On March 11, 16-year-old pitcher Gunnar Sandberg was hit in the head by a ball going about 100 mph from an aluminum bat. His friends and family held an emotional vigil Sunday night outside the hospital and nearly 800 people showed up.
This was not the first time something like this has happened and it will not be the last. Baseball practice at Marin Catholic ended with prayer Monday. Doctors say Sandberg has not responded as they hoped. There were more tests, but no results. With this news, concern about aluminum baseball bats grows.
Even when it is metal instead of wood, there is something sweet about the sound of a well-struck baseball. But, as USF centerfielder Pete Lavin knows all too well, such sweetness also has limits.
"I got to first base and my heart just dropped to see him go down," he recalled.
On February 13, Lavin swung on a 3-1 scrimmage fastball from teammate Matt Hiserman. The ball hit Hiserman in about the same place it hit Marin Catholic pitcher Gunnar Sandberg, but Hiserman was more fortunate.
"It was a severe concussion. I had a fracture, the temporal bone in my head," Hiserman said.
Only recently, Hiserman returned to school and he stills suffers from headaches and dizziness. It is another case in the growing movement to ban metal and composite bats from baseball. At USF, coach Nino Giarratano is already on that train.
"In 1920, in baseball, they went to the helmet to protect the hitter," he said. "And we haven't done anything in 90 years in the sport of baseball to protect the pitcher, and he's at the same distance."
"Come-backers" have always been a part of baseball at all levels, but aluminum bats have a larger sweet-spot which increases the odds of a hot shot doing damage.
"A lot of ringing, a lot of ringing in your head. Most of it went numb," Lavin recalled.
This is not just a safety issue, but also a financial one. A metal bat might cost $200 or $300 dollars, but a player could use it all season. A wooden bat might cost $50 or $60, but a player might break 10 or 12 before a season is over.
"I think my moral position is safety for the kids," Giarratano said. "I'd like to take that position and stay with it no matter what."
It is a decision Marin Catholic has made. They have gone to wood. They say it is better for batting averages to suffer instead of players. A red heart surrounded by green grass stood on the pitcher's mound at Marin High Monday, as a tribute to Sandberg.
The Marin County Athletic League is not only talking about banning metal bats, they are actually doing it. Branson is also now using wood, along with San Rafael and San Marin. Around the country, all high schools in North Dakota use wooden bats as do schools in New York City.