This trend isn't hitting wall

Baseball: Be it short fields, juiced balls or poor pitching, different opinions abound about the increasing number of home runs throughout the county.

High schools

April 16, 2000|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

A home run explosion is changing baseball in Howard County, leaving some coaches wishing for the good old days and creating a debate over the causes for the boom.

Evidence of an explosion is widespread:

Hammond's Brian Brewer homered in his first six games, a streak that ranks fifth nationwide.

Howard's Adam Snyder homered three straight times against Atholton.

Glenelg homered four times in one inning against Wilde Lake. Chris Bowen homered twice in that inning.

Nine Mount Hebron players and nine Hammond players homered in the first 11 games.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Mount Hebron coach Matt Forsyth. "We have homered in every game but two."

After 11 games, Hammond homered 22 times. Mount Hebron was second with 17 home runs. Glenelg was third at 15.

"We have nine different guys who have homered," said Hammond coach Bob Maxey, who thinks that metal bats have contributed heavily toward the home run boom. "It would be nice to see wooden bats, so the short game could come back. We've only bunted twice all season. Why bunt when you're averaging two home runs and 10 runs per game?"

Glenelg coach Tom Thrasher said he thinks the baseballs being used this season, the Wilson 101, which have unusually raised stitching, are harder. In turn, they travel farther. "Bat technology is unbelievable," he said. "They've got the biggest sweet spots. Kids are hitting balls off the handles for home runs. Fly balls are just going out. The kids are paying $279 for some of these titanium bats."

A new national rule will modify metal bats next season, reducing the maximum diameter of the bat from 2 3/4 inches to 2 5/8 inches. It will also reduce the unit differential -- the difference between bat length measure in inches and bat weight measured in ounces -- of the bat from five to three.

For example, a 34-inch bat used this season must weigh at least 29 ounces. Next season, a 34-inch bat must weigh at least 31 ounces.

"That might cut down on home runs some," Maxey said.

His son, Jason, set a new county record with 11 home runs last season as a sophomore, and has already slugged five home runs this season. Jason thinks that weightlifting, not the bats, is the key to the home run explosion.

"People are stronger so their bat speed is faster," Jason said. "I don't think that the quality of the pitching has gone down that much."

Hitters have been helped by a variety of trends in recent years, including year-round commercial batting facilities, fall baseball leagues and winter baseball camps.

Field size is cited as another reason for more home runs. Hammond is joked about in county circles as a home run haven because of its short fences. But Maxey said his field -- 330 feet down each line and 320 feet in center -- is bigger than it is perceived.

Several coaches questioned the accuracy of those numbers, and a consensus said their players definitely prefer Hammond as the No. 1 place to hit.

Oakland Mills, 300 feet down each line, is the second-favorite place to hit. Atholton is 310 feet down the lines.

In recent years, several schools added fences so that all 10 schools now have one. Long balls that might have been run down by outfielders 10 years ago are now home runs, instead of doubles or triples.

Some coaches think certain schools have shortened their fences to take advantage of their home run hitters. That seems a misperception, however.

Mount Hebron moved its left-field fence in 15 feet this season to eliminate a hill, shrinking the home run distance to 295 feet. But Forsyth said that only two balls have been home runs because of that shortening.

Wilde Lake, rumored to have brought its fences in, moved its fences back 5 feet this season. It still has small dimensions at 315 feet in left field, 350 feet in center field and 305 feet in right field.

But more home runs don't necessarily translate into wins.

River Hill, with three excellent home run hitters in Chris Becraft (three), Arin Gelletly (four) and Brian Pickett (four), won four of its first 11 games.

Wilde Lake averaged one home run a game through 10 games, but was 2-8. And Wildecat senior Greg Capelle was second in the league with six home runs.

Wilde Lake coach Don Storr attributes the rise in home runs to a decline in the quality of pitching and the metal bats.

Even some of the traditionally weaker-hitting teams are hitting more home runs.

Oakland Mills hit six home runs in its first 11 games after hitting five all of last season. And the Scorpions replaced their old 4 1/2-foot fence with a 6-foot fence, making it slightly more difficult to homer.

Scorpions coach Rick Ewart agrees with Storr that weaker pitching has caused the increase in home runs.

Although not everyone agrees on what is causing the home run spree, everyone does agree that the toughest place to homer is at Howard, where left field is 375 feet, center 407 feet and right 335 feet.

Veteran Lions coach Rich Jenkins is a baseball purist who doesn't want a small field. He has the league's No. 1 pitcher, Tony King.

Why does he think there are so many home runs? "There are a lot of big, strong kids out there these days," Jenkins said.

Homer happy

Howard County individual HR leaders:

Player School HRs

Brian Brewer Hammond 7

Greg Capelle Wilde Lake 6

Brian Hollrah Glenelg 5

Jason Maxey Hammond 5

Phil Pinkham Hammond 4

Brian Pickett River Hill 4

Paul Brooks Glenelg 4

Arin Gelletly River Hill 4

Tony King Howard 4

Howard County team HR leaders:

Hammond 22 River Hill 13

Mt. Hebron 17 Howard 11

Glenelg 15 Wilde Lake 10

Note: All stats through 11 games.

How they measure Howard County baseball field dimensions:

School LF CF RF

Atholton 310 375 310

Centennial 350 345 350

Glenelg 335 380 335

Hammond 330 320 330

Howard 375 407 335

Long Reach 325 387 325

Mt. Hebron 295 360 320

Oakland Mills 300 380 300

River Hill 325 380 325

Wilde Lake 315 350 305

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