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CHSAA - Wood Bats ??

Posted Wednesday, September 05, 2007 by Journal news

CHSAA goes batty over wood

(Original publication: September 5, 2007)
WHITE PLAINS - The CHSAA fall baseball season began yesterday, and for Stepinac it got off to a rather ironic start.

On the first pitch of the first batting-practice session of the new school year, Crusaders senior Rene Gordis took a swing ... and promptly broke his bat.

"There goes $80," yelled Stepinac coach Pat Duffy.

For many involved in the hottest debate in local Catholic schools baseball, this won't come as a surprise. The teams overwhelmingly oppose a New York City law banning metal bats in competitive high school baseball across the five boroughs, but they have been forced to begin coping with the repercussions.

Duffy is a staunch opponent of the new law, which the CHSAA decided to extend to all its member schools to ensure competitive balance.

He said that since he began playing Catholic school baseball at Mount St. Michael in 1977, he has never seen nor heard of an injury occurring because of a metal bat. Yet that's not even his biggest problem with the new law. What Duffy can't understand is why the National Federation of State High School Associations, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association and the New York Catholic High School Athletic Association have all deemed metal bats safe - but the city has not.

"If one of those governing bodies had dictated rule changes, you would have gotten 90 percent compliance right away," Duffy said. "Those are athletic governing bodies."

Wally Stampfel, the CHSAA baseball chairman and coach at Mount St. Michael, had resigned himself to adhering to the law not long after it was passed in the spring. But a lawsuit filed to challenge the ruling was ongoing until a federal court ruled to uphold the law on Aug. 28. The timing gave schools just six days to prepare for the opening of the fall season.

Stampfel said the law mandates that CHSAA players can use wood bats that are approved by Major League Baseball for major- or minor-league play. He asked the City Council to provide a list of the bats, but he has yet to receive one.

"Due to a lack of information from the City Council, we haven't been able to plan as much as we would've liked," Stampfel said after the Aug. 28 decision. "With a week to go now, we're kind of hitting the panic button."

The panic isn't as widespread among the players, many of whom played in competitive wood-bat leagues over the summer and own their own bats.

Stepinac slugger Alex Maruri, one of the CHSAA's leading hitters last season, said there won't be much of an adjustment period for hitters used to wood, but it'll change how their high school games are played.

"It's going to be a lot less 'SportsCenter' and a lot more small ball," Maruri said.

Duffy took a show of hands last week and said 85 percent of the players in his program had played with a wood bat.

One who hadn't, sophomore Anthony Barrella, has since purchased a $50 maple bat. He expects it to increase his success at the plate.

"You have to get everything into the swing with a wood bat," Barrella said of his first impression. "With aluminum, you can get away with a bad swing."

Duffy believes that when the new brand of baseball is coupled with recruiters' emphasis on power hitting, it will ultimately hurt CHSAA players, whose competition for scholarships around the state and around the country will be still using aluminum bats.

The schools also face the matter of buying bats for players, who can share metal bats but aren't likely to do so with the more fragile wood.

Stampfel said many athletic departments don't budget for bats, but that will have to change, particularly in city schools where players won't have the money to purchase their own bats.

Stepinac hasn't bought bats yet - players used their own or shared them yesterday - and Duffy said he doesn't have money in his budget to do so.

"Now it's going to be a financial burden to an already overstressed budget," Duffy said.

It seems the aftermath has only just begun.

Reach Josh Thomson at jthomson@lohud.com or 914-696-8289.

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