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updated: 3/22/2012 9:17 PM

Batting around a new dead-ball era in baseball

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"Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution" may sound like scientific garble, but it's about to change the face of IHSA baseball.

"BBCOR" -- the shortened version of the phrase, thank goodness -- will be the buzzword this season.

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A National Federation of State High School Associations bylaw, which went into effect in January, dictates that all bats used in high school baseball games must be BBCOR certified. According to area coaches, it'll create a dead-ball era in Illinois.

"The bats will definitely change the game," said Wheaton North coach Dan Schoessling. "It'll take a while for kids to get used to them."

The goal of the BBCOR initiative is to make composite and aluminum bats react as similar to wood bats as possible. In addition to attempting to create a safer game, it also means the advantage will shift from hitter to pitcher by decreasing the jump of the ball off the bat and reducing run-production.

The NCAA mandated BBCOR bats last year and the impact was dramatic. College home runs and batting averages dropped like a stone, as did pitchers' earned run averages.

"I've talked to Division I coaches and Division III coaches and they all said they underestimated the difference it would make," said Naperville Central coach Mike Stock. "To a man they underestimated it."

For the high school game, BBCOR bats could prove to be the ultimate equalizer. Swinging for the fences won't fly anymore. Small ball will be huge.

In other words, these aren't your older brother's aluminum bats.

Home runs will turn into cans of corn with BBCOR bats. Blasts to the gap will be easy outs for outfielders with more time to react. Line drives up the middle will be easily scooped grounders for shortstops.

Strategy and fundamentals will play a huge role for high school teams accustomed to outslugging opponents. Bunting and the hit-and-run will be more prevalent than ever. Stellar defense and pitchers who consistently throw strikes will be at a premium.

"With the kind of team we have, I think it's going to help us," said Downers South coach Darren Orel, who feels his team is short on hitting but tall in pitching. "We're not going to generate a lot of runs so it's going to come down to those close games. You always feel like you have a chance."

Because the NFHS announced the rule change last year, teams had the option of experimenting with BBCOR bats in the summer. It was perfect timing with nothing on the line.

Some teams exclusively used BBCOR bats until the start of the IHSBCA summer state tournament. Others used them part of the time and some didn't use them at all.

For the teams that used them extensively, the hope is that the experience pays off this spring.

"Every one of our players said they wanted to use them last summer," said Neuqua Valley coach Robin Renner, whose team then tore the cover off the ball when it switched back to traditional aluminum bats and advanced to the Elite Eight of the state tournament.

"I told them we were probably going to lose some games that we normally win, but they absolutely bought in," he said. "We smashed some balls and the outfielders just took three steps back and caught them. Scoring's going to be down, game times are going to be down and teams better be ready to play defense."

Doesn't sound so bad, does it? Time will tell.

While at first glance the switch to BBCOR bats sounds like a step in the right direction, the proof will be in the game play.

If teams start struggling mightily, by the end of the season BBCOR may become just another five-letter word.

kschmit@dailyherald.com

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