Time to bring out the lumber

It’s a pitcher’s worst nightmare: He starts the windup and delivers a 95 mph fastball, leaning forward to finish his motion, exposed and defenseless for just a couple of seconds – more than enough time for the clank of the aluminum bat to sound and a line drive to come back toward the mound – and toward his skull.

According to a 2006 article in the New York Times, in April 2005, a line drive off a metal bat slammed into the temple of Bill Kalant, a 16-year-old high school pitcher from suburban Chicago. He survived after being in a coma for two weeks and having brain surgery. He has had to relearn how to brush his teeth, how to tie his shoes and how to walk.

This is a single case that went horribly wrong, but there are many other cases every day across college baseball fields in America that could end up just like it. Whether players are injured is a matter of luck.

When the ball comes off of an aluminum bat, the pitcher will instinctively react, miraculously catching the ball with the glove in front of his face. The crowd will simultaneously say “ahhh” and applaud the pitcher, quickly forgetting about the play and getting back into the game.

But balls come faster off of metal bats, and a pitcher will have less reaction time because they have more pop than wooden bats, USF closer Shawn Sanford said.

This could all be avoided if aluminum bats were banned from college baseball, as they are in the majors.

The main arguments people make for the use of aluminum bats in college baseball are that they are cheaper and that they increase scoring.

It’s a fact that aluminum bats are lighter and the ball comes off of them faster, but aren’t college players adults yet? If a kid who just graduated high school can play for a single A-minor league team and handle a wooden bat, then why shouldn’t a player from USF or Kentucky have to play with a wooden bat as well?

“The ball is different in college baseball than in the majors. In the MLB, the ball is very heavy and has fewer seams than in college, where it has more seams and it travels farther. A deep fly ball in the majors could be a home run in college. That’s why, if college changed to wooden bats, (the NCAA) would have to change the ball as well,” USF second baseman Addison Maruszak said.

Sanford believes it is unfair when he jams an opposing hitter with an aluminum bat.

“When I make a good pitch inside, the hitter can pull off a single with an aluminum bat. With a wooden bat, that same player’s bat would break and all he would get is a weak ground ball. Baseball is more pure with wooden bats – you earn the hits you get,” he said.

Maruszak agreed, but didn’t seem to object to the luck factor that comes with metal bats.

When USF played the New York Yankees last month, the Yankees made USF players use wooden bats to protect their pitchers. The Bulls complied and did pretty well against the Yankee pitching staff.

In fact, USF designated hitter Eric Baumann hit a 350-foot grand slam to left field off Yankees pitcher Kei Igawa with a wooden bat.

According to Philadelphia’s Bucks County Courier Times, metal bats cost $200-$300, but they last for years.

A Philadelphia high school baseball coach said a team would probably use two dozen to three dozen wooden bats per season because so many would break. High-quality brands such as Louisville Slugger and Easton sell wooden bats from $50 to $150. The cost of buying wooden bats for a whole team might range from $1,200 to $5,400.

Isn’t the player’s safety more important than a few thousand dollars? That’s right, I forgot we don’t take that extra step to prevent disaster until it strikes us right in the face.

We don’t increase security in universities until a madman shoots everybody in an auditorium. We turn a blind eye to what athletes do in class until they become involved in some kind of cheating scandal.

According to the Times, North Dakota has already banned the use of aluminum bats in all high school games. Nothing has been done in Florida to ban aluminum bats yet.

Let’s not wait until it’s too late when the loss of a college player is mourned the day after.

Wooden bats save lives, and baseball will stay a great game long after aluminum bats are nothing more than an afterthought.