Safer Baseball Bats, Safer Players and Should Wear Protective Gear

Last year the college game made the move to new guidelines for aluminum bats, and this year high schools will follow suit. Youth leagues are moving in the same direction. The new bats are less “lively,” which will mean fewer rockets through the infield but also will mean safer pitchers.

The steady improvements in aluminum bats over the past decade had led to a number of injuries among pitchers, who have less than a second to react to a batted ball zooming at them.

The situation was approaching critical mass, as bigger pitchers threw faster pitches, which bigger hitters would hit even harder in what’s called the “trampoline effect.” In this case, the hitters should use the best baseball bats to improve the situation.

Of course, the situation was less dire at the youth level because the players aren’t as big, and pitchers aren’t thrown nearly as fast. At the same time, pitchers aren’t as well equipped to catch a ball shot back at them either.

Critics of the change complain that the game won’t be as exciting with a deader bat, but the game always seems to find its own level, and the kids will be much safer.

Of course with this change the Manufacturers also change and produce many different types of bats to fit the new situation.

There’s just no reason to take the risk when these new rules can lessen it without hurting anything. I like the change and applaud it.

Then a question for this:

Should Youth Baseball Hitters Wear Protective Gear?

We talk a lot about ways to develop basic hitting skills–proper techniques, effective drills for improvement, and so on.

Find two or more youth baseball coaches in the same place for more than five minutes and you’ll hear them start trading ideas on how to develop young hitters.

We all talk far less about what might be the biggest obstacle to good hitting at this level – fear of getting hit by the ball.

It’s not an issue in T-ball, of course, and usually not one at the coach-pitch level, but as soon as kids begin taking the mound and throwing as hard as they can with only a vague sense of where the ball is going go, a lot of batters start getting nervous.

It’s a natural reaction. You even see it at the major league level. Put a pitcher on the mound who throws fast but lacks control, and then watch the batters bail out.

And these guys are fully developed athletes with plenty of muscle on their torsos to help blunt the blow of a fastball. At the youth level, those skinny bodies take the ball full force.

Because they’re trying to avoid that painful experience, they can’t fully focus their batting techniques.

Some kids get ‘happy feet,’ bailing out of the box whenever the ball comes inside on them. Others ‘step in the bucket’ and flail at the ball.

The question has been raised before and no doubt will be again – should youth baseball players wear protective gear.

Facemasks on their helmets, padding to protect their upper bodies, a vest or maybe a chest protector like catcher’s wear? In this article from batspeed.com, a writer raises the question again.

He makes some excellent points. One that is particularly insightful is the comparison of baseball to lacrosse. The former’s popularity has begun to erode while the latter is the fastest-rising youth sport in America.

The writer notes that the lacrosse ball isn’t as hard as a baseball and that lacrosse players wear much more protective equipment than baseball players wear.

I have to say I’ve supported for years the idea that youth baseball hitters wear some type of protective vest and helmets with facemasks.

Yes, I’ve been told that such extra gear coddles the kids too much in our age of hyper-vigilance about child safety. They say that getting drilled in the back is just part of the game.

And I get it, I do. But I don’t hear these people voicing this opinion to pro ballplayers, many of whom wear protection on their elbows, feet or shins while batting. Are they being wimpy or being smart? I vote for the latter.

The purpose of youth baseball is to have fun and to learn the fundamentals of the game. Kids who aren’t worried about being hit with a sharply thrown baseball can focus much better on their batting stance and swing. Let them learn these techniques.

When they reach a higher level and their bodies have matured, they can take off the vests. By then they have learned their hitting fundamentals and practiced them enough to embed those skills physically and mentally.

Would such a change soften our kids? I really don’t believe it will. Instead, it will allow them to develop their hitting skills without worrying about getting plunked. At the plate during a game, they can dig in and focus on using the skills they’ve practiced.

At the pro level, a pitcher sometimes uses a batter’s fear of being hit to his advantage, but in youth baseball, pitchers just try to throw strikes. They lack the control to ‘work the plate.’ Adding protective gear would not take any strategy from the games.

Instead, it would make the games much safer, more fun for the kids and more instructive for them too.

And if safety, fun and instruction are our top priorities as coaches and parents, why not make this simple addition to the team’s equipment bag? I think the time has come.

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