A Beetle May Soon Strike Out Baseball's Famous Ash Bats Rawlings baseball bats have a big place in sports history. But now the ash trees used to make those iconic bats are threatened by an invasive beetle that's spreading in forests across the Northeast.
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A Beetle May Soon Strike Out Baseball's Famous Ash Bats

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A Beetle May Soon Strike Out Baseball's Famous Ash Bats

A Beetle May Soon Strike Out Baseball's Famous Ash Bats

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

An insect is destroying forests. The emerald ash borer has killed millions of trees in multiple states. And it now threatens groves in New York's Adirondack Mountains, groves that are used to make an iconic brand of baseball bat. Here's North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: On a sweltering day, workers sort chunks of pale white wood veined with brown. This is the Rawlings plant in Dodgeville, a humble little saw mill about an hour's drive west of Albany. About 40 people work here. They've handcrafted baseball bats made from ash wood for more than a century.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The Giants win the pennant. The Giants win the pennant.

MANN: The home run in 1951, the famous shot heard around the world that lifted the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers, it was hit with one of these bats. They're still a favorite with Major Leaguers.

RON VANDER GROEF: Andrew Romine, Rob Refsnyder, Manny Machado.

MANN: Ron Vander Groef, Rawlings plant manager, flips through his current roster of players. He says ash is popular because these bats don't shatter as easily as other woods. A lot of the famed Louisville Slugger bats are also made from ash trees cut in New York and Pennsylvania. But now an emerald green invasive bug that looks sort of like a fancy grasshopper is threatening forests from Michigan to New York.

The larva chew layers of healthy bark into pulp.

GROEF: If the ash borer is not controlled, it'll wipe out the entire species of white ash. We will not be able to make any more pro bats or retail bats or anything out of white ash because it will be gone.

MANN: This won't end baseball as we know it. You can still make a pretty decent bat from birch or maple. But scientists say this is a kind of wakeup call for something a lot bigger.

DEBORAH MCCULLOUGH: It's bordering on catastrophic.

MANN: Deborah McCullough at Michigan State University was one of the first entomologists to realize that emerald ash borers had invaded. She's hopeful that some white ash will survive. But in some areas, 90 percent of these trees have died.

MCCULLOUGH: When you start losing entire species, the effects cascade through the whole ecosystem.

MANN: So next time you see a baseball bat shatter in a big game, it may be that ball player was forced to swing maple instead of ash. And it won't just be America's pastime that's changed. America's great eastern forests are changing too. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in New York's Adirondack Mountains.

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