published Friday, March 23rd, 2012

New bats costly mandate for players

The mandatory use of the BBCOR bat in high school baseball has no doubt affected the way the game is played and coached. It also affected a few bank accounts.

When the National Federation of State High School Associations adopted the less-potent BBCOR bat to replace the old BESR bats for this season, it meant nearly every prep player in the country had to ditch hundreds of dollars worth of bats and purchase new ones. The most popular BBCOR bats cost $200 to $500, and since the bats are new to the prep ranks, many families have purchased more than one.

Though high schools supply athletes with uniforms and some equipment, bats are nearly always left up to the players' families to purchase. In today's fluctuating economy, some have found it difficult to allocate hundreds of dollars to new bats.

"I wasn't sure if our kids were going to be able to buy the bats, so I ended up paying $400 just to make sure we had bats that were legal," LaFayette coach Daniel Torrenti said. "I couldn't anticipate or expect our kids to buy those bats. Where we're at with the economy, it's tough to ask a parent to go spend $300 on a bat in addition to everything else. I bought the cheapest ones I could find so we would have something to practice with."

Not surprisingly, bat sales at area retailers rose before this season when compared to recent years. There was, however, a consequence for the retailers. Blake Austin, manager of the Hibbett Sports store in LaFayette, said sales of other baseball gear have fallen off because of the need for the new bats.

"In our company, especially the Fort Oglethorpe store, the bat sales have been at or near record levels, but on the other hand, parents are saying, 'We're not going to get that new glove this year because we had to spend so much money on a bat.'" Austin said. "The most popular bats themselves aren't any more expensive than the previous BESR bats, but the higher-end ones are pretty pricey and we don't even carry those."

The 33-inch Marucci CAT52 bat recently was declared illegal by the NCAA, which adopted the use of the BBCOR bats last season. The NFHS followed suit, taking away what had been one of the most popular bats. The Marucci company has been offering replacements for those who bought that bat, but many had to buy other bats while they waited on the exchange.

Ringgold's Adam Weldon is already on his second BBCOR bat. The first, a Rip-It bat, was dented during the team's first weekend of play. The Weldons were able to return the bat, then purchased a $300 Demarini Voodoo Black after doing more research.

"We've talked to a lot of people, including some college players that used the bats last year," Adam's father, Larry Weldon, said. "Adam loved the Rip-It bat, but we wanted to try something else and the Voodoo is a good one. They're all experimenting with the bats to see which ones are better, and you know with teenagers, they all want the latest, best thing.

"We usually try to keep two bats around, one for play and one for practice, but they are getting crazy expensive."

Not all the outdated BESR bats are in the closet. In order to preserve their new bats, many players are using the old bats in practice.

"We've had several use them when we do hitting off the T or station work," Heritage coach Eric Beagles said. "Most of them believe there are only so many swings in a bat, so they don't want to waste them."

One curious rumor about the new bats is that, unlike their predecessors, they get more lively the longer they're used.

"I've heard that rumor, and also one that they will get livelier once the weather warms up," Ringgold coach Brent Tucker said. "Heck, if it proves true they might not need to buy a new bat for three or four years."

about Lindsey Young...

Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...

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