For Badlands Big Sticks first baseman Conner VanCleave and shortstop Wyatt Setian, this is their second time around with the team.
VanCleave helped lead Badlands to an Expedition League Championship last summer, and Setian was a member of the inaugural team in 2018.
The significant difference between the league play and college baseball is that players use wood bats in the Expedition League compared to metal bats in college.
“You are going to see guys pound the zone in summer leagues. In wood and metal, the difference is if you don’t make good contact with a wood bat, then the ball won’t go anywhere,” VanCleave said. “With a metal bat, you can make a mistake and hit the ball off the end of the bat and it will still go somewhere.”
The sweet spot is bigger on a metal bat, but that hasn’t stopped VanCleave or Setian from shining this summer.
VanCleave is hitting .341 this summer, while Setian’s average is .295, but he also has smashed a team high five home runs thus far.
VanCleave has used a wood bat every summer since 2016, and every Christmas break before he goes back to school at the University of Kansas, he uses a wood bat to prepare for the upcoming season.
He feels that using the wood bat in the summer and over winter break allows him to better understand his swing.
“That is when I start to feel my swing,” he said. “When you use a metal bat, you know that you can make a mistake here or there.”
As for Setian, who plays at Montana State University-Billings, he has not used a wood bat on a consistent basis. He's played in a couple of wood bat tournaments in high school and now uses one with the Big Sticks.
He prefers using a wood bat because he likes how it feels in his hands and how it feels when he makes contact with the ball.
Both players had to adjust to using the wood bat, but now they say they are comfortable with it.
“The overall feel (is the difference.) If you want to hit a ball far with a wood bat you have to hit it perfect,” Setian said. “With a metal bat, they can jam you inside and it will still go pretty far… I had to work on barrel control. With a wood bat, you have to make a conscious effort to hit it off the barrel every time.”
Both Setian and VanCleave enjoy the challenge and difference between the bats, and they each say that using wood bats during the summer helps them when they switch back to a metal bat during their college seasons.