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Wood sparks debate: Queens high-school baseball coaches sound off on New York City’s metal-bat ban

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There's no doubt that the hot topic in New York City high-school baseball this year is the effect wood bats will have on the game. "At least it will sound like real baseball again," Bayside coach Pat Torney said.On Aug. 28, a federal judge upheld the City Council's ban on metal bats in high-school baseball games, saying it was not his place to overturn a law that was approved by a local government with the public's safety in mind.District Court Judge John Koeltl said there was no evidence that metal bats were any more dangerous than wooden ones, but added that it is the City Council's decision to deem the bats unsafe."The protection of the health and safety of high school-age students is entitled to great weight," Koeltl said at the time. "While the record does not include clear empirical evidence showing that more serious injuries would occur without the ordinance, it is the city's legislative assessment that the risk is too great."So now for the first time in more than two decades, high-school baseball in the Big Apple will be played with wood bats. While some Queens coaches are for the ban and others are against it, there's almost a unanimous opinion that the game will change: the ball won't travel as far, good hitting will be at a premium and we'll be seeing many more low-scoring games."It's the way it should be, it's a real game," said Christ the King coach Allen Watson, who spent eight years in the Major Leagues, including stints with both the Yankees and Mets. "It's great to get back to wood bats...The balls in the gap are going to be caught now. That's the biggest difference. The 7-8-9 batters who used to hit the ball 380 feet, that's now getting caught in the outfield. You can play a lot more shallow in the outfield."Count Holy Cross coach Doug Manfredonia as someone who disagrees with the metal-bat ban."I'm not for it," Manfredonia said. "I don't think there's enough strong kids at this age to be able to handle it."Archbishop Molloy coach Jack Curran, who is now in his 50th year at the Briarwood school, said the Stanners were the lone CHSAA school to vote for wood."It's more of a traditional game," Curran said. "They play with wood in the majors. If metal was better, they'd be using that."Another issue that has come up is durability. Metal bats rarely break, while wood ones tend to snap all the time. Though the PSAL has mandated the use of a special brand of bat, which is made of a wood composite, there have been varying results in the early season. Torney said there have been more bat breaks than games played so far at Bayside, while John Adams coach Glenn Beyer said the only bat the Spartans have broken was when Beyer was throwing batting practice to his star player, Christian Cardenas."I told him I got in his kitchen," Beyer joked.That's where pitchers are going to live from now on - on the inside of the plate. The game will be tougher for hitters and there could be more parity among the borough's teams, as well."Teams that were very good offensively will be very average," Newtown coach Neil Rosenblatt said, "and teams that were average will be bad."But, hey: At least the sounds of spring won't include that ping.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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