On opening day of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference high school baseball season, rivals Winslow and Waterville combined for 17 hits in their game, a 10-9 Winslow win. All 17 hits were singles. A week later, this past Wednesday, Winslow and Maranacook combined to pound out 20 hits in a 10-6 Maranacook win. Save for a pair of doubles off the bat of Maranacook’s Dan Garand, every hit was a single.

We’re in year four of high school baseball teams using BBCOR bats, and it’s clear, the revolution will be station to station.

“We’ve been playing a lot more small ball,” said Skowhegan baseball coach Rick York, now in his ninth season in the Indians’ dugout. “Power hitting, home run hitting, has dwindled.”

BBCOR is shorthand for Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution. That means the ball doesn’t fly off the metal bats used now as much as it did off the metal bats of the past. The bats used now have less of a trampoline effect, slowing the speed at which a hit baseball comes off the bat and back at the fielders.

Some players, like Winslow’s Dylan Hapworth, who hit a three-run home run in a win over Maine Central Institute last week, and Maranacook’s Cam Brochu, would have power in any era, with any bat. Brochu and Hapworth were freshman when the BBCOR bats became mandated equipment. Brochu quickly became a fan.

“I never had a quality bat when I was growing up, then my freshman year coach bought us a BBCOR, it was like a Rawlings Machine, and I loved it,” Brochu, who has two home runs this season, said. “It was a one-piece bat and I got a couple of home runs like that. I’d never hit one in Little League with composite. So I’m really a big fan of BBCOR.”

Most players, however, have seen their power disappear. Before BBCOR, when the sweet spot on the bat was bigger, bats were more forgiving. A hit off the hands could be a flare into the outfield. What’s now a flare hit was a double to the gap. Now, if the ball is struck with the sweet spot of the bat, a good hitter is still going to drive the ball. The BBCOR bats are less forgiving than their aluminum forefathers, and those drives don’t happen as often.

“It’s slowed the game down a little,” York said.

Added Winslow coach Aaron Wolfe: “You don’t see as many home runs, that’s the obvious thing. You see weaker ground balls. There’s less double plays turned, because there’s less hard ground balls.”

Maranacook coach Eric Brown blames the drop in offensive production on the vanishing fundamentals of hitting rather than the change in bats.

“It’s more about contact. I preach to my guys you aren’t supposed to shoot for home runs. They’re almost accidents,” Brown said. “Just drive the gaps. With the BBCOR bats, you can do that. We’re not looking to hit home runs. We’re looking for line drive base hits and if we happen to hit a home run, we happen to hit a home run.”

Has the change in bats changed the way coaches approach game situations? Are we seeing more teams bunt or hit and run knowing that drive to the gap is less likely?

“It all depends on the type of team you’ve got,” York said. “We’ve been playing a lot more small ball. Then there’s some guys, they’ll swing the pipe and go for it.”

Longtime Winthrop coach Marc Fortin said his league, the Mountain Valley Conference, always was more of a small ball league, even with the thunder bats of the past. Fortin cited teams like his own Winthrop club, as well as St. Dominic, Monmouth and Dirigo as teams that have thrived in the MVC for years playing small ball. A couple notable exceptions were Livemore Falls and Jay (now merged as Spruce Mountain High School and in the KVAC), but they also played in bandbox ballparks.

“You know, we’ve never been a home run hitting team. We’re still looking for line drives, put the ball in play. I haven’t really noticed any difference. We’re not big power hitters. I think that’s where the biggest difference is,” Fortin said.

No matter the bat, hitters still need to be taught and drilled on the fundamentals, Brown said.

“At this level, we’re still working a lot on mechanical issues. It’s more honing the mechanics, getting them to that level. As they get older and as they move on, working more towards that sweet spot, but it’s really about the mechanical issues with these guys. A lot of them don’t know how to load, they’re not getting good core hip turns, stuff like that,” Brown said.

Brochu was asked, how many home runs do you think you’d hit swinging the old aluminum bats?

“Nah, I didn’t hit `em with aluminum,” he said.


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