We say to our children No Weapons at School – and no one questions our judgment. But what about when our kids are on the baseball field? We’re not only letting them play with the weapons, we’re putting them in their hands! They stand there, gripping them tightly, swinging them soundly, just hoping and praying for contact. The sound of the ball pinging off the aluminum is heard throughout bleachers at baseball fields all across the country this time of year. But have we as parents (you know, the responsible ones) ever stopped to consider that maybe what our kids are swinging are deadly weapons – and maybe this is something we need to rethink?
Last week in a near-by community a high school pitcher for Marin Catholic was on the receiving end of one of those weapons. They estimate that the ball was going about 100 miles per hour after making contact with the metal bat. The poor Varsity pitcher never even had a chance to duck! The ball rocketed off the bat and went straight for his head, fracturing his skull. He is currently in a medically induced coma as doctors rushed yesterday to perform another surgery to relieve the swelling. At this point, they don’t know when they will be able to try and wake him up.
Do injuries like these happen every day? No, of course not. But when they do, the injuries are usually catastrophic – and can’t help but raise the question: do kids REALLY need to use those metal bats?
No one disputes the fact that the ball comes off a metal bat faster than off a wooden one. Metal bats mean balls are hit faster and travel farther. The “sweet spot” of the bat is wider (meaning you can get more hits). This makes the games more engaging – to both watch and to play.
But at what point do you draw the line? Shouldn’t at the very least high school and college players – who have to be good enough to make the team and obviously are playing at a certain level – use what the Major League Baseball players have to use (only wood)?
Yesterday, the Marin Catholic High School team played their first game since the incident. This time, they used wooden bats. They did it to make a statement and are asking the other teams they play to do the same. Their opponent did. Whether the rest of the teams in their league will do so remains to be seen. Some coaches seem a bit worried about percentages and winning statistics – how will some of the older players be able to compete when vying for a college scholarship if they aren’t using the composite bats like everyone else.
A few places have taken a stand. In North Dakota and New York City, metal bats have been prohibited for high school baseball ever since 2007. The immediate reaction to that decision was the filing of several lawsuits, trying to have the laws overturned. Is it surprising it was led by a coalition of sporting good companies, wanting (among other things) more proof of the dangers of using metal bats. Perhaps they should talk to the parents of a then 12-year old player in New Jersey who had a ball hit off a metal bat slam into his chest, causing cardiac arrest and consequently severe brain damage when his heart stopped.
Are we SO worried about kids’ hitting percentages and having enough action on the field, that we would risk the safety of our children? Guess it depends on whom you talk to.
“Kids would hardly ever get on base – and hardly get as many hits as they do now,” a coach explained to me. Hmmm – well then if the game is “too hard” for our young children, why are we putting them out there? And with “suped up” metal bats no less.
I guess at this point this Zen Mama Wannabe will continue to hand my 8-year old son his weapon aluminum bat as he steps onto the Little League field. But it almost feels like we are all trying to get away with something – and for what? – all for the sake of getting a few more hits and providing a little more excitement? Somehow I think the boys on Marin Catholic’s team would now beg to differ – don’t you?
POSTSCRIPT: This article was originally published on the Silicon Valley Moms Blog in March 2010. Since that time, a lot has happened – both to that young high school pitcher Gunnar Sandberg (recently featured on ESPN2 “Outside the Lines” – click here to watch the MUST SEE clip! and whose story can be followed on his CaringBridge website) and the movement to ban metal bats in high school games. In fact, California Assemblymember Jared Huffman has introduced a bill: AB 7 which if passed, would places a moratorium on the use of metal bats for the 2011 season while baseball official review safety options. (Seems like the very LEAST we could should do, don’t you think??)