Players hitting with wood bats instead of aluminum is growing in popularity, especially among many American Legion Baseball teams. Many Legion teams switch to wooden bats to help reduce the number of player injuries that oftentimes occur because the ball leaves an aluminum bat at excessive speeds. It's also to help players identify where a bats' "sweet" spot is, as well as to successfully compete against wooden-bat leagues.
At the start of the 2012 season, Louisiana American Legion Baseball incorporated wood bats into its program statewide, with the option to continue use of Ball-Bat Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) bats. The success of wood bats was apparent when three New Orleans Retif Oil Post 125 players hit with them and helped their team win the 2012 Legion Baseball World Series championship title in Shelby, N.C.
"After the (American Legion Baseball) regional tournament, Brady (Williamson), Luke (Voiron) and I went up to coach (Joseph) Latino and said, ‘We are going to the World Series, do you think it's time for us to switch to metal to get as much of an advantage as we could?,'" said Post 125 catcher/designated hitter Matthieu Robert. "Coach looked at all of us and said, "What more could you ask for?' We were comfortable with wood bats and hit the ball well with them so no reason to switch."
For Post 125 right fielder Brady Williamson, who hit a two-run home run on Day 1 of the World Series, using a wood bat is "a comfort thing and there's a difference between metal and wood and the balance of it. To be honest, if you barrel a ball off wood, I think it jumps better than metal in my opinion," Williamson said.
Between the regional tournament and World Series games, Robert compiled a .424 batting average and received the 2012 Dr. Irvin L. "Click" Cowger RBI Memorial Award with 16 RBIs. Post 125 catcher Voiron was named the designated hitter for the 2012 American Legion All-Tournament Team.
The idea to move Louisiana Legion Baseball to a wooden-bat league was introduced to the Department of Louisiana Baseball Commission first district commissioner Sidney Parfait. The American Legion spoke with Parfait about the decision to make the switch.
Q: What was the deciding factor that made Louisiana senior Legion teams switch to wood bats?
A: In 2009 and 2010, we saw a lot of young men deciding not to play American Legion Baseball and instead go into wooden bat leagues and showcases. It really impacted the Legion Baseball participation level in Louisiana, so we said we have to give these kids an opportunity to do something special.
The times are over that these kids are playing Legion Baseball because it's the epitome — they are worrying about how they are going to get to college and how they are going to get to the next level. So we (Department of Louisiana Baseball Commission) said starting in 2012 we are going to play strictly with wooden bats for the entire state of Louisiana senior league teams.
Q: What was the reaction like from coaches?
A: We received pushback from some of the coaches, especially about the expense. Wooden bats are actually less expensive — you can break eight to 10 wooden bats before you equal the cost of one BBCOR bat. We told coaches ‘We'll work with you; we'll get you the first dozen bats and you can see how it goes from there.'
The kids actually love it (hitting with wood bats) and one of the coaches who was against it from the beginning because of cost was actually able to get six of his players who were not going to play Legion Baseball to play.
Q: What changes have you seen with the use of wood bats?
A: One of the things that I was amazed to learn was that these young men had never learned how to bat. They just went up to the plate swinging an aluminum stick; they didn't know about the sweet spot and hitting with the grain of the bat. So hitting with wooden bats has made them a better hitter.
A wooden bat has a smaller sweet spot where you have to hit the ball. If they hit the ball off the handle of a wooden bat, it's not going past the pitcher. So you have to learn how to get the bat out there, get your hands over the top and just like they do at the major league level, you have to learn how to bat and learn how to hit. The BBCOR doesn't get out as quick, doesn't have as much pop, but it has a larger spot where you can hit the ball.
A side effect with wooden bats is that you have to learn how to play defense more — there are more ground balls, you bunt, you steal. It's more natural baseball then seeing if you can power a ball out of the park.
Q: Who instructed the players on how to hit with a wood bat?
A: The coaches taught them how to hit with a wooden bat. They would tell them to look at the grain of the wood and read the label — this was all foreign to these young men and that's why the coaches were afraid the bats were going to be broken a lot. We had a few teams break four or five bats, but we didn't have one team break more than six bats.
When they (players) were able to choose between wood and BBCOR bats, some of them stayed with wood and some didn't. Even the ones who went back to BBCOR understood the philosophy of hitting, rather than just getting up there and swinging as hard as you can.
Q: How have you been able to keep cost down with wood bats?
A: Marucci Sports  is based in Baton Rouge, La., and they made a deal with Louisiana American Legion teams by charging us $45 a bat for the kids. Because we were asked what would happen if a coach didn't want to play with wooden bats — well, we didn't have anybody quit. Instead, we encouraged them. We said, ‘If it's a matter of money, we will do our best to help you deal with the money.' We didn't want to see anybody going broke because these coaches are not out here for money; they are out there for the love of Legion Baseball.
One of the owners of Marucci Sports used to play Legion ball in Baton Rouge, so we just went up there and talked to them. We just had to order three dozen at a time, and they gave us a sample bat. I brought the sample bat to our baseball commission, and they looked at it and said, ‘Yeah, that's the way we need to go.'