By CEAN BURGESON
Sports injuries happen. No matter how much conditioning or strength training a young athlete does, they will get hurt at one point in their careers.
One of the more unfortunate incidents that happen in spring sports is being struck with a baseball or softball. Everyone who has every played ball has either been hit by a pitch, taken a bad hop off of a ground ball in the chest, or in the worst case scenario — been hit by a line drive.
My own son was hit in the face last week when a hard throw tipped off of his glove and struck his face, splitting his lip. After we washed off the blood and iced it, he was as good as new. With most baseball injuries caused by a batted or thrown ball, this is the case — but not always.
In New Jersey, a 12-year-old boy was struck in the chest by a batted ball from a metal bat. The boy went into cardiac arrest and suffered serious injuries. A few years back, a boy in Florida was the victim of a similar incident and died. Incidents like this one have gotten some parents and some lawmakers up in arms about the use of aluminum bats.
Lawmakers in New Jersey are considering banning metal bats as a result of the incident. Recently, metal bats were barred from New York City high schools after the city council overrode a mayoral veto of the bill banning the bats. North Dakota has also enacted a similar ban — the only state so far to do so.
There is a concern that high school baseball players, in particular, are becoming stronger, and bat manufacturers are developing newer, more high tech bats, which give them greater bat speed and harder hit balls. North Dakota’s ban came when an American Legion player died after being struck in the head by a drive off of an aluminum bat.
Currently, the state of Michigan and the Michigan High School Athletic Association have no plans to ban metal bats from high school competition and move towards wood bats like New York City. MHSAA assistant director Mark Uyl, told the Detroit Free Press that he thinks they may have acted too quickly on this issue in New York. “There has absolutely been no support nor have we heard any criticism that would make a change,” he said. “Wood probably is more safe than aluminum. But there is no statistical data, no testing that has proved that.”
The Illinois High School Athletic Association is conducting such a study, though, with 50 participating high schools. The National Federation of State High School Associations is funding the research, and the data should be available in June. Despite their support for the study, a representative of the NFSH has said that only a few reports of kids being hit have come in nation-wide this year.
The NFSH standard for bats is the Ball Exit Speed Ratio, which tests the speed of a ball off of a bat. The standard limits aluminum bats to a similar BESR to that of a wooden bat. This figure is used to acquire a bat weight-to-length ratio to which all levels of youth baseball must adhere to — essentially equalizing wooden and metal bats.
So, what is all the fuss? If the ball comes off of the bat at the same speed, it doesn’t make sense to call the aluminum bat the culprit in these few freak instances where injuries occur. Add to that the fact that wooden bats crack and break, and pieces of them fly in the air, and the safety issue seems to lean towards aluminum bats being the safer choice.
Aside from the safety issue, from an economic perspective, metal bats are also the cheaper choice. With education budgets shrinking, and athletic funds waning, replacing broken wooden bats would soon overcome the costs of aluminum bats, which with the right care, can last a lifetime.
As a baseball purist, I personally like to keep the game and its traditions intact. But I have to admit, I played with aluminum bats for my entire career in baseball, from T-ball up to high school, and in several adult softball leagues, and I don’t remember any serious injuries. I also know that for younger children, it is far easier to learn to swing properly, learn hand-to-eye coordination, and develop bat speed with a metal bat.
Wooden bats are one tradition that is better left for the majors. The rest of us with less than professional talents have an easier time hitting with aluminum bats, and games have a lot more action and are far more fun as a result. And for the few players who advance to the level where wooden bats are the norm, there will be an adjustment — but that number of athletes is very low, and the players who make it that far have been making that adjustment for years.
I think it’s important to protect our youth from sports injuries in any way we can, whether it is through proper instruction and coaching, or the selection of the best equipment. But let’s not get so caught up in protecting our children that we buy them flak vests to play baseball in, as was suggested years ago after that youngster died from a line drive to the chest. (It was later found that the boy had a heart defect which led to his death in the incident.)
And let’s not take away aluminum bats because of a few freak accidents.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org