Metal bats making Wellesley Little League comeback

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Wellesley Little League is making some big changes for the spring season, most notably the re-introduction of metal bats.

The league did away with metal bats a few years ago in the wake of a serious injury sustained by a Wellesley High pitcher named Bill Hughto who got struck in the head by a line drive off of a metal bat during a game in 2001. The incident is frequently cited (HBO, New York Times and others) when the debate over safety of  metal vs. wood bats arises, with metal bat opponents arguing the ball travels too fast off of metal bats and  proponents countering that research is inconclusive and that broken wooden bats can threaten players as well.

Patrick Doyle, safety officer for Wellesley Little League’s board, says that Little League baseball nationally has worked with bat manufacturers to improve the safety of metal bats over the years by documenting their springiness. Only those bats with a League League-approved seal on them (indicating a Bat Performance Factor of no more than 1.15, the same as for the best wooden bats) will be allowed in Wellesley Little League.

So parents, be warned: If you’re thinking about getting your kid a bat for a holiday gift, be sure it has the correct label.

The main reason for bringing back metal bats back to Wellesley Little League is to speed up the action, Doyle says.

“It should provide for a better baseball experience,” Doyle says. “Kids throw hard and if you don’t hit the ball  squarely with a wood bat the ball doesn’t go very far. It turns the league into a pitcher’s league and ultimately that can turn off the kids who aren’t pitching.” In other words, there should be less standing around for infielders and outfielders with metal bats, and that should make baseball a more enticing game vs. soccer, lacrosse, football and other action-packed sports that kids can choose to play, he says. Spectators will probably need to be on their toes more than ever as well.

Some leagues have switched from wood to metal bats for cost reasons — wooden bats break left and right in Wellesley Little League. But Doyle says cost really wasn’t a factor in the decision. Neither, he said, was the fact that Wellesley travel league players could be at a disadvantage when playing teams from towns that do use metal bats in Little League.

As for other changes, the most skilled 3rd graders will get a chance to leapfrog their classmates by trying out for the  National League, which comprises mainly 4th and 5th graders, and 4th graders will get a shot at the higher level American League, which traditionally has been for 5th-7th graders. The potential downside is that older, less skilled players could find themselves pushed aside by the young up and comers (though all American League players are guaranteed an at-bat and three innings in the field per game).

We asked about whether the league is looking into field conditions, especially in light of all the rainouts and mud-outs experienced during the fall league (not that the league has much control over the fact it rained so often on Saturdays and Sundays). Indeed, the league does have a committee exploring the condition of fields.

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