By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
The good news for baseball coaches this season is that unseasonably warm weather has allowed teams to play more than normal. That is a good thing, because there is a new brand of baseball that teams are getting used to.
The IHSA has put forth a number of new rules in all sports this year, trying to promote safety. Baseball is one of those that has been most affected.
New rules in the IHSA have moved to take some of the pop out of the aluminum bats that are used. The bats that are used now must perform like wooden bats that are used at the professional level.
In the past, aluminum bats would make the baseball fly far, and more dangerously fast. In making the field a safer place, the bats have certainly changed the way high schools are used to playing.
“A lot of the coaches right now are trying to figure out the new bats and how they are going to handle situations with those,” Machesney Park Harlem coach Doug Livingston said. “They’ve really cut down on the runs, and there is a lot more small ball during the games now. So, we’ve had to concentrate a lot more on that.”
The lessened pop in the bat has made scores drop and has made pitching more important than ever. A lot of swings that would have been home runs in the past have now become a fly ball out.
“Some hits, they get hit kind of hard and they hang up there a little bit, and the scores have been down a bit,” Livingston said. “The quality of defense has been a lot better this year. But the hitting is behind a lot because of these new bats they are using. And that is what they want; they want to prevent injuries.”
But, it’s not just the offense and pitching that have seen a major shift. It changes a lot of in-game strategy.
Guilford coach Ziggy Vanderwall said defensive positioning is completely different.
“The boys are used to playing deeper with the faster bats, and that ball doesn’t come quite as hard,” he said.
He also said that past scouting reports can be misleading as well. Because the ball doesn’t come as fast or go as far, you can’t always line up outfielders where you normally would.
“We haven’t noticed it in our hitting, but we’ve noticed it in our fielding,” Vanderwall said. “We’re playing too deep, and the ball doesn’t come off the bat quite as fast, and we’re struggling with ground balls right now.”
The new bats have certainly provided a new level of safety for players on the field. And it has also led to a new level of competitiveness, as strong teams fundamentally are more likely to overcome a lack of power in the lineup.
“With the bats, they’re going to bring a lot of the teams from the middle of the pack and give them an opportunity,” Livingston said.
From the May 2-8, 2012, issue