A bat cracks, the ball is popped up into the air, and caught by the catcher. It’s the final out of the game. One team wins and moves onto the next round. As for the losing team, its championship hopes are shattered in the agonizing pain of defeat. Players pack their bags and head home. The next week they are at practice, not for college baseball, but for a different team, and it’s a whole new ball game.
For nearly 9,000 Division one college baseball players, the dream of heading to Omaha, Nebraska and playing in the College World Series does not become a reality. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that their baseball seasons are over just yet; in fact, the baseball grind doesn’t stop for many college players when they return to their hometowns
Many athletes join summer wood bat leagues and travel around their region all summer in order to keep their baseball skills polished for the upcoming year of college baseball. These summer leagues serve players as fantastic outlets to get “reps” and play the game they love; however, summer baseball and college baseball have their differences, and require a player to adjust to new circumstances when they head from school ball to summer ball.
And it all starts with the most important aspect to offensive success: a baseball bat.
In college baseball, players use composite or aluminum bats. These are made out of metal and provide the batter with an opportunity to hit the ball much further at a quicker speed. In summer league baseball however, players must use wooden baseball bats, the same type of bat that professional baseball players use.
Wooden bats are significantly harder to earn a hit with because the sweet spot of the bat isn’t as large as one found on a composite bat, making the margin of error much larger. Also, the balance point of the bat is found farther away from the handle, causing a player to adjust their grip on the bat, which could result in troubles with hitting consistency.
The difference between wooden bats and composite bats is certainly notable, but many college baseball players don’t consider the switch between bats to be too taxing. Baseball player J.T. Stone is in his second year at University of Miami of Ohio, but over the summer he plays second base for the Lexington County Blowfish, a summer wood bat team.
“I make the adjustment between the two bats by simply getting reps,” he said. “Using a composite all season in college and then making the switch to wooden when I play for the Blowfish is all about going to the cages or hitting live batting practice with the wooden bat prior to a game, that way you feel ready when you’re in the batter’s box in a live game.”
Most players making the college to summer transition abide by this simple practice as well; the more use of the wooden bat, the more comfortable players feel, which leads to hits and higher batting averages, every baseball player’s goal.
Another contrast between summer league baseball and college ball lies within the atmosphere. Stone described the summer league to be much more “relaxed” and meant for a “good time.” Unlike college games, summer baseball consists of pre game festivities, post game fireworks and between inning entertainment. No pressure of earning titles, making the Super Regional, or even the College World Series, just players playing the game they love for a great time.
Wood bat league baseball sums up classic American summers at their finest: hot nights, lots of beer, greasy food, and baseball. What could be any better for fans, coaches, and players?
Stone described summer ball as a chance for players to “be kids for nine innings.” The pressure subsides, and players are reminded of why they play “the game they love.”
However, no matter what season collegiate players are in, they are simply “happy to play” and even through transitions and adjustments between seasons, their love for baseball remains steadfast and strong.