On a day a California legislative committee advanced a bill that would place a two-year moratorium on the use of metal bats in high school baseball, veteran coaches in the Fresno area expressed mixed views on the idea.
They balanced the increasing fears of a pitcher being struck in the head with a batted ball against the infrequency of accidents, fan-pleasing higher scores and economic advantages of aluminum bats, which rarely break but launch a ball with greater velocity than their wooden counterparts.
Fresno's Ken Papi and Clovis' James Patrick, with more than 500 career victories apiece, are two of the winningest coaches in Central Section history. And they're split on the issue that intensified in Sacramento after a Marin County teenager was severely injured.
The March incident left Gunnar Sandberg, a 16-year-old pitcher for Marin Catholic, in a coma for weeks, and prompted the Marin County Athletic League to suspend the use of metal bats.
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Papi said: "If they go to a wood bat or some other type of material that would lessen the velocity, that would certainly protect kids, and that's a good thing. I really do think there has to some type of limitation so we're not putting kids' health or lives in jeopardy."
Patrick said: "The ball does jump off of [aluminum] bats and, through the years, they've tried to adopt rules to tone them down. But I think most high school coaches think metal bats have been a good thing. There's no doubt they've increased production, which has created more interest because people like to see hits, home runs and runs."
Papi and Patrick acknowledged the progressive risk of a pitcher being struck in the head by a batted ball as the pitchers continue to throw harder and the batters get stronger. Consequently, the velocity of the ball coming off the bat is increasing.
Buchanan's Tom Donald, in the most frightening experience of his career seven weeks ago, saw his pitcher, Jack Karraker, struck so hard by a line drive, it left the imprint of the ball's seam near his ear. He played in the team's next game.
"I'm not an advocate of using wood bats in high school," Donald said. "But, if you asked me that night, I'd have said go to wood bats.
"It's a tough call. In the age of fundraising, it would be very difficult to support wood bats, financially. They break every day in practice, much less in games. On the flip side, what's the price of life when a ball goes back up the middle?"