Transition To Wood Bats Gives CCBL Players Additional Challenge

By: Brendan Samson

Topics: Cape Cod Baseball League , Orleans Firebirds

The Orleans Firebirds average 2.63 runs per game this season, and a big factor for the low offense is the players transition to wooden bats from metal like they use at school. BRAD JOYAL PHOTO

CHATHAM – The Ole Miss Rebels and Oklahoma Sooners combined for 19 runs scored during their two-game NCAA College World Series, with the Rebels claiming the national title after outscoring the Sooners 14-5 during the series.

That run explosion – a commonality in college baseball – is uncommon in the Cape League while the college players used to aluminum bats adjust to using wooden bats.

While the best players in the country gather to compete in the Cape League in front of scouts and players alike, the wooden bats adds an additional wrinkle to the mix as players show the scouts what they are capable of when using the same gear as the big leaguers.

Orleans Firebirds manager Kelly Nicholson said the transition has an obvious effect on the scores of a lot of games.

“How many 1-0 games do you see in college baseball during the spring?” Nicholson asked. “It takes the hitters a little bit of time, they're starting to catch up now. It's about three weeks into the season, but it's different because the wood is different and they're facing really good arms.”

The 1-0 game that Nicholson is referring to was Orleans’ win over the Chatham Anglers on Sunday. The Firebirds got out to an early lead in the second inning and held on the rest of the way. After finishing 1 for 3 in the win, Orleans right fielder Isaac Humphrey said wood bats take some getting used to.

“It's tough,” said Humphrey, a sophomore from the University of Louisville. “Balls don't come off as hard and obviously, you gotta square it up. If you don't, you're not scoring and it's not gonna come off very well.”

This point was echoed by Kevin Sim, a sophomore third baseman from the University of San Diego, who said he’s been focused on making contact with the ball more than switching bats.

“I don't really think about the transition, honestly, I actually really like the feel of hitting a baseball with a wood bat,” Sim said. “It's definitely different, just a couple of broken bat hits that don't occur in a college game, I guess. Maybe in a college game, you could get extra jam shots here and there; but here, if you get fisted, your bat is in multiple pieces”

Another wrinkle that comes with the change from metal to wood is the different knobs and handles that a player can use. There’s the traditional knob, flared knobs, hockey puck knobs and in some scenarios, no knobs. Humphrey has a couple bats that he toys with, one of which has an axe handle and is one of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts’ custom bats.

“I got it from a hitting coach of mine that was with the Red Sox for a little bit, Cole Sturgeon,” Humphrey said. “It's actually one of Mookie’s bats so he got it from him and I kind of liked it, so he let me use it.” Sturgeon is currently an outfielder for the Wichita Wind Surge, the Minnesota Twins’ Double-A affiliate.

Humphrey credits the axe handle for helping with his swing path and allowing him to use less of his top hand.

“I just like the feel of it, the way it fits in the hand, and I like the way I can just pull it through the zone,” Humphrey said. “One of my big problems is I use my top hand a lot and I get real kind of pushy and around the ball. This makes me stay – I can really focus on my bottom hand and feel that come through the zone.”

While Humphrey only uses an axe handle on his wood bat, Sim has tried to match his wood to the BBCOR aluminum bat that he uses during the college season.

“I tried a flared [knob], I personally didn't like it because that's not how my BBCOR is taped,” Sim said. “I tried to find one that was the same handle shape as my BBCOR, which I found with the traditional knob. It is pretty much the same.”

Sim settled on the Victus Tatis 21 model, the bat used by Padres short-stop Fernando Tatis, which has a smaller barrel and traditional knob.

Nicholson said the team will also offer to provide the players with bats if they choose to, but he hopes that eventually the NCAA starts using wood bats in the spring.

“I wish college baseball would go to wooden bats during the spring, I really do,” Nicholson said. “It just brings integrity to the game, and it would be super helpful for scouts because they could evaluate them better.”