If it seemed like far more gifts than usual were wrapped in long skinny boxes this holiday season, there was good reason: New youth bat standards took effect on Jan. 1.Beginning with the upcoming season, kids in most leagues below high school and college will need a bat that adheres
If it seemed like far more gifts than usual were wrapped in long skinny boxes this holiday season, there was good reason: New youth bat standards took effect on Jan. 1.
Beginning with the upcoming season, kids in most leagues below high school and college will need a bat that adheres to the new rules, called USABat, that is aimed at producing metal bats that act more like wood.
USA Baseball, the national governing body for baseball, adopted a new method for measuring bat performance in the testing of youth bats based on the work of a committee of scientific experts. The plan was announced more than two years ago to give bat manufacturers ample time to research, design, test and produce the new models.
"USA Baseball and our participating national member organizations feel that this [new bat standard] is what's best for the long-term integrity for youth baseball, and we also feel that it'll make the game more uniform at the youth level and across the board," said USABat program director Russell Hartford during a recent panel discussion on the topic.
The majority of major youth baseball organizations -- including the American Amateur Baseball Congress (AABC), Babe Ruth Baseball/Cal Ripken Baseball, Dixie Youth Baseball, Little League Baseball and PONY Baseball -- support and will adopt the new regulations. No previously approved bats not bearing the USABat logo will be permitted in any of these leagues.
"In the late 1990s, there were no youth bat performance standards," said Steve Keener, president and CEO of Little League International. "And Little League Baseball adopted a standard that was established through the manufacturing industry. As technology changed and bats were being made of new material, we saw legislation -- trying to ban the use of non-wood bats, as people felt that everyone should play the game of baseball with a wood bat. Five or six years later, we thought that we should develop a standard like that they have for wood bats.
"The problem with wood bats for youth baseball is that very often they are top-heavy for youth players. When you are 7, 8 or 9 years old and trying to swing a sledgehammer in some respects, it makes it harder to put the bat on the ball."
"A lot went into this five- to six-year process," Hartford said. "It involved leading scientists on the USA Baseball Bat Study Committee [and] extensive research.
"The USABat performs right in line with wood. We have a lot of data and extensive laboratory research backing this up, and have performed field tests at the USA Baseball National Training Complex with over 100 youth participants and a Trackman radar system to collect information."
Keener explained that going for the performance of wood, along with the benefits of non-wood, became the ultimate goal.
"We are trying to explain to parents that this is how we want to play the game: with a bat that still performs like wood but that gives your children the same advantage of swinging a lighter bat where the weight is distributed evenly, which is more fun to play with and makes the game better for kids."
Mike McCormick is an editorial director for MLB.com.