While state high school athletic associations across the country continue to struggle to regulate the legality of different metal bats -- just check out the headaches that Virginia lived through this spring -- America's oldest nationwide youth baseball league is gradually making the switch from metal bats to old fashioned wood.
The Warwick American Legion post now uses only wooden bats, along with the rest of the state's Posts
As chronicled by the Associated Press, three American Legion state associations now require all their teams (which compete under the number of the nearest American Legion to a host town) to use wooden bats instead of the aluminum bats that have ruled baseball at the non-professional level for more than two decades.
In 2011, Rhode Island and Florida joined Connecticut, which began the switch to wooden bats in 2010, with all three states now preaching about the benefits of playing the old fashioned style with the thump of wood replacing the ping of composite metal.
"The game plays a lot better on wood," Rhode Island American Legion Baseball state chairman John Parente told the AP. "There's more emphasis on some of the finer aspects of the game."
Using wooden bats also forces prep prospects to swing bats that are much more similar to those used at the Major League level. That both makes American Legion contests in wood bat states a more attractive (and realistic) scouting option for pro scouts and, in doing so, helps the longstanding summer baseball organization keep the competitive advantage it has held over other summer leagues. In particular, more and more alternative leagues have begun using wood bats in recent years in an effort to market themselves as more accurate professional proving grounds.
Of course, all those benefits don't even account for the greater safety provided by wooden bats. There is a long history of catastrophic injuries tied to metal bats, with one tragic accident in a 2003 American Legion game taking the life of an 18-year-old Montana pitcher.
Such drastic consequences are not nearly as significant a concern with wooden bats, which tend to dampen the impact of contact. Those who are most familiar with both types of bats say that balls typically "explode" off of aluminum and composite bats in ways that they don't when making contact with wood.
With three states already pushing their counterparts across the nation to join them, the national program coordinator for the American Legion league said that a nationwide switch to wood would happen as soon as a majority of states choose to use wood bats over metal alternatives.
Whether that happens in the coming years or not remains to be seen. Until then, both Major League scouts and the organizers of American Legion leagues in the states that are already using metal bats will be anxious to get the rest of the nation in line with the change they've already ushered in.
Then again, you don't have to take Prep Rally's word for it. Just listen to Florida American Legion state chairman Lee Rarrieck, who raved about his state's now-wooden bat league to the AP.
"The games seem to even be better," he said. "If you get a hit on a wood bat, it's a good hit. Plus it prepares you for the next level and in the state of Florida, we have a lot of kids drafted" for college play.
"It makes baseball what baseball should be again," he said.
- American Legion