When athletes on the Ohio State baseball team step up to the plate next season, they’ll be gripping a new and relatively unfamiliar type of bat.
Beginning Jan. 1, all NCAA teams must use bats that are aluminum — like the bats they have used in the past — but are designed to knock the ball slower, at the same speeds as wooden bats.
“It’s definitely going to change our game,” OSU coach Greg Beals said. “It’s not going to be as offensive.”
The new regulation is a response to rising offensive statistics by college baseball teams. Some say the aluminum bats are to blame for the offensive outburst and hope the new bats will level the playing field.
“The teams that are going to be successful are teams that get ahead of the curve,” Beals said. “You don’t want to play 15 to 20 games and realize, ‘Oh hey, the games are going to be different.’“
Players also have to adjust to using the new bat.
“A well-struck ball that sometimes might go for a double or even a home run, stays in the yard or is cut down to a single,” senior infielder Tyler Engle said.
Although teams aren’t required to use the new bats until January, OSU has been practicing with them all fall.
“We’ve seen enough in our scrimmage games here in the fall that we know the games are going to be different,” Beals said. “We’ve got to value each base runner and each base that we can get.”
Athletes said the Jan. 1 deadline to switch over to new bats won’t be a problem.
“Nike is our bat manufacturer and Nike has supplied us with a full line of the new bats for our guys to use,” Beals said.
The new regulation also aims to protect pitchers, who have taken more hits from fast-flying balls in recent years.
But Engle said he doesn’t think pitchers will be much safer.
“They are such a short distance away and the force (of the ball) coming off the bat, I don’t think they have enough time to react anyway,” he said.
Some athletes have said the new bats have a smaller “sweet spot,” but the bats aren’t expected to stump batters who have been successful in the past.
“Good hitters are still going to get hits, and good teams are still going to score runs,” Beals said.
Using an aluminum bat similar to their wooden counterparts might help college players prepare for using wooden bats at the professional level.
“It definitely will prepare our guys a little bit more for playing at the professional level,” Beals said.
The Buckeyes won’t be the only ones getting used to the new bats, but Engle said to expect lower-scoring games next spring.
“I think everybody in the country is going to have to (change) because the balls aren’t leaving the yard,” Engle said. “You won’t see too many double-digit run games.”