GUNNER SANDBERG AGE 16
IVANO SAYS: ON MARCH 11, 2010, GUNNER SANDBERG WAS HIT IN THE LEFT TEMPLE AND ALMOST KILLED BY A BATTED BALL OFF A METAL BAT. THE ARTICLE BELOW WRITTEN BY SPORTSWRITER TED SILLANPAA FOR THE NAPAVALLEY REGISTER http://www.napavalleyregister.com/
GIVES GOOD REASONS WHY EVERY PARENT AND EVERY GRANDPARENT SHOULD BE FOR THE BANNING OF METAL BATS.
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Wood bats better than helmets for pitchers
StoryDiscussionBy Ted Sillanpaa Posted: Sunday, March 28, 2010 12:00 am (7) Comments
It’s impossible to understand the controversy over the use of metal softball and baseball bats in upper age groups until you have a family member pitching in game where the high-tech hitting sticks are being used.
My youngest son, now 14, pitches for elite-level baseball teams. It became clear from watching him pitch from high school distance (60 feet, 6 inches from home plate) that a well struck ball off a metal bat leaves a pitcher virtually no time to react to a rocket back to the mound.
I knew that metal bats that cost hundreds of dollars enable players to hit the ball harder and further than their respective physical gifts should allow. So, we quietly waited and hoped my son would be an elusive target on the mound. It’s hard to hide a 6-foot-1, 165-pound eighth-grader, you know?
A Marin Catholic High School pitcher remains hospitalized after being hit in the head with a line drive hit with a metal bat. The result is that Marin County Athletic League baseball teams, including Justin-Siena, will use only wood bats for the remainder of this season.
It was only a matter of time before a tragedy forced leagues to really consider the safety of metal bats. Somebody had to suffer a life-threatening injury before everybody paid attention.
Look, I’m an old-school baseball guy. The idea of wearing safety helmets to pitch seems silly. If too much protective gear is required, the game’s just not right. I’m absolutely in favor of using wooden bats.
My kids and their buddies starting using those lightweight metal bats to hit balls to the moon in the 1990s.
My older sons played at the same huge ball park that I played at during my early teen years. It’s 335 feet down the left field line, 345-ish in the gap in left field. The center field fence is 410 feet from the plate. It’s a cavernous yard.
Using wooden bats, I had a reputation as a bit of a power hitter in 1972. I hit four balls off of the green wall in left and hit a one-hopper off the 410-mark in center. Nobody hit balls over those fences with wood bats.
By the time my older sons hit their teens, kids were pounding balls over that wall all the time. When a nondescript 13-year-old hit three home runs in one game — I knew the game was forever changed.
Two springs ago, I saw 12-year-old boys hitting home runs more than 300 feet over softball field fences. The typical 12-year-old plays on a Little League field with fences 200 feet from home plate. Metal bats makes Little League parks nearly too small by half.
And, sure, the metal bats made my sons better hitters. It didn’t matter, though, because they were all pitchers and the risk outweighed the reward. A long home run versus a line drive between the eyes? An easy call for a dad.
Everything changed when the family welcomed the youngest brother to the fraternity of pitchers. His fastball was clocked at over 80 mph — last year at age 13. The taller a pitcher is, the closer he is to home plate when he releases the ball. My youngest appears to be on top of home plate at the point of release.
My kid pitched in a 13-under league with teams from throughout the region. League games were played on high school fields where he pitched from 60 feet, 6 inches. Tournaments were played on softball fields where the pitching distance was 54 feet or so.
One weekend in San Jose, my son struck out the first six hitters he faced. Then, he got a fastball up to a tiny kid at the bottom of the batting order. The kid reached up and hit a line drive off the barrel that smashed off my son’s left kneecap and sent him sprawling into the dirt.
After leaving that game and spending a week watching deep bruise slowly subside, my son pitched again. Three innings into that game, he was decked by another shot up the middle. This one hit just below the right kneecap, at the top of the shin. By the time coaches helped him to a spot behind the dugout, he had a baseball-sized lump and couldn’t put any weight on what we were sure was a seriously damaged leg.
Only blind luck keep those line drives from hitting him in the head. We still made two trips to hospital emergency rooms in successive weeks. It was sobering to know that, even being a fairly gifted pitcher who doesn’t get hit hard often, my son was helpless against a well struck ball off of a metal bat.
We bought a clear, hard plastic mask for my son to try. No kid wants to be riding that first wave of safety-first gear. I almost had him convinced that the bench jockeys who heckled the mask would be quiet after four scoreless innings. Then, maybe, other kids would wear masks.
My son didn’t go for it. Too bad.
There’s no good reason to keep putting kids at risk by allowing bat manufacturers to make a fortune of metal bats that give hitters more pop than they need. Those bats can cost $400 — and kids can buy three, four quality wood bats for less than that.
Those safety tests are meaningless. I saw my kid, a skilled pitcher, hit by line drives in successive weeks. After two trips to the hospital, I promise, the bats aren’t safe enough.
Register Sports Writer Ted Sillanpaa can be reached at 256-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted in Ted-sillanpaa on Sunday, March 28, 2010 12:00 am Updated: 10:48 pm.
IVANO SAYS (CONT'D): So why am I posting this on the LNOSTRA-COSTA Blog: It so happens that I have a 12 year old Grandson, who plays in the Morgan Hill Pony Baseball League and who, on occasions, takes the mound and pitches. I worry that what happened to Gunner might happen to Kristian (my grandson). And I'm sure many of you readers of this blog have sons or grandsons (or perhaps even daughters - granddaughters) who pitch for Little League Teams and have the same concerns that I do. If so, I urge you to let your concerns be known to League Administrators, both at the local and the national level. It's only through your vocal efforts that things will change. Remember, our concern must not be how well our sons or grandsons pitch or how hard they hit the ball. As parents and Grandparents it is their safety that must be our primary concern.