Going against the grain

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Baseball is a game known for its traditions.

Whether it’s ballpark food, rain-delay antics or curtain calls after home runs, baseball is celebrated as much for willingness to never change as it is for the competition itself.

However, one long-standing tradition that needs to be eliminated altogether is the use of wooden baseball bats at the collegiate level.

Several years ago, the National Collegiate Athletics Association stepped away from traditional aluminum bats, mainly to eliminate the violent reaction of the ball bouncing off of a metal bat.

This became a safety issue after an increasing number of pitchers have suffered injuries from line drives that arrived at speeds as high as 105 mph.

However, instead of switching to strictly wood bats, the NCAA instituted a rule which declared that all metal baseball bats must perform like wooden ones. Each bat must pass a test in order to be considered legal for use in an NCAA game.

The rule essentially negates the advantage and danger of using aluminum bats, but also avoids the use of wood bats, which, as recently as 2008, were shattering at a rate of almost one bat per game at the major league level, which is costly.

While collegiate baseball’s best players have adapted and adjusted to the rules in order to create a safer game, several smaller college leagues throughout the country have switched to only wood bats.

One of those conferences is the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges, to which Lane belongs.

According to former NWAACC Executive Director Dick McClain, the conference switched to wood bats in the early 1990s, when it became apparent that the NCAA may do the same.

There are several issues with using wood bats, especially at the small college level.

At Lane, as with many junior colleges, players are responsible for buying much of their own equipment, including bats.

The average wood baseball bat costs between $90 and $110. Lane head coach Josh Blunt said his players usually go through five or six bats each season, per player.

Five bats at $100 apiece, with 13 position players on Lane’s roster, equals approximately $6,500 each year.

Wood bats also limit the potential of hitters when they are being scouted by larger schools.

While an NWAACC player is stuck using a wood bat that provides less pop, a player from almost any other conference in America has the advantage of using a metal bat to help boost their power stats.

Even though the new NCAA-approved bats perform similarly to wood bats, that doesn’t mean they don’t still provide an advantage.

According to Alan Nathan, a physics professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and member of the NCAA Baseball Research panel, metal bats are easier to swing and allow the batter more bat control.

“While a batter might not hit the ball harder with a metal bat, he might make good contact more often,” Nathan said in a 2011 interview with Medill Reports.

According to McClain, the NWAACC prides itself on being one of the few conferences who have stuck with wood bats for this long. He said he doesn’t see them switching to aluminum anytime soon.

For now, several Lane players have embraced using wood bats and found a way to avoid the steep cost.

Lane first baseman Jarren Goddard said he uses bats from a company called Baum, a company that makes its bats out of composite wood and is known for making durable bats. Goddard said he pays about $150 for a Baum bat and has never broken one.

Fellow Titan Colby Rice said he would choose wood instead of aluminum even if he were given the choice.

“I prefer wood definitely,” Rice said “I love feeling the ball more when I hit, and  when I do hit, I feel more accomplished using wood.”