Wooden bats part of game


— Baseball and wood go together like chocolate syrup and ice cream, pretzels and beer, and pizza and friends.

When I was a child growing up in Denver, we would play baseball just about every day. My first bat was a wooden Louisville Slugger that cost less than $10. I used it every time I got together with my friends and can still remember the sting in my hands when I connected with one of my buddy's pitches.

I eventually switched to an aluminum bat, but it never replaced the feel of hitting a speeding baseball with the heavy lumber. A few years later, I gave up playing baseball, but my love for the game has never died.

Since my playing days, the game has changed a great deal. Today, top high school and college players will spend more than $200 for a metal bat. I can't blame young players for seeking out these top-of-the-line bats.

I cracked open my wallet a couple of years ago and am living proof that technology can make a good hitter out of just about anybody. Put a wood bat in my hands these days and I would be lucky to get the ball out of the infield but I can still drive a ball pretty hard with a double-walled aluminum bat.

But just like disco, bell bottomed pants and the velour shirts, the wooden bat seems like it will return to popularity. But unlike those other things, the wooden bat brings back feelings of pride not embarrassment.

The bats resurgence is apparent here in Steamboat where Triple Crown sponsors wooden bat divisions for the older kids in its World Series.

The move is popular with the players, the coaches and the fans of the game. Nobody, it would seem, is upset about the ban on those expensive metal bats. Especially the pitchers who find themselves in harms way every time a hitter blasts a ball back up the middle at speeds that easily exceed most player's reaction times.

It's a funny thing. But the fact the ball comes off those wooden bats a little slower, the fact the ball may not clear the 340-foot fence and the fact that they are more fragile than their metal counterparts hasn't dampened most player's enthusiasm to play the game the way it was meant to be played.

No, the tradition of the wood bat seems to outweigh all those disadvantages. It also seems to make the home run that much more meaningful.

I've never heard a kid with a wood bat say, "Hey I didn't get all of it, but it cleared the fence anyway." According to USA Today, sales of wooden bats are up 6.5 percent from last year. It's not a huge jump, but if the young players in Steamboat this weekend is any indication there is a real desire to return to the old days when baseball was about more than just hitting the ball out of the park.

Sure, it might mean players have to become better hitters, settle for a single instead of a double and might even have to learn how to bunt. But for those of us who love the game of baseball the return of wooden bats means a return to the traditions that made this game great.

With that said, that doesn't mean I'm going to give up the double-walled bat for a piece of maple or ash on softball night.


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