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Anchorage softball bats must pass the test

Beth Bragg
Soland measures a bat's flex during Wednesday's inspection.
Mitch Soland checks bats for softball players in Anchorage Sports Association leagues at Cartee Fields on Wednesday. Players in leagues C or higher are required to have bats inspected.
Photos by MARC LESTER / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS

They come with names like Vicious, ComBat, Juggernaut and the Freak FX 700. They are the weapons wielded by weeknight warriors in the Anchorage Sports Association softball leagues, and this summer if a bat is too vicious, its user is outta here.

Composite bats used by players in C League or higher must bear a red and white sticker above the handle as proof the bat has been tested and deemed legal. The tests, conducted en masse last week at Cartee Fields, measure a bat's flex, which indicates the potential speed of a ball coming off that bat.

If a batter steps up to the plate without a sticker on his bat, the umpire will eject him for the rest of the game and suspend him for the next game.

The certification requirement, which next year is likely to extend to all leagues, addresses issues of fairness and safety, Anchorage Sports executive director Donnie Brooks said.

"We know some of the men's upper divisions want an unfair advantage," he said. "Others say, 'Hey, we're playing fair.' It doesn't seem right.

"And the person who is most scared is the pitcher who is standing 50 feet away. Someone's gonna get drilled."

Amateur Sports Association rules say a ball cannot come off a bat faster than 98 mph. Whether a bat meets the 98 mph limit is determined by a quick test that measures a bat's pounds per square inch. A bat that tests between 500 and 1,500 psi is illegal.

Anchorage Sports had tested more than a thousand bats by Friday and only 19 had failed, Brooks said. Most had psi measurements in the 93 to 94 mph range, he said, "but a couple I tested were over 100 mph."

Mitch Soland, a veteran player who tested about 200 bats Thursday night at Cartee, said batters can get a significant advantage with an illegal bat.

"It'll add 30 to 60 extra feet on a home run," he said. "A 300-foot homer run might clear 350." And it's not just power hitters who benefit.

"The speed of the ball coming off the bat is so fast the infielders can't react," Soland said.

Don Love, who plays for Halligan's Hooligans, didn't mind waiting in line to get his bat checked last week before his first game of the season. He likes seeing the 98-mph limit enforced.

"I think it's good, because I pitch," he said.

For the most part, illegal bats are those nearing the end of their lives. That's when a bat is at its best.

Composite bats are made from layers of synthetic materials. The fibers break down and become more flexible each time the bat strikes an object.

"It's at its hottest right before it breaks," Brooks said. "It may buy you 100 more hits a season."

A hot bat is an illegal bat, although you don't have to look long or hard online to find companies that sell hot bats.

Usually, those bats are altered by rolling them in machines or decreasing the thickness of their barrels, which is achieved by removing the end cap and shaving the inside of the barrel with a drill.

"The decrease of composite allows the barrel to flex more when hitting a ball," according to bigdawgbatrolling.com. "This flex allows greater batted ball speeds."

Some players looking for an edge beat their bats against a tree or a building to hasten the breakdown of fibers. Many manufacturers won't honor warranties if they're able to determine a bat was broken in that way.

Brooks suspects most of the bats that failed the Anchorage Sports psi test earned their illegal status the old-fashioned way -- through repeated use at games and practices.

"They call them team bats -- 10 or 12 players all chip in $20 and they buy a team bat," he said. "Everybody swings it, and the more swings, the more it breaks down.

"I've got a man that plays men's C and coed C and he had one bat read 1,475, just (in the illegal zone). I've tested it four times now. He keeps bringing it back and it keeps testing 1,475."

Beyond the boost it may give her at the plate, a player has another reason to hang onto a hot bat or one that's nearly there: Composite softball bats are pricey, ranging from $300 to $450, Brooks said.

Aluminum softball bats are cheaper, but most players prefer composite because the ball travels farther and moves faster off them.

"We didn't even bother to test aluminum bats, because they dent before they reach 98 mph," Brooks said.

For players who still need to get their bats certified, testing will continue through the season at the Anchorage Sports Association office (11051 O'Malley Centre Drive).

Teams that advance to state tournaments must get their bats retested, Brooks said. We may be talking about recreational softball, but the urge to win and to stroke the ball can be tremendous, especially in the higher-level leagues. Someone might get their seal-of-approval sticker and then go beat the bat against a tree to get it hot.

Love, the pitcher for Halligan's Hooligans, laughed at the notion of deliberately altering a softball bat.

"D League people are corking bats?" he said. "We're just out here to drink beer and have fun."


By BETH BRAGG
Anchorage Daily News