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Wood bat outlook less grainy

BISMARCK -- When the "clink" of metal bats gave way to the "crack" of wood last spring, a lot of people whispered a prayer of thanks. To them, real baseball had returned to the North Dakota high school scene. Now, several West Region coaches are ...

BISMARCK -- When the "clink" of metal bats gave way to the "crack" of wood last spring, a lot of people whispered a prayer of thanks.

To them, real baseball had returned to the North Dakota high school scene.

Now, several West Region coaches are convinced that their hitters are turning bats into kindling at a faster rate.

"We've broken more bats than we did last year," Mandan coach Dewitt Mack said. ". . . What I'm seeing more is the barrel breaking, peeling or shattering. I've only seen one bat sawed off where just the handle was left behind."

Minot coach Pete Stenberg believes at least part of the increased damage is because of greater confidence and aggressiveness.

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"Maybe we're getting better at swinging them. Maybe we're creating more bat speed and breaking them that way," Stenberg said.

Stenberg said one of his hitters has shattered a half dozen bats all by himself.

"Ryan Bollinger has broken six or seven, and he gets pretty good bat speed," Stenberg said.

Transition complete

Minot has moved completely away from the composite bats. "The players don't like the feel of them. They like maples and bamboos and those type of things," the coach said.

Bismarck coach Troy Olson said players have developed a taste for real wood over the more durable wood composite bats.

"I just think the composites are less prevalent than they were last year," Olson said. ". . . Now there's a trend toward kids buying their own bats, and teams are getting away from the composite bats. Kids like to have the thin handle and the bigger barrel size, and it doesn't take much for those to go flying.

"In one game we had our third baseman running away from a bat and trying to field a ground ball at the same time."

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Mack said hitters seem to be attacking the ball with more gusto this spring.

"We're seeing kids taking aggressive cuts. Everybody is swinging the bat really hard," Mack said. "They're getting their hacks up there and putting it in play hard. If you watch Dickinson,Williston, Minot and Century, they're not getting cheated at the plate at all."

Mack agreed that the players have a preference for real wood over composites. "I tried more wood bats this year because the boys felt they were getting more pop off them, but we're getting more breakage with wood," he said.

Stenberg said Minot's pitchers are adapting to take advantage of the wood bat's inherent weakness.

"That's one thing we did right away last year. We told our pitchers to throw inside. . . . They weren't as eager to go inside then as they are this year," Stenberg said. "If you play against wood bats, you've got to use that (inside) part of the plate."

Stenberg said the breakage factor from hitters being jammed is almost nil.

"We're probably getting more breaks off the end than off the handle," he said.

Mack agreed that bats are going to the scrap heap mainly because of outside pitches. He's not so sure that pitchers region wide are working inside, though.

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"I haven't seen a lot of throwing inside," he said. "They're still throwing with that metal bat mentality that you have to establish the outside corner."

An inside edge

Oddly enough, broken bats may be a sign that hitters are catching on to wood, Olson said.

"When wood bats came in last year, everyone's thought was for the pitchers to get inside and take that part of the plate back," Olson said. "I think the hitters overall are doing a lot better job now. The guys are learning to hit better, and maybe they're taking a more aggressive cut."

Coaches may disagree on some of the finer points, but there's no question that broken bats do as much damage to the pocket book as they do to the batting average.

"I had a boy who bought a bat on Sunday, and in batting practice that evening he broke it, and $80 was just gone," Mack said. "Once they break a bat they tend to use the school bats."

Olson said as the season progresses more players buy their own bats to get a customized fit.

"We have quite a few who do," Olson said. "They buy bats in the $50 to $60 range, especially toward the end of the year to try and give themselves an edge."

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