SOUDERS ON SPORTS: Wood bats make Legion baseball better
When it comes to baseball, count me squarely in the traditionalists' camp.
Which is why it's been a pleasure to cover American Legion baseball this summer.
Legion baseball has gone back to wooden bats and the results have been plain to see. This year's Legion games, by and large, have been much cleaner and well played than this past spring's high school games played by mostly the same kids, only with aluminum bats.
To be fair, not all of the blame for scattershot play in the spring lies with the bats. The weather is a lot more fickle and fields are harder to keep up, meaning practice time is at a premium. Throw in the ball coming off the bat at a much faster clip, and it's easy to see why fielders. particularly infielders, sometimes have a rough go of it.
The safety factor is the big reason the Legion has gone back to wood bats. Frankly, being a hardball pitcher in an aluminum-bat game anymore has to be kind of scary for all involved, pitcher and hitter. Big, strong kids hitting fastballs with an aluminum bat should make every mother wince.
But along the way, Legion coaches and players have found that the game is a lot more manageable with wooden bats as well. The ball comes off the bat with less force, giving defenses a fighting chance at grounders and especially a better jump on fly balls.
The average number of runs scored per game in the games I've covered this summer has been about eight, by both teams combined. There were two 2-1 games, and in the one game which was kind of an offensive explosion, a 10-4 game, the damage was done mostly with clean hits, not errors.
By comparison, this past high school season was filled with scores such as 14-4, 13-12,
13-6, 10-6, 10-5, 13-9, 15-12, 11-8, 22-9, 12-7, 10-6, and on and on. Obviously, there were some crisp games played during the high school season too, but the Legion games have been much better played, by basically the same kids.
Austin Fry, The News-Item's Player of the Year in the high school season, pitches and plays shortstop for the Shamokin-Mount Carmel Legion team, and explained the difference as a pitcher.
"You can work the corners a lot more with wooden bats," Fry said. "If someone hits it off the end of the bat, it's probably going to be a weak grounder. Aluminum bats are less forgiving. Someone can hit one off the end of the bat with them and it can still go flying."
Legion coaches, by and large, love the change. The games go by more quickly and are more competitive as a rule. Errors that have been made have largely been throwing errors.
Technological improvements are generally a positive thing in most of the rest of society. And to be sure, today's baseball players would never want to go back to the wool uniforms of the early 20th century. But the game itself has been fine for going on 150 years now. Had aluminum technology been available in the 1800s, the game would likely be played at all levels with aluminum bats now.
But there also would probably been a lot more people killed or injured seriously playing the game than have been, too.
(Souders is a sports writer for The News-Item)