Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 22, 2013

Maple, birch bats returning to Frontier League


TRAVERSE CITY — Wuerfel Park is not known as a place to go to see a ton of home runs.

That may change.

After a four-year hiatus, maple and birch bats will be back in the Frontier League, bringing the hope of more power and more long balls at Wuerfel and throughout the league.

Beach Bums All-Star first baseman Chase Burch said the change will be a good one for power hitters. He was one of four Bums players with 15 or more homers last season, slamming 17.

"There will be much more power for everyone this year," Burch said. "I couldn't imagine what our numbers would have looked like last year with maple or even birch.

"I don't know any hitter that would prefer ash over maple or birch."

Burch said he used maple bats during batting practice because they broke less frequently.

"I can't afford to use ash," he joked.

Langbehn said All-Star catcher Marcus Nidiffer was the same way, only using maple bats in batting practice and then switching to ash for game action.

"They used the same bat almost all year," Langbehn said.

The league banned maple bats starting with the 2009 season.

"The league has reviewed its policy on the different woods that are available on the market," Frontier League commissioner Bill Lee said. "Our rules committee recommended that any wood can be used so long as it is from a Major League approved supplier."

MLB regulations that went in effect in 2010 prohibit bats made from ultra-light maple in the minor leagues, and in late 2011, low-density maple bats were banned in the Majors.

"I think that's a positive rule change," Langbehn said. "Every team tries to sign affiliated players, and they get them under contract and they show up and they've got 12 maple bats in their bag and you can't use them. It becomes an issue. The umpires are supposed to be the ones to enforce it, and quite honestly, a lot of them don't know what a maple bat is and they don't want to get caught in the middle of that."

With maple bats gone from the Frontier League, players like Burch turned to ash.

"Ash breaks much easier," he said. "It's a lower quality wood. You can't really use them for batting practice or they will splinter. Birch and maple break about the same. The argument was that the ash wouldn't 'explode' when they break. But we proved that to be false last year."

"It was frustrating to us and the rest of the league from a financial standpoint," Langbehn said. "Bats aren't cheap."

"Maple/birch cost about 25 percent more than ash, so it's hard to tell if you come out ahead financially anyway," said Jason Wuerfel, vice president and director of baseball operations for the Beach Bums. "From a performance standpoint, I think it's more psychological than anything. If a player thinks the type of wood is helping him hit, then it is."

Langbehn said he thought the ash bats didn't turn out to be any safer, either.

"Initially, it was a safety issue in the league's eyes," Langbehn said. "They thought the maple bats broke easier and were more likely to explode. I don't necessarily believe that. I've seen more ash bats explode the last couple years and go all over the field. It's just the quality of wood that's being used these days. It's not that good. It's a fact."