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Wood-bat league gives softball players another option

Starting in May, Austin softball players will have the chance to play a more authentic — and, arguably, safer — version of the game.

The local parks and recreation department will, for the first time, run a wood-bat adult softball league this summer, which recreation supervisor Valerie Pitzen said is largely a reaction to scary incidents involving metal bats across the country in recent years.

“It is a safety-based issue,” Pitzen said. “The balls are coming off (metal bats) so fast.”

Austin’s wood-bat league, which will debut Monday, May 3, and continue on Monday nights thereafter, will not supplant metal-bat softball in town — several metal-bat leagues are planned for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. However, Pitzen said the new league will at least give players the opportunity to move away from metal bats if they’d like.

And already, Pitzen said she’s heard from a few teams that would be interested in registering. Registration will be open this week on Thursday and Friday.

Away from metal?

Pitzen said the idea of a wood-bat league popped into her head a few months ago, and she decided to do some Google-searching on the subject of metal versus wood bats. She said a lot of what she read was about serious baseball-related injuries — and calls for cities to go away from metal bats.

In 2007, New York City Council passed a bill banning metal bats in high school baseball games, likely becoming the first legislative body to pass such a law, the New York Times reported. And in California, the state Legislature is currently looking at a bill that would ban metal bats in high school baseball games across the state — a bill motivated by a serious injury sustained by a 16-year-old pitcher from a batted ball in March.

Of course, adult league softball in Austin is far different than baseball — for one, the pitches are coming at a much lesser speed. However, despite some disagreement on scientific specifics, many researchers and ballplayers cite the same thing — balls come off metal bats faster.

Daniel Russell, a professor of applied physics at Kettering University in Michigan, wrote in a 2006 paper that there are four main reasons for this: Metal bats can be swung faster, they react like a spring when struck because they’re hollow, they have wider “sweet spots” and they don’t break as easily. Russell noted that this holds true for baseball and softball bats alike.

Pitzen said she likes that metal bats — which are generally seen as easier to hit with — put more people “in the game.” But, she noted, the drawback is safety, which is why the new league is being offered.

New softball league open for registration soon

What: Wood-bat softball league through Austin Parks and Recreation

When: Play starts May 3. Registration is Thursday and Friday

How to sign-up/ask questions: Stop by the parks and recreation office at 121 Fourth Ave. NE. Or call 507-433-1881. Or e-mail Valerie Pitzen at vpitzen@ci.austin.mn.us

Cost: $265 entry fee per team of 10-20 players, plus $8 player fee per player