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Rate of shattered baseball bats decreasing

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If you’ve ever feared for your safety at a baseball game, you can now rest a little easier thanks to the U.S. Forest Service. After testing and analyzing thousands of shattered Major League bats, researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory have been able to decrease the shatter rate of maple bats by more than half.

The popularity of maple bats is greater today than ever before, but that presents a problem.

Bats made from maple are more likely to shatter into multiple pieces than their white-ash counterparts, and that can be dangerous for players and spectators alike.

Carlos Guzman’s a player for the Syracuse Salt Cats in the New York Collegiate Baseball League; a training ground for aspiring pro players.

This league is where players go from metal bats, to the wooden variety used in the Major Leagues.

Guzman says most of his team mates use maple bats and they’re bound to break eventually.

But, he doesn’t give the risk of the bat shattering much thought, he says.

“Every wooden bat breaks, so people try to buy the most expensive so they don’t break on them, but, I mean, players break anywhere from three to four a season,” Guzman says.

“I personally, when I’m up there, don’t think about it shattering because if it shatters that means I did something wrong at the plate.”

Whether Guzman and his teammates make a mistake at the plate or not, U.S. Forest Service researchers have made changes in manufacturing that mean you’re now much less likely to see bats break into multiple pieces.

David Kretschmann, research engineer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Product Laboratory says it comes down to the grain in the maple that ends up in a player’s hands.

Kretschmann analyzed thousands of bats shattered in the Major League during 2008. From that, he concluded that if the grain of the wood slopes at an angle- as opposed to running straight up the handle - the bat’s much more likely to shatter.

The USDA immediately set some simple regulations that limited how extreme the angle of the grain in a bat can be, and Kretschmann says the impact was immediate.

“Immediately in the 2009 season we were able to demonstrate that just by improving the wood quality in the bats and having straighter grain wood in those handles, the rate of multiple piece failures were reduced by about 30 percent just right out of the gate.”

As manufacturers have adapted to the changes, Kretschmann says, the decrease in shatter rate is now half what it was in 2008.

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail