Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hitting with Wood: Coach's Log 24.9.7

My 11-year-old son, Conor, is a classic lead-off slap hitter (he's also a switch-hitter). He's beginning to develop a bit of a power stroke, but for the most part, this 4'10" 90 pounder who will be 12 in October, gets himself on base by slicing singles and beating out infield grounders.

Last year he hit with a metal Easton Stealth 31" minus-thirteen, meaning that he was swinging an 18-ounce bat. Yesterday we were at the field hitting in the batting cage with a 25-ounce, 30" wood bat, a Chesapeake Thunder youth bat made by Talbot Turnings. We were doing an experiment.

We were just working on soft-toss. I would flip the ball up for him and he would try to drive it hard. It took a few swings but he got the hang of it and probably hit every third ball on the money. These days we are working on hitting right back up the middle, but with the heavier, less forgiving wood bat he kept pulling the ball in the cage. I think it's harder for him to keep his hands and wrists locked in the hitting zone at the point of contact. In other words, his wrists are rolling as he strikes the ball. We went through about 20 balls or so and he was doing okay.

Then we switched to metal. This was our experiment. On the first two swings he topped the ball and it just fizzled into the long grass. On the third toss came that familiar "PING" and he drilled the ball hard up the middle. Another toss, same thing, only this time the ball just shot off the bat. If we'd been in the open field it would easily have been a Little League home run -- and not the floaters hit during August's Little League World Series. He hit the ball square and true with full force. It was impressive. The same thing happened on four out of five tosses after that for another 15 balls or so. He was surprised. I was intrigued. There is no question that after hitting just 20 tosses with wood he was nailing the ball with his old metal bat.

Afterwards, while we were picking up all the balls, he said, "Whoa! I had no idea that there was so much difference! No wonder that Steven kid got hit in the chest..."

I worked with his older brother after that for a bucket of balls. Jesse only hits with wood these days (which should be true of all high schoolers, if you ask me). When it was Conor's turn back in the cage he left his metal bat outside the fence. I didn't have to tell him anything. "There's no way I'm hitting with my Stealth anymore," he said. "I need to stick with wood if I want to be a good hitter."

By the end of that session he was still struggling to consistently drive the ball straight and true, but it was clear that he'd figured out that the challenge was to hit with wood.

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