If you were thinking about buying your kid a new bat for summer baseball leagues, you might want to hold off until at least September.
On Jan. 1, 2018, youth leagues will have to follow new USA Baseball standards intended to give bats a wooden feel.
The USABat requirements, which were adopted in August 2015, affect programs below college or high school that fall under the USA Baseball umbrella, including Little League, Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth programs in the Treasure Valley.
So why the need for metal bats that perform like wood? Youth bats, in essence, have made hitting too easy, Treasure Valley coaches say.
“With some of the current bats, you can miss and it’s still going to go. ... It was almost giving (players) a false sense of, I don’t want to say abilities, but a false sense of how hard you have to hit the ball to make it go,” said Brent Delong, president of the East Boise Youth Baseball/Softball League and a coach of the Major 70s Reds. “To me it’s as much about learning how to hit right, hit the sweet spots.”
David Alvarado, the head coach of the East Boise Major 70s Nationals, said familiarity with wood-style bats will help those who plan to play at higher levels.
“Right now the bats (aren’t) promoting good quality technique,” the father of two baseball players said. “The (current) bats have been very forgiving.”
A level playing field
Though parents and coaches have had safety concerns with current bats, especially in the upper divisions, that wasn’t the reason for the change.
The hope, according to Eric Pollard, the vice president of East Boise Youth Baseball/Softball, is to level the playing field.
“Players are committing to baseball more, getting stronger and hitting the ball harder,” Pollard said. “This new rule, once fully implemented, will help level out the competition a bit so defense has a chance to make a play on the ball and batters aren’t able to swing for the fences as easily,” Pollard said.
The new youth bats will more closely mirror those already used at the high school and college levels.
BBCOR (Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution) is the standard used in high school, American Legion and the NCAA that also attempts to make metal bats more comparable to wood. The idea behind BBCOR, like USABat, is to decrease the speed of the ball off the bat.
BBCOR decreases the pop in bats and was “a switch that some hitters liken to basketball players trying to shoot a ball through a narrower hoop,” wrote Preston Williams of the Washington Post.
Pay up, parents
Improving the quality of play is one thing. What all this means, however, is that current bats will be unusable.
So, get ready to break out your checkbook.
“It will be a fair rule change once it has been in place for a couple years and all families will have the ability to afford these bats, whether new or used. That’s the biggest concern with the rule change,” East Boise’s Pollard said. “The idea of changing to bats with less pop is not a concern at all. The only concern is whether the families will be able to afford the new bats.”
USABats are not yet available. They’re expected to go on sale in September 2017 where current bats are sold. The cost of current bats can range from $30 to nearly $300 and the new versions should be similarly priced, according to USA Baseball.
That does not, however, mean replacing a bat is a simple task. Because they are new, there is no way to buy discounted bats because there won’t be a recycling program for the old, nonconforming versions.
“Not knowing the pricing of these new bats makes it difficult to know how it will affect our league and the families participating in our league, as well as how the league decides to move forward with this rule,” Pollard said. “Some families don’t have any problem buying new top-of-the-line bats each season. The average family, however, does not purchase a new bat each year.”
“There will not be a used-bat market for a year or two, so if the new USABats don’t offer any affordable options, then it’s likely that the league will need to purchase bats to help fill that gap,” he said. “This will be particularly difficult for leagues in lower-income areas with a high percentage of participants playing on scholarship.”
Delong said that most of the players on his team own their own bats. Having to restock with completely new bats could mean a group effort by families.
“It might take a couple years. I’ve talked with parents. Do you team up on a bat?” Delong said. “There’s websites out there that do packaged deals. You hope that the bat companies are good partners, but they have to make money, too.”
Michael Katz: 208-377-6444, @MichaelLKatz