even some infielders to wear masks. At the end of the day, I am completely on board with the change to wood bats for softball. Not to mention the customization that MaxBat offers is something that softball players everywhere would enjoy.