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Baseball purists have long preferred the crack of wooden bats to the ping of aluminum. Now, a few states are trying to ban metal bats from youth baseball altogether. There are worries the bats are too good and make the game dangerous for young players.
From member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE: It's playoff time in Little League baseball. This week, the all-stars from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, hosted the best players from neighboring media.
Unidentified Man: Now batting, and went up there is centerfielder number nine, Christian Gerato(ph).
ROSE: Twelve-year-old Christian Gerato swung at the first pitch and missed, but he drove the next one into left field for a single.
Mr. JOHN ZAMPATELLA(ph) (Coach): Attaboy, attaboy, attaboy.
ROSE: That ping sound should be familiar to anyone who's ever been to a Little League game. By far, the majority of kids bat with metal.
Mr. ZAMPATELLA: The kids like the metal. They're more forgiving.
ROSE: Kids have more fun.
Mr. ZAMPATELLA: Kids have more fun.
ROSE: Long-time coach John Zampatella says metal bats are easier for kids to use.
Mr. ZAMPATELLA: They're making them lighter and lighter all the time. The lighter they make them, the faster kids can swing them and the harder they hit it.
ROSE: That's exactly what worries Mike Carroll. He's a state representative from northeastern Pennsylvania. He's also an assistant Little League coach. Carroll says he's seen some talented kids crush the ball with aluminum bats, and he's worried about how fast the balls hit back at the youngest fielders, especially the pitchers who are only 46 feet from home plate.
State Representative MIKE CARROLL (Democrat, Pennsylvania): I know that if tomorrow, a child was seriously hurt in a game, there would be a hundred and one questions about the impact and the effect of the bat on this potential injury.
ROSE: Carroll doesn't want to wait for that accident to happen. His bill would ban metal bats for players under 18. New Jersey lawmakers are talking about a similar embargo. North Dakota and New York cities have already banned metal bats from high school games, but bat manufacturers and many youth leagues say all those steps are unnecessary.
Mr. TRENT DUFFY (Spokesman, Don't Take My Bat Away Coalition): There's no evidence, whatsoever that metal bats pose any additional risk than wood bats.
ROSE: Trent Duffy is a spokesman for the Don't Take My Bat Away Coalition, which is fighting the bans in New York and elsewhere. Duffy admits manufacturers use to make aluminum bats that hit harder than wood, but the industry voluntarily agreed to new standards.
Mr. DUFFY: There was a concern back in the late 1990s as the metal bat innovation really began to improve dramatically. And that's why the NCAA, the National Federation of High Schools, Little League, PONY League, and all of those closest of the game, got together and took a look at this. And they changed the bats so that they hit comparable with the wood.
ROSE: After that, the number of reported injuries from batted balls in Little League baseball dropped off considerably, and it stayed flat ever since.
Little League's CEO Stephen Keener says the ban is excessive and it could hurt the game.
Mr. STEPHEN KEENER (CEO, Little League): If it's not fun and the kids aren't having fun playing the game or having some little bit of success with the game, the likelihood is pretty strong that they'll turn away from the game. And that's what we don't want to see.
ROSE: Keener says there is no proof the game would be any safer with wooden bats. That does not reassure the critics, who point to a handful of university studies showing that metal bats do indeed hit the ball harder.
(Soundbite of a baseball game)
ROSE: While the debate over safety continues, some kids and parents are turning to wood for other reasons. Nine-year-old twins, Craig and Jack Melende(ph), are trying out their new bats at a park in Haddonfield, New Jersey.
Mr. CRAIG MELENDEZ: It was awesome. Now that I got to try it, it's really awesome.
Mr. JACK MELENDEZ: It still has the same sting to it as my aluminum bat, but it hits farther.
ROSE: The Melendez boys say they plan to use the wooden bats next summer, whether the band on metal goes through or not.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.
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