High school sports panel votes down aluminum bat ban

A display of wooden, left, and aluminum, right, baseball bats hangs in a sporting goods store in Robinson Township, Pa., Tuesday, June 26, 2007. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
April 26, 2010 5:32:59 PM PDT
The North Coast High School Baseball Playoffs will move forward with aluminum bats and not the wood bats that some wanted used, after a life-threatening injury.

Gunnar Sandberg was put into a coma after being hit in the head by a line-drive coming off a metal bat. He is doing much better now, but critics of aluminum bats want them banned from youth baseball.

Not every team in the playoffs will be using aluminum bats. The Marin Catholic Wildcats and the rest of the teams in their league have decided to play the rest of their season with wooden bats. They will enter the playoffs using wood no matter what the rest of the teams do.

Aside from the sweet sound off a baseball being hit, when the Marin Catholic Wildcats take batting practice, not as many balls leave the yard anymore. For the past month, the team has considered that stat a sign of strength and not weakness, because they swing lumber, not metal.

"Anyone can hit with a metal bat. It takes more baseball skills to use a wooden bat," says team captain Nate Kristoff.

It is their ongoing tribute to Gunnar Sandberg, a Marin Catholic pitcher who nearly died earlier this season from a line-drive head-shot off a composite baseball bat. In response, and for safety, Marin Catholic switched to wood, followed by the entire Marin County Athletic League.

On Monday, they asked the entire North Coast section of the California Interscholastic Federation to do the same during next month's playoffs.

"We believe that safety is paramount in any athletic competition," MCAL Commissioner Lars Christiansen says.

The other league commissioners listened, but voted the measure down by a large margin.

"You don't change things at this point of the game," says Charlie Lakin of Humboldt County. "Kids have been swinging these bats for the majority of the season."

Christiansen told ABC7, "I was hopeful, but not surprised."

None of this dissuades Marin Catholic, a powerhouse that used to score in double digits with composite bats, that now plays small-ball with wood. And, no matter what their box scores look like, Marin Catholic will stick with their lumber against a metal onslaught if it comes. It is a statement they say, a matter of pride, principle and loyalty, playing hardball the old-fashioned way.

When asked if he would ever go back to wood, Kristoff replied, "No, I would not... Ever."

Not only are the Wildcats playing with wooden bats, but in some cases they are making their own wooden bats including at least one dedicated to Gunnar Sandberg.

As far as the issue of wooden bats goes, the issue will be brought back next season and will include women's softball. Advocates of the ban say aluminum bats are dangerous, but the leagues say they want more information and do not want to make that type of decision this late in the season.

Gunnar Sandberg's parents told ABC7 Monday that they plan to bring him home from a San Francisco rehab hospital next week. Gunnar has been there since April 5, ever since he came out of his coma.

Community members are holding a fundraiser on May 1, at the Marin Country Club, to pay for medical bills. Monday was the last day to R.S.V.P for the event.

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