Late December 2010, the Little League banned composite bats,
citing safety concerns. But for 11-year-old Jake Schutter, the
move came seven months too late.
On the evening of May 5, Jake had been pitching for his local
team in Mokena when he was hit on the right side of his head with a
ball that came too fast off the batter's composite bat.
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During the hours of uncertainty after his accident, Jake was
diagnosed with a skull fracture and hearing loss, initially thought
to be a result of the internal bleeding.
"After a month [of recovery], it was determined that he had
suffered nerve damage," says Cheryl Schutter, Jake's mom. Jake
can't hear from his right ear anymore.
Schutter says she and her husband Robert couldn't believe the
speed of the ball off the bat - in this case, made of the alloy
scandium. "Our son is an exceptional athlete and we were stunned
that he couldn't get away in time," she says.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association banned composite
bats in 2009, a rule that still stands and one the NCAA hopes to
make even stricter. Last last year, the national Little League
Baseball umbrella organization put a moratorium on the use of these
bats, in a decision based on performance issues, according to Lance
Van Auken, the league's vice president of communications. Composite
bats are banned in the 2011 season unless they receive individual
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign physicist Alan
Nathan, who has a special interest in the physics of baseball, says
the problem with composite bats is that of ethics.
Composite bats have a high "trampoline effect," meaning that the
ball comes off faster because of the material used in the bat. When
a ball hits a traditional wood bat, it gets compressed before
taking off, and loses energy in the process, so it comes out more
slowly. In a metal or composite bat, the bat compresses instead, so
the ball retains most of its energy and flies off at a higher
Additionally, the carbon fiber of composite bats actually
becomes more flexible with each hit. Their ability to compress goes
up, and the balls fly off faster and faster. Some end up at the
heads of kids like Jake, and Nathan says stopgap measures weren't
enough to help protect them.
"It becomes very difficult to regulate. This is the reason the
NCAA and now the Little League have decided to put the moratorium,"
Nathan says. Rolling is the process of putting the barrel into
rollers, which artificially makes the bat more flexible and boosts
Martin Monero, safety officer for the Horner Park North-West
Little League in Chicago, says the decision to ban is a smart one.
"If an 11-year-old is playing against a 9-year-old who maybe
doesn't play so much, the younger kid will get hurt," he says.
Aabha Rathee is a reporter for the Medill News Service.
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