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Valley Invitational Baseball League: Batting stances

Wood bats receive varied reviews as West Ranch, Royal open season

Posted: June 7, 2010 10:29 p.m.
Updated: June 8, 2010 4:55 a.m.
West Ranch’s J.C. Cloney takes a swing with a wood bat against Royal during Monday’s VIBL game at West Ranch High. West Ranch’s J.C. Cloney takes a swing with a wood bat against Royal during Monday’s VIBL game at West Ranch High.
West Ranch’s J.C. Cloney takes a swing with a wood bat against Royal during Monday’s VIBL game at West Ranch High.

West Ranch’s Valley Invitational Baseball League opener against Royal of Simi Valley sounded different than usual.

Everything looked the same. There were strikeouts, base hits and sliding plays at bases.

But the high-pitched “ping” of metal bats, which has been associated with amateur baseball for decades, was replaced with the cracking sound of wood bats in the Wildcats’ 5-2 victory on Monday at West Ranch High School.

The VIBL switched to wood bats for the 2010 season in response to an injury to Marin Catholic High School pitcher Gunnar Sandberg, who was hit by a comebacker off a metal bat in March. He was in a coma for weeks.

“We’ve enjoyed the purity that (using wood bats) brings to the game,” said West Ranch head coach Casey Burrill. “If you’re going to hit the ball hard, you really have to hit it in the sweet spot and it’s a small sweet spot.”

The Wildcats didn’t appear to have any difficulties with their new bats, collecting eight hits in six innings, including three doubles into left-center field.

“We played with wood bats during spring break and I think that really helped,” said West Ranch assistant coach Josh Fogel, who is managing the Wildcats in the VIBL. “To avoid letting the wood bat get the best of them, they’re attacking early in the count and trying to get that first pitch over the plate and hit it hard.

“Some pitches were elevated and those are going to get hit well. Maybe with a metal bat those go over the fence, but otherwise the hitters don’t change their approach too much.”

The West Ranch coaching staff said it would support a potential switch to wood bats for next year’s high school season, but feelings are still mixed.

“We actually played Marin Catholic in our spring break tournament, and to hear their story grounds it a little bit,” Burrill said. “But on the other hand kids get hurt playing a lot of sports here on campus, whether it’s cheerleading, football or whatever. So where is the next step? Does the pitcher need to wear a helmet? Do we go to flag football? I don’t know.”

West Ranch starting pitcher Matt Blake had a solid outing, allowing one earned run on only one hit in four innings. He said he felt more comfortable pitching to wood bats.

“You don’t have to worry about those hard comebackers and you can pound the strike zone more,” Blake said. “I got my teeth knocked out when I was 12 (by a hit) off a metal bat. It definitely helps my confidence.”

West Ranch’s Aaron Smirnoff had two doubles and an RBI in the game, and feels confident his swing with translate well to playing with the wood bat.

“I’ve just choked up a little bit and kept up my bat speed,” Smirnoff said. “It’s the same swing, you just have to square up better. It’s different. I prefer metal bats at this age. Maybe one or two of those doubles go out.”

However, Royal head coach Dan Maye was not in favor of the switch.

“I don’t think we’re going to woods (in the regular season) and I’m totally against it,” Maye said. “I think it’s a smokescreen behind a safety issue. They can make an aluminum bat and deaden it if they are worried about safety. Kids are going to get hurt. Just wait til the first wood bat shatters and hits the catcher in the throat.”


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