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North Dakota baseball coaches have budget concerns with switch to metal bats

FARGO -- West Fargo Sheyenne baseball coach Joel Swanson was sitting at his computer Wednesday, July 6, trying to figure out how to submit his budget for the baseball season with Class A baseball moving from wood bats to BBCOR bats.

Graphic by Troy Becker/The Forum.
FNS Graphic by Troy Becker

FARGO -- West Fargo Sheyenne baseball coach Joel Swanson was sitting at his computer Wednesday, July 6, trying to figure out how to submit his budget for the baseball season with Class A baseball moving from wood bats to BBCOR bats.

“If wood and BBCOR bats are equal, why do we need to go to more expensive bats?” Swanson said. “Originally, the high school at the Class B levels used high school and Legion equipment, they shared it. We’re buying metal bats that we’re going to use in March, April and May. They aren’t guaranteed under 50 degrees. We played at least a dozen, if not 20, games under 50 degrees last season. If we dent a bat, we’re out 400 bucks. I just think there’s too many cons to going back to metal right now.”

Swanson was one of the 11 coaches that voted no to metal bats, as opposed to nine who voted yes in Class A. Those coaches feel a bit slighted that in early June the North Dakota High School Activities Association approved metal bats for Class A baseball.

“The Class A (athletic directors) wanted to switch to metal bats, so money wasn’t the issue,” NDHSAA assistant director Justin Fletschock said. “I know the coaches feel like they voted for no reason, but there were many factors. You look at our governing bodies that have approved this bat from the NCAA to the (National Federation of State High School Associations). We’re the last state to completely switch to metal bats.”

One big reason for the switch back to metal, according to Fletschock, was things have changed with metal bats since North Dakota changed to wood. BBCOR bats are regulated and not as lively as the old metal bats Class A used before 2007.  

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Fletschock was coaching high school baseball when metal bats were still used. The ratio of weight to length could be minus-5, so there were higher bat speeds, and there was no regulation on barrel sizes.

“We called them hot,” Fletschock said. “There was a reason we called them trampolines.”

That bats have now shrunk. The weight-to-length ratio must be minus-3 on BBCOR bats and the bat’s barrel diameter, at any point, can’t be greater than 2⅝ inches.

“Essentially, it makes it so the ball comes off the bat like a wood bat,” Fletschock said. “When they did that, it satisfied almost everyone in college and high school baseball.”

Besides cost and holding up in the cold weather,  coaches fear longer games. That’s one of the reasons why West Fargo coach Brett Peterson voted against metal bats.

“You have nice, crisp three-and-a-half-hour doubleheaders now,” Peterson said. “I’ve been to some legion doubleheaders (with metal bats) that have been five hours. I just think it’s a better game (with wood). I like the coaches playing small ball in the first inning. It puts an efficiency on pitching and defense. It doesn’t change the game a ton. I just kind of enjoyed the wood-bat game. I thought it made us unique.”

Fletschock doesn’t see game length being a problem.

“The scoring isn’t going to go up as much as coaches fear,” Fletschock said. “The College World Series had three 1-0 games. The majority of games there, they’re bunting people over and getting people in scoring position. They aren’t playing for the three-run homer.”

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There’s no doubt with bat prices in the hundreds, the initial cost will hurt, but the hope is it works itself out in the long term. A BBCOR Louisville Slugger can range from $100 to $400, whereas wood can be bought for $50. The hope is the metal bats last longer. Mother Nature could decide that.

“We’re going to go out and get metal bats, baseball will continue and baseball will adapt,” Swanson said. “It’s not like we’re reinventing the rules of baseball. I think it just creates a lot of bumps for budgets in the first year. I think the wood bats make players better hitters, and I think it makes the games more competitive and coaches more responsible when teaching the game. We don’t look for the big metal-bat hit.”

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