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Softball Bat Materials And Legal Issues

Jul 8, 2008
Softball bats were at one time made chiefly of wood, but advances in technology have introduced materials such as aluminum, graphite, and composites. Each material has its positive and unique features.

Wood: Wood softball bats are very rare but are slowly regaining favor with softball enthusiasts who would rather hear a whack and not a ping when the bat meets ball. A wood softball bat is bottle-shaped and can weigh between 32-35 ounces (around 8 ounces heavier than an aluminum bat). Traditionally, wood bats have been made from ash. However, ash is light and soft and bats made from ash tend to splinter and dent fast. Wood from maple, oak, and bamboo is also used for these bats. Maple is harder and its grain is denser as compared to ash, making it less susceptible to splintering and chafing. Bats made from Chinese bamboo are the closest wood bat equivalent of an aluminum bat. Bamboo is extremely light-weight and ha a tensile strength higher than that of steel.

Aluminum: The increased research and engineering in the science of bat making has resulted in high-tech aluminum softball bats that can cost upward of $300. Aluminum bats are lighter thereby enabling batters to generate greater bat speed and control. They are stronger and more durable than wood bats and they do not break; however, they may dent or crack over a period of time. Aluminum bats are available in different alloy and weight combinations. Light aluminum alloys that are thinner are more resilient and provide a larger hitting zone or "sweet spot". Aluminum bats are made in single-layer and double-layer combinations; double-layer bats are used by the power-hitters.

Graphite/Titanium lined: Aluminum bats are lined with graphite or titanium. These light, durable, and strong materials are added to aluminum bats with thin walls in order to make the bats lighter. Lighter bats help batters to generate more power in their swing. Bats lined with graphite or titanium have a greater hitting zone or "sweet spot". These materials are shock-absorbent as well and aid in reducing the shock felt when a stroke is mistimed.

Composite materials: Bats made from composite materials such as carbon, glass, or Kevlar are light weight, rigid, and sturdy. Composite materials enable bat manufacturers to incorporate varying strengths and stiffness in different parts of a bat. The result is a bat with stiff bat handles for greater control, low stiffness hitting areas for better performance and reduced shock, and differentiated swing weights. Bats made from composite materials have a large hitting surface with a more pronounced "sweet spot". However, the extreme velocities at which the ball rebounds off the bat can pose a safety hazard to the pitcher who has to react in a very limited time.

Softball Bats That Are Prohibited

If your league is anything like most leagues in Colorado, you probably receive a list of illegal bats at the beginning of each softball season. Maybe the list is handed out at your manager's meeting, or maybe it is posted on your softball league's website, either way, you need to be conscience of that list when selecting a bat.

Why are there illegal bats?

There are two main reasons that softball leagues issue illegal bat lists. The first is for the protection of the players, mainly the pitcher. Every day the bat companies are inventing new technologies that are equipping players essentially with bats that more resemble artillery launchers than traditional softball bats. This puts the pitcher, in particular in danger. Depending on your league rules, the pitcher will be around 40-50 feet from the mound after the release. (Also, depending on your league rules, the pitcher may be 4 or 5 beers into the evening after the release).

The strength of some of the players, combined with the new technology of the bats put the pitcher in a very precarious position as a line drive comes scream towards his/her head. And don't forget the pitcher isn't the only one who should be concerned for their safety, infielders, particularly third base and shortstop, when righties are up, and second base and first base, with lefties, also can get quite a lump on the noggin from a hot shot off some of these enhanced technology bats.

The second reason behind issuing illegal bats is fairness of play. Recreational softball should not be won by the team that can pay the most for bats, and rest assured the newer the technology, the higher the price.

Recreational softball is played by millions so that they can go out and have fun for an hour or so a week. If a team is plunking homerun after homerun into the lake on the other side of the fence, the game will get tedious and boring. Restricting the power behind the bats, will keep more balls in the park and make the game more fun for both teams.

These are the two main reasons that recreational softball leagues issue an illegal bat list. Before you purchase a bat, make sure you check the illegal bat list for your league.
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