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Tuesday, July 29, 2014         

FURTHER REVIEW


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New bats will better prepare pitchers, hitters for next level

By Dave Reardon

POSTED:



Understandably, most hitters hate it.

Same for the dullard type of baseball fan easily distracted by shiny objects.

But a lot of diamond demographics should be overjoyed, or at least optimistic, about the changes the new not-as-lively bats will bring to the college game.

First among those likely will be pitchers, corner infielders and base coaches. The primary reason the NCAA regulated the bats was for their safety. A line drive killed minor league first base coach Mike Coolbaugh in 2007; if a shot off a wooden bat can be fatal, one from a metal composite one certainly can. So this type of concern is legit. (I'm even for pitchers wearing helmets and face masks, but it will take a brave one to be the first).

So, of course there's going to be a segment out there that will say this is softening, even ruining the game. But those folks are mostly soft in the head, and have discounted or are incapable of envisioning some of the other real benefits the legislation will bring to the sport in general and the University of Hawaii program specifically.

A lot of guys could regularly hit the crap out of a baseball with the old bats, but not with wood or the metal that will now be legal. They make me think of those TV characters who are really tough when they've got a gun, but not without one. The new bats will separate the men from the boys in the batter's box.

Hitters such as Kolten Wong who are super-skilled and really know what they are doing will continue to shine. They will stand out even farther from the run-of-the-mill batters. And if you doubt Wong is one of those special hitters, keep this in mind: As our UH baseball beat writer Billy Hull reminds me, Wong's batting average was 50 points better than anyone else in the Cape Cod league last summer, where the college elite meet to compete — with wooden bats.

This dynamic makes it even more important that the Rainbows protect Wong in the lineup with whomever emerges as the team's second-best hitter — either that, or let Kolten lead the nation in walks.

UH COACH Mike Trapasso says the new bats will change everything about the game. We just have to see how much. Everything will be affected, including and not limited to how you set your lineup, position your defense, hit-and-run, steal, bunt and what part of the plate you pitch different hitters.

Many good college baseball teams traditionally play the old Earl Weaver-style of offense — also used in the steroids era — that waits for big innings as the other team's pitching eventually falters. But with the not-so-powerful sticks in play, crooked numbers on the scoreboard won't be quite as common.

Pitchers will now throw inside without fear of a guy who with the new bat won't be able to hit something nasty on the hands. More good pitches will be rewarded.

This development should help both pitchers and hitters as they prepare for the pros.

Trapasso says college coaches are unhappy with the change because they weren't consulted. Well, no one likes being blindsided; just like NFL coaches didn't like it that they were out golfing when the new playoff overtime rules were voted in. Doesn't mean the new rules aren't good, they just need to adapt.

Perhaps, though, Trapasso won't have to change as much as most others. He, and Les Murakami before him, have always built their teams around pitching and defense, more than most of their peers.

Trapasso, again like Murakami before him, has always been a small-ball advocate. They both forced their hitters to bunt more than I liked. Now though, sacrificing outs for bases will often be unquestionably sound strategy if there are going to be fewer home runs.

A 30-foot tap won't excite a lot of you as much as a 400-foot blast over the fence. But with the new bats, that's what will win more college baseball games.

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.

 






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