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HOT BATS: They’re Going Going Gone

The pitcher winds up and fires toward the plate.  The batter swings from the heels and makes contact.  Thinking home run, he trots toward first, only to break into a sprint as he sees the ball fall short of the fence.
 
It’s a scene that will be repeated on many high-school baseball fields this spring, as most leagues begin their first season of play using bats engineered to perform more like the wood bats of old.  This change is due to the implementation of a new test – the Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) – that a bat must pass, before it’s approved for play by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).  The new requirement has been in effect in NCAA play since January 2011.
 
While bats were subject to regulation prior to this year, the old BESR test measured the speed of the ball coming off the bat, a number that varied as bats were broken in.  The new BBCOR specification measures the bounciness of “pop” of the bat and is a better indication of performance.
 
The result is a bat that generates 10 to 15 percent less ball velocity than previously allowed composite and aluminum bats.  The 2011 NCAA season bore this out, as production fell.  According to Daniel A. Russell of The Pennsylvania State University, batting averages, home runs and earned-run averages for the 2011 NCAA season dropped to pre-aluminum-bat levels – the lowest in over 30 years.
 
Many students of the game count diminished bat performance as a plus, since BBCOR-spec bats perform much like major-league wood bats, thereby enabling comparison.  What’s more, according to the NFHS, the BBCOR requirement is expected to minimize risk, improve play and increase teaching opportunities.
 
Ballplayers like to see the ball soar at the crack of their bat, so the new BBCOR requirement isn’t getting a lot of love at the student-athlete level, but some have displayed a positive attitude.  Responding to an article on baseballbatreviewsblog.com, one athlete said, “The BBCOR bats have no pop, so I’ll stop complaining and square the ball up to get the pop, basically get better at hitting.”
 
In most leagues, players will have the option of using BBCOR-approved non-wood bats or wood bats.  Dunham’s offers both.  Among the most popular BBCOR bats are the Easton Power Brigade performance bats.  Because power is a function of mass and speed, these bats are engineered to optimize both sides of the equation.  The Speed Series bats provide a little help for players who need more at speed.  For power hitters who can swing with the best of them, Easton offers the XL Series with extra large barrels.  Because most of the mass is in the barrel, the bats offer a very large hitting surface.
 
Dunham’s sales consultants can help ballplayers, large and small, choose the best bat for their game.
 
-Home Run Hitter
 
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It Must Be The Shoes

Beginning baseball player or all-star, without the traction advantage of cleats, it’s no go.
 
The runner on first base steps toward second, then stops and studies the pitcher, looking for a clue that might reveal whether his next move will be a throw to first or a pitch to the plate. The pitcher goes into his stretch, looks over his shoulder and returns the stare, gauging the base runner’s lead and calculating whether he’s likely to break for second on the pitch. The runner takes one step back toward first. Confident that he has the runner leaning toward first, the pitcher delivers to the plate. But by the time he releases the ball, the runner has shifted his weight, and he digs in with his cleat, pushing off toward second with all the power his leg can generate.
 
Without baseball cleats, that runner would be spinning his wheels, slipping and sliding in the dirt, but the grip of the shoe allows him to apply as much force as he can muster. While cleats are essential equipment for the base runner, they’re also necessary for defensive players, who must react quickly to a batted ball and move into position. Similarly, that pitcher has to have firm footing on the pitching rubber and mound in order to deliver the ball with maximum velocity and accuracy.
 
A Historical Footnote
 
Baseball cleats are an important part of a player’s equipment, and they have been since a ballplayer named Paul Butler first attached spikes to his leather shoes more than 150 years ago. Today, players can choose from a wide range of baseball cleats, including types designed for different conditions and playing surfaces. And while cleats may resemble street shoes, there’s a lot of science involved in their construction. Wedges are frequently used within the shoe to provide cushioning in some areas without adding excessive weight. The wedges can also serve to keep the front of the foot low to the ground, an advantage when running. Soft pads are located within the shoe to minimize pressure, and cushioning is used in midsole areas to reduce the discomfort that results from hours of standing and running. Tongue flaps keep the tongue in place while keeping dirt out, and zippered shrouds lock laces in place.
 
The cleats on the underside of the shoe are usually made of metal, solid rubber or molded thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). Metal cleats are durable and can dig into hard dirt. Non-metal cleats reduce the risk of injury to opposing players and can make for a more comfortable shoe. But since rubber and TPU cleats don’t provide as much grip, more metal cleats are used. Maximum height for all types is ½-inch. Generally, players who have reached high-school level or above use metal cleats when conditions warrant, while more junior ballplayers use a non-metal type. Some shoes are made with removable cleats, so both metal and non-metal cleats can be used interchangeably and worn cleats can be replaced.
 
The position of  the cleats can affect the way the shoes — and the athlete — perform. Nike, for example, has moved the toe cleat under the big toe to improve traction, while the secondary cleats in the forefoot area are engineered to improve lateral movement.
 
Sizing Up the Shoe
 
It’s not all about traction and cleat design, the support the shoe provides and its durability are also important. Baseball cleats are available in both low-top and ¾-height shoe configurations. The low-tops offers great flexibility and are favored by speedy baserunners, while he ¾-height shoes provide more ankle support and are less likely to fall off. In terms of materials, synthetic outers can reduce weight, while leather is tough and durable. Many shoes are made from a combination of materials. Under Armour, a major supplier of baseball cleats, uses a combination of leather and a synthetic material called nubuck in many of their shoes. Nike baseball cleats use a rubber compound called Diamond Guard in the toe area to enhance durability.
 
Special Applications
 
Most manufacturers offer shoes designed specifically for softball and for children. Because softball involves motions that differ from those of baseball, particularly for pitchers, shoes are engineered specifically for that game. Kids, on the other hand, grow fast, and some baseball cleats are designed to accommodate growth with removable spacers in the heel area.
 
Dunham’s carries a wide range of baseball cleats for boys, girls and adults. Among the most popular are the Nike Keystone and Under Armour’s Leadoff IV. A Dunham’s sales consultant can help you choose the cleats that are best for you or your aspiring athlete.
 
-Home Run Hitter
 
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Holy Composite Material, BAT-MAN!

There was a simpler time when all baseball bats were made of wood. Then came aluminum and a variety of alloys. In recent years, composite bats made from fiber and resin have shown up in the batter’s box. Today, the material and method used to manufacture a bat can significantly affect the velocity at which the ball comes off the bat. At higher levels, uneven bat performance can lead to statistical confusion.

For those reasons, amateur baseball sanctioning bodies test new bat designs and sometimes restrict the type of bat that can be used in competition. As examples, let’s take a look at how Little League baseball and high-school baseball sanctioning bodies have dealt with recent changes in bat design.

Little League

It wasn’t long after the introduction of composite bats that ballplayers and Little League officials noticed that high-tech composite bats got “hotter” as they were broken in. Repeated contact with the ball softened up the composite material, giving it more of a trampoline effect. The result was harder hit balls — too hard perhaps for the safety of the players in the field. So in 2010, Little League International temporarily banned the use of composite bats in all baseball divisions of Little League.

“The moratorium is not the result of Little League changing its bat standards, nor was it influenced by any relationships with bat manufacturers,” said Little League International. “The decision is based solely on the fact that scientific research showed that composite-barreled bats may exceed the performance standard that is printed on the bats, after the bats have been broken in.”

In January 2011, the organization announced wavers for some composite bats that had passed the performance test and could now be used in the Little League Majors Baseball Division and lower divisions. These bats have the 2 ¼-inch barrels that are required at those levels.

Dunham’s can equip you with a composite bat that has received a waiver and is now legal for Little League play. A Dunham’s sales representative can help you find a bat that’s right for you.

High School and College

In recent years both high school and college baseball have used bats that complied with the Ball Exit Speed Ratio or BESR standard. Some of the bats meeting that standard didn’t perform in quite the same way as the wooden bats used in professional baseball. Baseball pundits and perhaps even major league baseball owners sometimes complained that it was difficult to determine how well a college player would perform in professional baseball, since the collegiate athletes were using a different type of bat.

That may be part of the reason why NCAA college baseball officially adopted a new standard called the Bat-Ball Coefficient of Restitution or BBCOR. That standard went into effect on January 1 of this year. The NCAA is reported to have said that the change was not done for safety reasons, but in order to get a more wood-like performance from the bats.

For 2012, high school baseball leagues will make the switch to BBCOR bats as well. California schools have already changed to the NCAA collegiate standard, but schools in other states can continue to use BESR bats through the end of 2011.

Dunham’s carries a range of bats that meet the new BBCOR specification. For help in choosing a bat that meets the requirements of the league in which you play, see your Dunham’s sales representative.

I’ve Got It!

A fielder’s facemask can help youngsters play with confidence.

It’s a sharply hit ground ball to the second baseman. The well-schooled fielder gets in position, lowers his glove, and focuses on the ball. But as it approaches the ball takes an odd bounce, and the
young ballplayer’s attention turns from the task at hand to wondering whether the ball might take another bad bounce and bop him in the nose. Distracted, he lifts his glove, and the ball rolls between his legs and into
right field.

Confidence and concentration are essential to the development of young players. Catching a baseball isn’t easy, and youngsters who are afraid of the ball will never develop proper skills. Taking necessary precautions to prevent injury is something that all youngsters should be taught, but fear doesn’t diminish the risks involved in any sport. It’s a distraction that can actually lead to injury.

The increased use of fielder’s face protection by pitchers and infielders in recent years has done much to both prevent injuries and instill confidence. Introduced in the 1990s, masks designed to protect defensive players are now becoming common in amateur baseball. The lightweight masks are engineered in such a way that they don’t restrict vision, yet they offer a substantial level of protection from batted balls. That protection helps defensive players focus on the game, so the benefits afforded by the mask are twofold: The players gain confidence, and their faces are protected.

Dunham’s stocks a number of fielder face protection masks, including Markwort’s Game Face mask, Worth’s First Face mask, and the Rip It mask.

Markwort Sporting Goods, said that the Game Face mask is ultra lightweight and offers extremely strong polycarbonate construction. Because it provides complete facial protection, it promotes player confidence. The mask can be fitted to the individual player’s face by means of pads. Lisa recommends that to ensure a proper fit, the player visit Dunham’s and try on a Game Face.

-Home Run Hitter

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Right Glove Means Comfort, Control and Confidence

Imagine hitting a sharp liner up the gap, but barely making it to first base because your baseball pants are so large they practically fall off. Or imagine rounding third, heading for home and literally flying out of your cleats because they’re two or three sizes too large.

While those scenarios may seem unlikely, chances are your son or daughter may be playing with another piece of extremely important equipment not properly fitted to his or her age, size or level of play.

“One mistake many parents make,” says Dave White, National Account Manager for Wilson Sporting Goods, “is choosing a baseball glove that is too large for their son or daughter, with the thought that they’ll eventually grow into it. What happens then is that the player often gets discouraged because the glove falls off their hand, or because they have a hard time fielding, catching or controlling the ball.”

From Little League all the way through the big league, choosing the right glove is all about fit, feel and functionality. Here are a few guidelines to use when choosing a glove for your little leaguer:

  • Baseball gloves are measured from the top of the index finger, over the surface of the pocket and down to the heel of the glove.
  • Players under the age of 8 should use a 9-inch glove for infield play and up to an 11-inch glove for outfield play.
  • Players from 8 to early teens should use a 9- to 10-inch glove for infield play, a 10- to 11-inch glove if playing multiple positions and up to a 12-inch glove for outfield play.
  • A shallow pocket helps infielders trap and grab the ball more easily.
  • A deeper pocket helps outfielders catch and hold the ball more securely.
  • Leather gloves offer superior comfort, control and durability over gloves made of synthetic materials.

Avoid the mistake of thinking bigger is better and your little leaguer will definitely benefit from the added comfort, control and confidence they get from a smaller, properly fitted glove.

Any other suggestions you have regarding selecting a baseball glove?

-Home Run Hitter

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Swing Batta Batta…

Power hitters, contact hitters and everyone in between—today’s bat technology is designed to improve the performance of anyone who steps to the plate.

A lot has changed since the first aluminum bats were introduced more than 30 years ago. Bat manufacturers are constantly introducing new performance enhancement technology to give you an edge in the batter’s box.

Today’s bats feature exotic combinations of aluminum alloy, zinc, copper, magnesium, graphite and titanium. Wilson and Louisville feature perfect examples of this revolutionary technology.

The Wilson “half and half” technology combines a “Flex-Tuned Evolution Composite” handle with an alloy barrel for optimal balance and a generous sweet spot. Louisville uses a different approach with X-1 Composite Technology that layers aerospace grade graphite embedded in epoxy resin.

While the technology is complex, the objective is simple: optimize light weight for durability.

Lighter materials mean hitters can generate more bat speed. Greater bat speed results in harder hit balls that get through the gaps and over the fence.

In making bats lighter and more durable, manufacturers have also enlarged the sweet spot. Hitting behind the runner, going to the opposite field or laying down the perfect bunt becomes a lot easier with a sweet spot that allows for a greater margin of error.

Like most performance-enhancement technology, the right fit is a key to success. Selecting a bat with the correct design, length and weight is critical. This is especially true for younger players who are still growing and developing their skills. The wrong bat could lead to bad habits that develop to compensate for ill-suited equipment.

The barrel and handle of bats are designed for specific purposes. A larger barrel provides a bigger sweet spot but hitters can generate more bat speed with a smaller barrel. A larger handle can take the sting out of hitting the ball but it also increases weight.

The length and weight of a bat are also critical to success. Here’s chart that can help you select the right size bat:

Length and Weight: The weight drop is a figure that refers to the difference between the length of the bat (in inches) and the weight of the bat (in ounces). Weight drop is always shown as a minus number. Lighter bats have a higher weight drop which means a -10 would be lighter than a -8.

Determine Your Bat Length by Weight and Height
Your height (inches)
Your weight (pounds) 36-40 41-44 45-48 49-52 53-56 57-60 61-64 65-68 69-72 73+
Bat length
less than 60 26″ 27″ 28″ 29″ 29″
61-70 27″ 27″ 28″ 29″ 30″ 30″
71-80 28″ 28″ 29″ 30″ 30″ 31″
81-90 28″ 29″ 29″ 30″ 30″ 31″ 32″
91-100 28″ 29″ 30″ 30″ 31″ 31″ 32″
101-110 29″ 29″ 30″ 30″ 31″ 31″ 32″
111-120 29″ 29″ 30″ 30″ 31″ 31″ 32″
121-130 29″ 29″ 30″ 30″ 31″ 32″ 33″ 33″
131-140 29″ 30″ 30″ 31″ 31″ 32″ 33″ 33″
141-150 30″ 30″ 31″ 31″ 32″ 33″ 33″
151-160 30″ 31″ 31″ 32″ 32″ 33″ 33″ 33″
161-170 31″ 31″ 32″ 32″ 33″ 33″ 34″
171-180 32″ 33″ 33″ 34″ 34″
180+ 33″ 33″ 34″ 34″

-Home Run Hitter

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Fast-Pitch The New Field of Dreams

Less than 15 years ago there was talk that fast-pitch softball was on its last legs. Today it is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Driving the resurgence are women who have embraced fast-pitch and made it a game of their own.

The seed was planted back in 1972 with the passage of Title IX. The legislation set the foundation for growth in women athletic teams and athletic scholarships for woman at the collegiate level. Even with Title IX, women’s fast-pitch softball lingered in the background.

The sport really grabbed everyone’s attention with the success of the U.S. Women’s team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. At the time, fewer than 250,000 women were playing fast-pitch across the nation. Today the American Softball Association (ASA) projects there are more than 1.8 million women in the U.S. playing on nearly 650,000 teams.

Back in 1996, just a few universities had fast-pitch teams. Now there are more than 932 collegiate programs involving more than 16,000 student athletes.

While these numbers are impressive, they could be just the tip of the iceberg.

ASA registrations indicate fast-pitch is still gaining in popularity with women. There are more than 1.2 million girls participating on 83,000 youth girl softball teams in the U.S.

Don’t confuse these women with the recreational player who plays a few games when the weather is nice. Most women participating in fast-pitch play more than 52 games a year.

Proof of the game’s popularity can also be found on the internet. A quick search of fast-pitch softball turns up hundreds of links. The sport’s popularity has fueled a new industry of training videos, books, camps, tournaments and specialized equipment. There are even endorsement opportunities for star athletes.

-Home Run Hitter

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