Editor’s note: In Part II of a two-part series, the Daily Reporter examines the high cost of baseball and softball bats for today’s competitive high school players.
Jason Stewart remembers the day he gave his mother a jolt.
The year was 1990, he was 14, and he just bought a new Louisville Slugger TPX bat.
Stewart spent $100, sending his mother into sticker shock.
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Twenty-five years later, $250 to $550 is the going rate for a top-of-the-line bat; but few in the current prep baseball and softball landscape, parents included, bat an eye at the cost.
“When you decide to get your (kid) into the travel (baseball and softball) world, you know what you’re getting into,” said Amy West, whose daughter, Peyton, is an Eastern Hancock sophomore catcher and a veteran of the summer circuit.
Spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in the course of a young athlete’s career has become standard.
High school coaches across Hancock County say most players are equipped with high-priced composite metal every time they enter the batter’s box.
“You can’t walk up there with a $40 aluminum bat and expect to compete against girls with a $350 bat,” said Stewart, a Greenfield-Central graduate and longtime head coach of the Cougars softball team. “There is a distinct difference. You need that $350 bat now.
“They have (changed the game) so that, if an average player runs into a fastball, it’s going to go out of the park.”
To Stewart, high cost yields high reward, but also high risk.
He contends that bat companies have given this new breed of bats too much pop and that they pose a serious risk to players, especially in softball.
“There was a girl from Beech Grove who got hit in the face by a line drive,” the coach said. “It busted all her teeth out. Things like that are happening more and more.”
McCleerey’s Sporting Goods owner Steve McCleerey agreed, calling the risk the girls take every time the step onto the field “scary.”
“Why do you think all those girls are wearing face masks?” he asked.
During a recent Cougars’ junior varsity game, a Shelbyville player took a line drive to the face and suffered a broken jaw.
The danger trickles down to the younger levels. A few weeks ago, Stewart’s 10-year-old daughter was hit. Fortunately, he said, it was only her shin, but she never had a chance to defend herself.
“These bats are too hot,” Stewart said. “These hitters are getting to be too big, too strong, too good, and pitchers are like a big bull’s-eye out there right now.
“A lot of coaches preach hitting back up middle. Well, imagine what would happen if Morganne (Denny) or Darcie (Huber) squared up one up back up the middle against a pitcher who just strided out and is 35 feet away. It’s dangerous.”
Protective gear is about all a parent can hope to provide in order to keep their sons or daughters safe on the field.
Because one thing is for sure, Stewart said, these composite cannons aren’t going anywhere.
It’s the manufacturers, he said. There is too much money in play for companies like Easton, DeMarini or Louisville Slugger to let anything significantly alter the current bat culture.
Plus, Stewart added, people seem to like what the bats have done to the game. The high-scoring games excite fans and attract more players.
“If they jack around with the girls’ game, they’ll all quit because they’re into offense,” McCleerey said. “They’re into hitting. The days of the 1-0 are gone. Modern day kids need to be engaged. They will not be engaged in 1-0. No, these bats are here to stay for the girls.”
Parents and coaches don’t expect to see a dip in the price tags any time soon, either. Playing competitive high school sports these days is an understood major financial commitment.
“I don’t know that (using expensive bats) is an unfair advantage,” Amy West said. “I can see the problem, but as parents, my husband and I do what we have to. I mean, we have four jobs between us to make these things work.”