As of January 1, 2018 a new bat standard was implemented by Little League baseball. This new bat standard was first introduced to league commissioners in the summer of 2017, with tons of great information available at league meetings, online discussions, and via the official website of Little League baseball, www.littleleague.org. If you are a youth playing Little League baseball this spring, you have already been advised that the bat you used in 2017 will not longer be allowed. Here is my rational behind the rule change.
Youth sports is a fantastic way to get kids involved in a wide range of activities, ranges of motion, and socialization. Engagement, safety, and fun are always at the top of the list when it comes to planning any youth sports league or event – whether it is soccer, field hockey, tennis, football, or baseball. The engagement and fun aspects of youth sports are often generated by enthusiastic parents, volunteers, and special events like the home run derby. Safety is always something you plan for. Unfortunately, accidents and injuries do occur despite the best safety plans.
In years past, Little League players have used a wide range of aluminum and wooden bats. Aluminum, being a solid and durable metal, has been the staple for youth baseball. Aluminum bats are far less expensive on average than wooden bats, thus parents could purchase one or two aluminum bats for their child’s entire Little League career, some spanning 5 to 6 years. And Little Leagues could use the used bats of retiring players for years to come. Aluminum bats tend to produce a far greater rebound (exit velocity) off a pitched ball than wooden bats. Wooden bats can still produce great rebound but there is no comparison, on average, to the rebound effect of an aluminum bat. Less rebound means less scorching line drives back to the pitcher or to an unsuspecting third baseman. This rebound effect is the main reason, I believe, why the rule change has come into play.
Safety concerns among parents, league officials, and certainly Little League baseball regarding those rebounds prompted the new standards for bats. On their website, Little League baseball is quoted as saying, “USA Baseball’s national member organizations believe that a wood-like performance standard will best provide for the long-term integrity of the game. However, wood is a scarce resource. The new bats will be designed to perform much like wood, where its performance will be limited to the highest performing wood.” This wooden bat effect will result in reduce exit speed velocity of a batted ball, in theory, resulting in a safer playing experience for youth baseball players. Again, less scorching line drives to the pitch or an unsuspecting player. These are kids after all, who can be distracted during a game by the slightest thing.
One of the most exciting and also the scariest things I’ve witnessed in years past has been a youth pitcher with a lively arm, a lively fastball pitch against a great hitter, a home run hitter. That is a sad statement wouldn’t you say? I would stand in the stands or dugout and sometimes cringe to think the hitter, with one incredible swing, could cause so much harm to a player on the opposing team. A show of force that only an aluminum bat could create. Luckily, I haven’t been witness to many of these instances where a line drive came off the bat of a hitter and struck a pitcher injuring them. And now, with this new rule change to bats that have similar rebound as wooden bats, we are likely to see even fewer instances. Safety, engagement, fun – these important goals of Little League baseball will have a significant upgrade this season.
One quick note, my local team for North Kingstown/Wickford Little League played its first game on Tuesday with the new USA Baseball bats. There were 9 hits in the game. 8 of those hits were sharp singles through the infield with one being a triple by an obvious elite player, Launch’s Rock Arnold. By the way, Arnold used a wooden bat to hit that triple. There were the usual safety concerns about play on the field but I felt a sort of calmness armed with the knowledge that these new bats were in play. There were hard throwing pitchers facing heavy hitters and not once did I cringe. So I applaud Little League baseball for taking the lead here on the safety aspect of the game.