Wooden-bat softball tourney will go on, but response is not what was expected

Howard At Play

Recreation and local sports in Howard County

September 07, 2005|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

MAYBE WE'RE delusional or hopelessly romantic, but we really thought the well-publicized idea of having a wooden-bat softball tournament for adults in Howard County this Saturday was inspired.

Let's just report that rec and parks was not exactly flooded with telephone calls of teams trying to get into the tourney.

But Mark Pendleton, the rec department sports supervisor who oversees adult softball, decided yesterday to proceed with five teams. They will compete most of the day Saturday on two diamonds at Cedar Lane Park in Columbia.

"It wasn't what I wanted," said Pendleton. "But it's something to build on for next year."

Like Pendleton, we thought the response would be better because there has been a low-level buzz in the world of softball (as well as amateur baseball for all ages) since at least the 1980s about how first aluminum and, as technology progressed, titanium and now metal composite bats were turning so-so batters into fence-busting sluggers.

The buzz has been lots louder than that, with league managements all over the country limiting teams to X-number of homers a game and making the rest of the out-of-sight blasts either outs or ground-rule doubles. As has happened in county leagues, certain bats deemed to provide too much bounce per ounce have been banned in the name of safety.

It is ironic that lovely softball stadiums, such as those operated by rec and parks, were designed with outfield fences that were a challenge for batters using wooden bats but are essentially outmoded because of the ubiquitous metal bats.

Softball's leading national organizations have altered specifications for bats and balls. A softer ball (one with lower compression) has helped tone things down but not fixed the greater problem. The National Collegiate Athletic Association adopted new safety standards intended to protect pitchers.

Academics have gone to town in their labs to document the obvious: Even softballs, which still are not soft, rocketing off metallic bats change the sport and are dangerous.

It took us less than two minutes of playing on the Web with Google to locate this relevant research verbiage, published in the Winter 2005 issue of the quarterly Sport Journal:

"This study concluded that using composite softball bats, batted-ball velocities exceeded the recommended safety limits by as much as 27.2 km/h (16.9 mph) or 0.070 seconds. It can be concluded that regardless of the ball used, composite bats may pose an increased safety risk to defensive players, especially the pitcher, in the path of a batted-ball hit."

Just ask locally. You will find that an eight-team softball league that has functioned for years at the Ellicott City Veterans of Foreign Wars post banned metal bats nine years ago after a pitcher was smashed in the face by a line drive; he simply did not have time to get out of the way. Players decided then and there, that was not fun in a prototypical beer league.

And so, these days, Columbia resident Clyde Pusey, who is the VFW league's director, drives to York, Pa., to buy Louisville Sluggers for the league. Even Hillerich & Bradsby, the great wood bat maker, trades in "high-tech" bats these days.

"You can't find wooden bats around here," said Pusey, who did enter a team in the rec department tournament scheduled for this weekend.

He, like many wooden-bat advocates, much prefers the slower velocities of balls coming off traditional wooden bats.

"For one thing, defense plays much more of a role in a game with wooden bats than in one with the new bats," Pusey said, adding that he understands the low response for this weekend's tournament. "The ball just doesn't come off the bat as fast.

"We see guys over 35 who've never seen a wooden bat," Pusey said. "It's a fact, you can play ball right up to the minor leagues these days and never have to use one."

Which is both true and too bad.

Updates

GOLF: That long-awaited addition to the olde clubhouse at Fairway Hills Golf Course in Columbia to accommodate the growing First Tee program for kids is expected to start construction in the next several weeks. Really, this time.

That is the addition that was supposed to be open at the Columbia Association course a year ago, then this spring, then ...

"The contractor has the permits and just finished a big job in Northern Virginia, so we're expecting some movement very shortly," said Don Van Deusen, assistant general manager for Columbia Association golf courses and director of the First Tee program.

YMCA: That money-raising campaign for expanding the Ellicott City "Y," the drive that was supposed to get under way in late spring, is more likely to begin this fall, said Troy Weaver, executive director.

The "Y," long cramped for space, still has to raise about $1.5 million for added and modified facilities to accommodate more swimmers and all of its other programs, Weaver said, "although we'd like it to be as much as $3 million."

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or send e-mail to lowell.sunderland@balt sun.com about anything related to amateur sports in Howard County.

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