Gunnar Sandberg is one of those kids who grew up with a baseball in hand. He was rarely around the house when I visited because he was playing summerball, club-ball, or playing for his high school in Northern California. Gunnar, now a junior, was pitching against De La Salle High School when he was struck in the head with a ball batted off a metal bat. I've heard rough estimates of the ball's speed ranging from 120 to 150 MPH. When the injury occurred on 15th, a part of his skull had to be removed to give his brain ample room to swell. Gunnar briefly awoke but has returned to an coma that he is slowly recovering from.
Why is this relevant to BON? First of all, Gunnar needs prayers if that's your thing. It's relevant because it highlights the risk of metal bats. If high school players are at risk of serious injury from metal bats then Longhorn pitchers are at an equal, if not higher risk, as well. UT, as the flagship university of Texas, sets the agenda when it comes to changes in athletic policies for the state and has a responsibility to promote changes that would improve player safety.
College pitchers have the strength and technique to throw ten to twenty miles per hour faster than your average high school pitcher. This only amplifies the risk of serious injury. Faster pitchers and stronger batters in college increases the risk of injury. Modern metal baseball bats are favored by college players because they flex to "trampoline" the ball off at a high rate of speed. If you've seen foul balls ripped into the stands at Disch-Falk you understand the speed at which the ball leaves the bat.
I've heard the argument that it is the pitcher's responsibility to adequately defend himself. Gunnar played baseball his entire life and knew exactly what position to be in to defend a ball hit directly towards him. No one, regardless of athletic ability, can prepare for a hard ball travelling well over 100 MPH from sixty feet away. Taylor Jungman has no greater chance of defending himself than any high school pitcher.
Baseball leagues that continue to allow metal bats argue that studies show there is no correlation between bats and injuries or that research has never been conducted. Companies that produce bats cite studies that reported that bat material had little connection to ball-speed. Upon further review, the studies were conducted with a pitching machine and a stationary bat, making their conclusions doubtful. Taking the leading bat producers studies seriously is akin to believing Marlbough's claims cigarettes are not carcinogens.The effectiveness of metal bats results from their elasticity and the increased speed at which they can be swung.
Evidence is starting to add up that metal bats result in more injuries. Two pitchers suffered head injuries in College World Series recently. A New Jersey pitcher was left with brain damage after being struck. Horrifically, in 2003 a Montana boy died after being hit in the head. North Dakota and New York City have already seen enough evidence to ban metal bats.
The argument for metal bats is that they are cost effective. With our athletic budget and equipment sponsorships this is hardly a concern. This argument is increasingly irrelevant now that bats cost well over $250. Wooden bats would give scouts a much better sense of a hitter's potential in a professional league because metal bats artificially increase hits and home runs. I'd like to see a return to wooden bats in the college game because wooden bats are a quintessential part of the sport. Viewing fewer home runs in exchange for hearing a bat crack instead of ping in Disch-Falk would be more than fine by me.
"What Starts Here Changes the World" has become UT's favorite slogan. It's especially applicable to sports in the state of Texas and the rest of the country. It's no coincidence that Texas high schools adopted the spread offense shortly after Longhorns did. If Texas were to set a precedent by using wooden bats, high school teams would follow suit. Playing in burnt orange is the dream of thousands of athletes throughout the state and the country. If wood bats became the norm at UT, athletes and their schools would follow to increase their chances of being recruited. Gunnar's injury proves, God forbid, it's only a matter of time until a college player is severely injured unnecessarily due to metal bats. The University has a responsibility to protect its athletes and set an example for the rest of the country.