Two weeks into the BBCOR bat era and high school baseball coaches are adjusting to the change.
For the casual fan not keeping track of these things, high school baseball players are using a new type of artificial bat this season, one designed to lessen the trampoline effect the "old" bats had on the baseball.
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I won't get into the scientific details, other than to say BBCOR stands for Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution. Just know the new bats act a lot more like wood than any produced in at least a decade.
Heck, the new bats even sound like wood at times. No longer do the artificial bats produce the same high-pitched ping the previous models generated, a sound so piercing it could make you cringe during batting practice. They don't produce the same distance either.
Though I've personally witnessed two juniors homer twice in the same game already -- Dundee-Crown's Ryan Suwanski and Larkin's Dylan Ganow -- there's no question the bats are less lively overall. Area coaches and players not named Suwanski or Ganow seem to agree.
"The ball just does not travel," Huntley coach Andy Jakubowski said. "If a guy had 7 or 8 home runs last year, people should be excited to get 4 or 5 out of him this year. You're going to see a lot of teams become small ball teams: get 'em on, get 'em over, get 'em in."
"I think it will force everybody to go back to fundamentals," Elgin coach David Foerster said. "It's going to be more important to select the right pitch. Players can't get too worked up about it. If you go to the plate with it in your head, mentally you already have an issue."
Because the bats so closely mimic wood, some players have just decided to go with wood instead, including a pair of veteran hitters from Streamwood, an Elite Eight team a year ago.
"A couple of our guys are swinging wooden bats because they don't like the way it feels when they hit the ball," Streamwood coach Steve Diversey said. "Mentally, swinging a wooden bat gives them a different focus because you have to hit the ball a certain way to get anything out of it. One thing is sure with the new bats: if you take a bad swing, the bat no longer makes up for it."
The BBCOR bats were implemented last year throughout college baseball, resulting in offensive statistics dropping by nearly 20 percent across the board. Offense, defense and pitching are all affected by the change.
"The biggest difference I've seen is that balls don't get through the infield anymore," said Burlington Central coach Kyle Nelson, who pitched in college for Valparaiso. " If you don't square it up, it's not getting through. In two games we saw two weeks worth of infield hits.
"Gap hitters will still be gap hitters, but home runs will be down. And that's OK. It was kind of getting to be gorilla ball where most flyballs could go out. Games don't take three and a half hours anymore. They're going to be more like two hours, 20 minutes. And the pitchers love it."
Pitchers will pitch differently as a result of the new bats. No longer must they nibble at the outside corner and stay away from power hitters.
"We'll be pitching inside," said Hampshire coach John Sarna, who has instructed his hitters to turn on inside pitches.
"It's changing our focus on how we want to pitch," Diversey said. "It's OK to miss in the middle of the plate this year. Now you can keep it middle to middle in and not let the hitters extend their hands. It's back to the way it was 10-12 years ago.
"If you're a legit hitter, you're still going to hit home runs. It's the average-to-below hitter that hits .250 who is now going to hit .200 who is going to be affected most. It'll be interesting to see the way it plays out."
Top talent: The baseball-rich northwest suburbs continue to be hotbed of recruiting activity for college coaches. In fact, entering the spring of 2012, more players have already committed to Division-I schools than in any previous season.
Those players include: Matt Byrne, Cary-Grove (Iona); Richie Gorski, Streamwood (Illinois); junior Colin Lyman, Huntley (Louisville); Nick Martin, Crystal Lake South (Indiana State) and Jake Romano, Dundee-Crown (Miami, OH).
That list doesn't include uncommitted prospects like Burlington Central power hitter Tanner Scott (29 career home runs) or speedy Central center fielder Ray Hunnicutt (. 402 avg. last year) or Huntley junior infielder Bryce Only (. 333, 7 HR, 36 RBI).
Nor does the list include ambidextrous Westminster Christian ace Ryan Perez, who will pitch left-handed only this season following Tommy John surgery on his right arm. Perez is expected to be taken in Major League Baseball's first-year amateur player draft in June.
Another top player from the area, former Westminster Christian pitcher Kevin Elder, is committed to the University of Arizona. Elder was ruled ineligible for his senior season due to complications surrounding his family's move to the Burlington Central school district. He is also likely to be selected in the June draft.
New faces: Welcome and good luck to the area's new field bosses.
John Sarna takes over as the head coach at Hampshire after spending 11 years as an assistant. He replaces 13-year veteran coach Steve Ream.
Tim Dovichi takes the reins of a young but promising team at St. Edward after serving as Gene Belmonte's assistant for three seasons. Stocked primarily with sophomores and freshmen, Dovichi, a former player at Trinity University, will focus on fundamentals as he attempts to forge the Green Wave into a winner down the road.
Coaching at St. Edward is becoming synonymous with the Dovichi name. Tim has also coached St. Edward cross country. His wife, Jaime Dovichi, has coached girls volleyball at St. Edward since 2004.
Jamie Murray will try to be a calming influence at Jacobs, where he becomes the school's fourth baseball coach in seven seasons. The Connecticut native pitched at Bradley.
New Dundee-Crown coach Tommy Parisi is still undefeated through 3 games (2-0-1). A Conant graduate, he took over for D-C graduate Jon Sawyer, now an assistant varsity baseball coach at Grayslake North.
Facelift: Burlington Central's baseball infield developed multiple brown spots last summer. Thus, a makeover was necessary.
The field was torn up, the dirt re-leveled and the entire infield sodded anew.
"It looks absolutely great," Central coach Kyle Nelson said Tuesday. "We're going to take good care of this field."
The record-setting warm weather of late has helped the grass thrive. However, nine straight days of record-setting temperatures is actually enough in this particular case.
"To tell you the truth, our field could actually use a little bit of water," Nelson said. "I can't believe I'm saying that in March."