Although the debate about banning metal baseball bats in youth baseball is not settled, high school and college players find themselves playing in wood bat summer leagues more and more these days. "It's clearly a trend," a coach told me last summer on opening day of the John Marzano Wood Bat Scout League in Philadelphia. "Kids know they need to do this, their coaches do too, and the scouts love it. Hitting with wood is a lot less forgiving than metal."
All of this makes for a more diverse baseball bat collection in summer dugouts – from Cape Cod to Surprise, Arizona. And as the wood bat trend spreads to youngger players, parents and coaches may want to know what the elite amateur players are using in tournaments like the World Wood Bat Championships held in Marietta, Georgia at the East Cobb Baseball complex.
In some ways you just have to look at the bats the pros are swinging. The two classics offered by Louisville Slugger, Derek Jeter's C71 and Alex Rodriguez's P273 are both guaranteed by the world's top bat company to be made of pro-stock wood. But if you watch Ryan Howard or Albert Pujols, they may be swinging Marucci bats; and Barry Bonds usually hits with a Sam Bat. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have been partial to MaxBats over the past several years. And during much of 2008 Manny Ramirez was doing his dirty work with an X-Bat. As you'd expect, then, Marucci, Sam Bats, X-Bats, and Max Bats can all be found in amateur dugouts.
But do not let the pros be your only guide. There are only about 35 bat companies with bats approved and registered with Major League Baseball. Over 100 other companies make wood bats for amateur players. These companies tend to be small, primarily servicing regional baseball communities. Companies like NYStix, Carolina Clubs, Bayou Bat Company, Hoosier Bats, and the Barnstable Bat Company serve independent league players, adult leagues, and local wood bat teams extensively. NYStix got a real boost last year making bats for New York City high school teams in their first year of play under the city's new ban on non-wood bats. The company's owner told me last winter that he was having a hard time keeping up with the demand.
Amateur players also like Old Hickory (made out of maple!), D-bats, and M-Powered bats. In addition, the more standard stock that can be found with Rawlings, Easton, and DeMarini are common – especially DeMarini's composite wood bat wrapped in a fiberglass sleeve designed to help kids make the transition from metal to wood.
Who knows what bats will be popular next season. Zinger Bats out of Montreal is ramping up their marketing plans. Miguel Cabrera, Bobby Abreu, and Dan Uggla all used custom Zingers during at least part of last season. The influx of players from Asia has also been a boon to Mizuno. And when players get hot like Josh Hamilton did in the 2008 All-Star Home Run Derby, there's no question that the bat he used will be on the top of every young hitter's wish list (he swung an ash Louisville Slugger, Model C353; 34.5 inches and 33 ounces in weight; flame tempered with the special Smith finish).
In the end, the move to wood should keep young and old players alike online all winter long searching for just the right bat to start the new season with – maybe not as fun as playing, but certainly a useful past-time while we wait .