Come this spring, there will be one question racing through the minds of college baseball fans everywhere: Why aren’t the bats making that discernible ping sound?
With an eye toward player safety and lower scoring, the NCAA has mandated that all teams institute new metal bats that resemble wood in sound and performance.
Under the previous testing method, bats were tested for the speed of the ball off the bat. Now, the bats are judged solely for how lively the collision is between the bat and ball.
While the difference between the testing methods may seem minimal, the distinction between the bats they produce is clear. No longer will players be able to hit a ball off the end of the bat and be able to drive it out of the park for a home run.
The NIU baseball team got its first look at the new bats during its annual Red/Black series two weeks ago. Uneasiness with a side of optimism would be the best way to describe the initial experiences with the bats from a hitting standpoint.
“They’re not that bad,” said junior shortstop Alex Jones. “They say they’re dulled-up a lot, but if you barrel it up it’ll still go a long way. The hardest part is that they dulled-down the sweet spot, so it’s harder to get the barrel of the bat on it.”
While players are busy adjusting at the plate, pitchers and fielders can finally stop adjusting to the nature of bats.
Balls hit with the old aluminum bats would often take off like rockets; creating ground balls that were not only difficult to handle but also dangerous.
“The new bats make the game a lot more pure,” Jones said. “Being a shortstop I get better hops and better reads. With the old bats you sometimes didn’t know what the ball was going to do.”
Along the same lines as Jones, NIU head coach Ed Mathey believes the new bats will take the game to a better place.
“I’m a fan of them because I think they’re going to bring skill back into play instead of strength,” Mathey said. “And I’m a big fan of skill.”
Critics of the new bats, though, have pointed to the old adage: Why fix something if it isn’t broken?
Behind college basketball’s NCAA tournament, the Men’s College World Series stands as the second most attended tournament in college sports.
Mathey is aware of the critics, but doesn’t believe fanfare will suffer as a result of the switch.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Mathey said. “But I think the competitive spirit of the game will still remain attractive to fans. I still think we got a high level of kids to get the barrel to the ball.”
In Mathey’s opinion, critical coaches are mostly upset with the fact that they now have to change the way they manage and recruit their teams.
“It’s definitely going to change how you structure your team,” Mathey said. “You can now go a couple routes; you can go with big guys because they can still hit the ball out of the yard, or you can go the speed and defense route. Coaches right now are kind of caught in the middle. Some guys had a formula that worked really well before but might not work as well now.”
Coaches now have a lot more to think about, but players like NIU third baseman Troy White have one less thing to ponder during games.
“I’m happy,” White said. “It’s a lot less death-defying playing third base now.”