Beginning this year, the Alabama High School Athletic Association has implemented what it has labeled “The 2012 Non-Wooden Bat Rule”. All bats used in sanction games must meet BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) standards and be labeled as such.
These metal bats have a smaller sweet spot and hit more like wooden bats. That means players will have to get the barrel of the bat more squarely on the ball in order to drive it deep. That will inevitably lead to fewer homers. First-round county tournament games are scheduled to start today at Oxford, Jacksonville, Alexandria and Saks.
The AHSAA also deemed one bat, the Marucci CAT5 33-inch model, illegal and banned all altered bats. All wooden bats are legal.
“I like it personally,” Saks coach Jamison Edwards said. “It makes you focus more on the entire game. It’s more time for pitchers to develop. They can focus on developing pitches and building some command because they know there’s room for error.”
The newer less-forgiving bats will also make hitters go back to the lab and hone their craft.
“I think it’s going to make a lot of guys better hitters,” Ohatchee coach Kevin Elwell said. “These bats still have sweet spots. They’re just smaller. So guys are going to have to learn how to hit the ball right on the sweet spot instead of just hitting it off the handle and watching it fly.”
Attentive players, coaches and fans of the game got to see a similar change take place at the college level a year prior to the AHSAA’s decision. Elwell, who pitched at Jacksonville State during his college days, said the change will make the high school game a more genuine brand of ball.
He referenced the mid to late 1990s which saw record high-scores among college teams in part due to the technologically advanced bats which made ball sky to the outfield almost regardless of where contact was made. In 1998, Southern California defeated Arizona St. 21-14 to win the Division I national championship.
“A lot of times, you felt like you didn’t have a chance,” Elwell said. “Even good, quality pitches were coming right back at you.”
Donoho coach Sal Gardner said the new bats will also help prevent injuries by producing less high-velocity line drives.
But the change hasn’t come without some difficulties, especially financially.
Elwell said he and his staff had to buy four new bats before they could even consider allocating money to any obtaining any piece of equipment this spring. At $200-350 a piece there was no telling whose parents would be able to afford a new bat for their child this season. Edwards said Saks doesn’t own any bats and relies upon the players whose families can afford to buy them to share with those who can’t.
It’s also hurting retailers, Edwards said he spoke with one local sporting goods merchant who said he’s been selling the old BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio) composite bats for as cheap as $15 a pop.
Donoho’s Walker Mason, The Star’s Class 1A-2A Player of the Year last season, went 5-1 with a 2.02 earned run average. He also had a batting average of .520. He said, as a pitcher he likes the move because “you don’t get as many bombs hit on you.”
As a hitter, he’s said he’s had to change the way he swings, learning to wait on the right pitch as opposed to just hacking away and hoping the ball goes deep.
“If you can hit, you can hit,” Mason said. “Now, if you’re a home run hitter, you may not hit as many but it’s all about the player. It’s not about the bat.”
The change might also turn a few novices, just at the ballpark to see the ball go over the fence, into more knowledge lovers of the game.
“They’re going to get to enjoy and understand more of the game,” Edwards said. “They’re going to get to see when a guy has to get a bunt down and your bunt defense is going to have to be better. There’ll be fewer opportunities to score and guys will have to be more complete players.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.