By Joe Kirchmyer
Technology has a place in sports, especially on a recreational level. In bowling, for example, a 300 game was once a rarity in local leagues, whereas now they occur every week or two in highly competitive bowling environments. The same can be said for the game of golf, with clubs and golf balls now made to deliver much greater distance off the tee.
But technology is ruining one sport that I love and have played continuously and competitively for over 35 years. In fact, I’m certain that it’s just a matter of time before someone is killed in a recreational softball game somewhere in Western New York because bat and ball manufacturers are obsessed with introducing softballs that travel greater distances and “explode” off of $300 to $400-plus high-tech aluminum or composite bats.
While it feels great to be able to launch a ball over the heads of the outfielders every once in a while, my concern is for the men’s league pitchers who are standing on a mound just 46 feet away from home plate. The distance between batter and pitcher is actually even shorter after the pitch has left the pitcher’s hand. That gives pitchers, like me, less than a second to react to a hard hit line drive. The results can be tragic; pitchers have been seriously injured and killed in recreational softball games across the country. If you need visual evidence, there are plenty of examples on the internet.
I started to complain about this issue two years ago after two balls were hit so hard during games that I didn’t see them go past me. I heard them, but had no visual. Imagine that for a moment. Now, imagine if one of those balls was hit right back up the middle.
Over the past five years or so I’ve seen more and more pitchers struck with hard hit softballs than ever before, and I truly believe it’s the result of today’s technology. In a span of two games this year, I had two softballs strike me on my pitching hand. Both times the hand came up instinctively to keep the ball from hitting me directly in the face.
So, how can we fix the game without ruining it? First, leagues might want to take a look at the softballs they are ordering. If you are using high-compression softballs that are made to travel a greater distance, maybe it’s time to switch to a mid-compression ball. And maybe it’s also time to consider banning those $400 high-tech softball bats in favor of wooden bats, which are gaining popularity in leagues across the country.
A high-tech softball bat in the hands of a 200-pound, experienced ballplayer is a dangerous instrument. Will we act now, or are we going to wait for a tragedy in one of our local parks to make headlines? For once, let’s be proactive and act now.