Sunday, March 18, 2007

Time to hear that 'ping' of the bat

Although the Major Leagues are in Spring Training, and high schools across America are still in the middle of track & field season, colleges everywhere started their 2007 seasons about 3 weeks ago. College Baseball can be fun to attend (particularly for me, since UC students get into all home games free). It's a chance to play "scout" and see who will be possible draft picks in the upcoming years. It's also always fun to watch people play for the love of the game, which is why I enjoy independent/minor league baseball so much. College ballparks are usually in the middle of the campus and provide a great atmosphere. It's also really awesome to see a guy play three positions in one game, or to see pitchers pinch-hit.

College ball will never compare to major/minor league ball for one reason: METAL BATS. Recently, a bill has been brought to the NY state legislature that would propose banning aluminum bats in the state at the college level. For years, the NCAA's argument has been that metal bats are cheaper in the long run because wood bats break so easily. However, it seems that people are finally starting to realize that these bats are dangerous to pitchers due to the speed that the ball flies off the bat, and they are a nuisance to hitters because of all the "stingers," and not to mention the 1+ year adjustment to wooden bats in Rookie ball. And let's not forget what might happen if there was a game during a rainstorm. NCAA Baseball, however, has taken a step in the right direction, as it has a partnership with several College Wooden Bat Summer Leagues across the United States, including the Northwoods League in the Midwest, and the Cal Ripken Sr League on the East Coast. These are 10-week leagues that give undrafted college students an opportunity to play ball in the summer...and most importantly, they use wooden bats. These leagues have spawned some of the MLB stars in the last 5-10 years, and certainly the use of wooden bats provided a smoother transition to the professional level.

In closing, metal bats are a hazard and should be outlawed, and make college ball less appealing (my ears are still ringing from Friday). However, the sheer passion and talent possessed by these players has the potential to make this a sport that is watched more than once a year on ESPN at the College World Series. Baseball is almost always the first sport to get dropped by D-I and D-II schools when funds are tight, and although wooden bats are certainly not the panacea, they could certainly help to market the sport better. Having lived in Madison WI for 6 months and witnessing nearly a dozen Northwoods League games there, I can honestly say that that was the most fun I've ever had at a ballpark in my life, and that definitely means something coming from a guy who loves the sport as much as I do. Baseball with wooden bats - accept no substitute.
(top photo - Marge Schott Stadium, University of Cincinnati
bottom photo - Warner Park, Madison WI, Northwoods League)

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