High-scoring playoff games that became commonplace in Central Section baseball last season can be expected to tone down a bit following a state mandate requiring bats with less potency.
The California Interscholastic Federation, in response to several well-publicized head injuries suffered last season by high school players struck by balls off metal bats, announced Wednesday tighter standards for nonwood models that will go into effect next season.
The new standard is aimed at decreasing bat performance by 10% to 15%, allowing pitchers and infielders greater reaction time following contact.
While the affect on safety is impossible to predict, this isn't: Players who purchase their own composite bats -- not required, but common in high school -- will have to drop another $200 to $400 to buy a new one.
"That's unfortunate," Clovis West coach Kevin Patrick said. "But, at the same time, you don't want to compromise the safety of players."
His father, Clovis coach James Patrick, had initially expressed concern for the prospects of less entertaining games when state Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, proposed a two-year moratorium on nonwooden bats for high school baseball teams. Huffman later introduced a bill, AB-7, that reduced the moratorium to one year.
Balls are struck with more velocity by composite bats than wooden ones, resulting in more hits and higher-scoring games.
But even while a more drastic move to wooden bats has been avoided -- during Huffman's retreat in collaboration with the CIF -- James Patrick has acknowledged a need for change.
"After having done some research, I'm more educated, and the performances of these bats are not safe for the players," he said. "So we have to do something, we really do."
The tighter bat standards will no doubt result in lower-scoring games.
Offense dominated section playoffs in the spring.
The 12-run total in Buchanan's 7-5 win over Clovis West in the Division I championship represented that division's playoff average. And winning scores of 10 runs or more in the other five divisions were not unusual.
But coach Bill Feaver of D-V titlist Fowler said: "I look back at the bats we used to play with, which obviously didn't have the juice they do now, and balls were hit hard, out of the yard and games were still exciting."
The move toward increased safety in the state accelerated after a Marin Catholic High pitcher, Gunnar Sandberg, was struck in the head by a line drive in March, leaving him in a coma for weeks.
Huffman responded with the bill that was passed easily by the Senate Education Committee. It was then put on hold during negotiations with the CIF.
The bats used in 2011 must meet performance standards of the National Federation of State High School Associations' Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution. BBCOR gauges the trampoline effect of a ball coming off a bat instead of simply the speed of the ball after it is hit.
The CIF executive committee also passed a motion recommending that high school baseball and softball teams voluntarily require their pitchers and infielders to wear protective headgear next season. But that idea is expected to meet much stronger opposition.