(Part 2 of a 3-part series)
By Charlie LaDuca
This article appeared in HardBall Magazine online in September 2006
You open your e-mail and discover that your league will be
converting to wood bats this season. Either you have never hit with wood, or it
has been a long time since you last picked up a piece of lumber.
I literally get this phone call or e-mail almost every week.
Players have seen my bats on the website, or know someone who has one, and now
they need to pick my brain. I think one of the most exciting things about wood
bats over aluminum is that they are a very personal piece of your game. You
have the ability to completely customize a bat to your particular needs. Your
choices include model, length, weight, color and engraving. I just love fine
tuning bats for my customers.
The bottom line to bat selection is to find one that just
feels right. You will know it when you swing it. The light bulb will click, and
you can’t help but get a silly grin on your face when it happens. Technical
descriptions about the bats, and labeling models as made for power hitters or
line drive hitters is a good place to start, but only you can pick the bat that
will fit you best. The first order of business is to be honest with yourself
when analyzing your style of hitting. Do you spray line drives around the
diamond, or are you pulling moon shots down the line? Be honest about your bat
speed. Can you wait on the ball no matter how hard a pitcher is throwing, or do
you feel the need to get the bat started early against the harder throwers? Do
you stay closed at the plate with your hands inside the ball, or do you have a
tendency to open up, bar arm, and drag the bat through the hitting zone? Once
you have categorized your style of hitting, you need to discuss this with
someone who has the knowledge to get you on the right track. I’ll address this
part of the equation later in the article.
What you need to understand about wood bats is that they
feel much different than an aluminum bat in terms of balance and weight
distribution. An aluminum bat that is 33" long and weighs 30 ozs will feel
much different than a wood bat with the same dimensions. This is a direct
result of the materials and the manufacturing process used to make the bats.
Many variables can be manipulated during the production of an aluminum bat.
Obviously, as with a wood bat, the length, weight, handle and barrel diameter
are designed, but the hollow shape allows the manufacturer to precisely control
the weight distribution. The thickness of the walls throughout the entire
length of the bat dictates the balance and feel. Wood bats are turned on a
lathe. They can be manufactured in many different shapes and sizes, but it is a
solid piece of wood, and as such has limitations. The point of all this is that
it is not easy for a player to convert from aluminum to wood. You really need
experienced help to get started.
Start with the Handle
I think the most logical place to start in selecting a bat
is at the handle. Most wood bat companies offer a variety of handle sizes. Here
at Pro Bats, we offer six different handle sizes ranging from 0.9" to
1.03". We also offer a variety of knobs and flares leading into the knob.
Pick a handle that feels comfortable. This is your connection to the bat, and
is a very important piece of the puzzle.
Next is the transition from the handle to the barrel. Some
models have a pretty radical transition, where the handle stays thin for quite
a while as it approaches the barrel, while others have a smoother transition
gradually increasing in diameter as they connect with the barrel. This section
of the bat plays a very important role in how balanced the bat will feel to
Last is the barrel itself. Bigger is not always better. Once
again you will have a variety of sizes available to you. My company produces
fourteen models of bats. The barrel dimensions run from 2.45" to
2.57". This may all seem like splitting hairs to you, but believe me, in
the world of wood bats, even a tiny variance in any of these dimensions makes a
big difference in how the bat feels to you. A very simplified system is to
reduce the length and ounces of the aluminum bat you use by 1" each when
you convert to your first wood bat. If you currently hit with a 33" – 30
oz aluminum bat I would suggest picking out a well balanced wood bat that is
32" long and weighs 29ozs. I have included Wood Bat Size Chart as a
reference point. It’s not the bible by any means, but it has some merit.
Where to Buy Your Bat
The biggest question you need to ask yourself is where to
buy your bat. The choices today seem endless as more companies jump on the wood
bat bandwagon. I feel very strongly that you should purchase a maple bat over
ash. The durability and pop far outweigh the added cost. If you purchase a
maple bat from the right company, you can have the same bat in your hands used
by major league players. That is impossible with ash.
Do you buy from a big name company, a small company where
bats are made one at a time in a garage, or somewhere in between? By now you
are aware of the fact that I own a maple bat company so I will try to give you
the best advice I can without making this an advertisement for Pro Bats. In the
business, there is not necessarily a direct correlation between price and
quality. The most expensive bats are not always the best quality. Look for a
company that is fairly small and has not lost touch with the players. You are
looking for personalized customer service from someone who has intimate
knowledge of the game and the product.
From a production standpoint, high quality wood bats are
very difficult to produce on a consistent basis. Almost all maple bat
manufacturers use hard maple in the production of their bats. You might hear
several different names like rock and sugar, but it is all hard maple. What
separates the truly outstanding companies from the rest is their willingness to
discard large amounts of wood billets due to defects and heavy weights. The
name of the game in the business right now is wood supply. Bat manufacturers
need to have access to high quality wood--and the money to pay for it--up front
in order to stay properly supplied. This is the biggest challenge for the
Look for a company that will customize your bat to your
exact specifications. How can you purchase a bat that you know is 33"
long, but you have no idea how much it weighs? What happens if your bat breaks
during your first at-bat? Will the company stand behind it? Most importantly,
find a company that will take the time to answer your questions. Customer
service is the name of the game.
Hopefully by now you understand there are many variables
that go into selecting a bat that is right for you. It is a highly personalized
choice. Remember: the bottom line is feel.
CHARLIE LA DUCA
: Fredonia, NY
: Elementary physical education teacher
Played high school and college baseball in the Western New York Area
: Coaches the varsity baseball team at Pine Valley Central High School
Chautauqua MSBL in 1992. Has attended the World Series in Phoenix ten
times, playing for the Brockton Cardinals, Long Island Mets, Rochester
Redwings, and the Long Island Legends
of Pro Bats maple bat company