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Congrats, Wood Bats, Bonds and Beetles

Congrats, Wood Bats, Bonds and Beetles

The Little League World Series is getting ready for the first pitch. Our area high school football fields have come back to life with teams getting ready for an early kickoff to the PIAA pigskin season. Before you know it, August will be the new September for high school football players. This, however, is a conversation for another day — let’s stay positive and enjoy this special time of year.

Locally, we still have three teams enjoying the game of Summer. Anytime you’re still playing baseball or softball and getting ready to go back to school it’s been an amazing All-Star season. Tip of the cap to the following teams — starting with the South Williamsport 8-10-year-old girls of summer managed by Fred McLaughlin. As I am penning my article, the Southside softballers have just won the Easton Regional tournament being held in Jenkins Township, PA. Pitcher Alizabeth Schuler has been absolutely lights out during their title run.

Staying at the Little League level, Keystone’s major baseball All-Stars managed by Patrick Johnson are trying to win their way back to Williamsport and the Little League World Series. The Pennsylvania State champs are currently competing in Bristol Connecticut at the Mid-Atlantic tournament. What a tradition the Clinton County-based Little League has built over the years.

Moving on up, Williamsport’s West End Babe Ruth 16-18-year-old All-Stars already have a Pennsylvania state and Eastern Regional Championship to their credit. The boys, managed by Tori Shimp, are in Jamestown New York at the Babe Ruth World Series. Speaking of traditions, West End baseball has been knocking on that World Series title door for years; hopefully, this is the year they finally knock it down.

We will have much more on these three teams in the near future. Good luck to all!

While we are talking baseball, there’s nothing like the sound of a well-hit ball coming off of a wood bat. If it were up to me, wood bats would be used from the high school level right on up to the Major Leagues. At one time the overwhelming majority of bats used in the Major Leagues came from ash cut from the forests of Pennsylvania and New York. The ash billets were milled and shipped directly to the bat manufacturers, the largest being Louisville Slugger. In today’s world of Major League Baseball, 75% of the bats now used are maple and only 20% are ash. The good news is the maple billets come from the same hardwood forests and mills in Pennsylvania and New York.

So why the switch to Maple? Baseball is a very superstitious game, and you never change what works. Incidentally, at last check, no Philadelphia Phillie was swinging ash this year.

It began in 1997 when Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays used the first Maple bat in the Major Leagues. But what really caused maple to catch fire and become wood of choice was when Barry Bonds began using it about the same time. Whether or not all those long home runs were performance-enhancing, drug-aided, they came off a beautiful maple bat. When you set the all-time single-season record of 73 homers and break Hank Aarons’ career mark finishing up with 762 big flies, everybody is watching. And as they say, the rest is history — everybody wanted to swing maple. As the MLB goes, so does every level on down, which includes all the minor leagues, independent, collegiate summer leagues and elite travel ball. Let’s not forget the young future generation of ballplayers that were watching, they only wanted to use maple and had no connection to ash.

So where does the emerald ash borer beetle fit into all this? I’m not quite sure. The move to maple already seemed to be in progress before the emerald ash borer began its devastation. It is estimated that 15% of Pennsylvania’s Ash has already fallen victim to the pesky Asian pest, and there are estimates as high 1.3 million ash trees could eventually be lost.

The ecological effects of invasive species are raising havoc in our nation’s forests. The long-term impact of the emerald ash borer is very difficult to predict. Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources and Conservation are doing their best to control, contain and manage the problem. But this is a very difficult job due to the pure acreage the problem covers.

So, I took the long way around the bases to cover the emerald ash borer. But before you blame the metallic green beetle for the lack of ash being used by bat manufacturers, consider the Barry Bonds effect. If he would have used birch that would probably be the preferred wood of the day. Incidentally birch bats are currently trending as an alternative to maple and ash. Who would have thunk it?

God Bless America.

Jim Webb

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