You finally pulled the trigger and spent some hard earned cash purchasing what is hopefully a good quality wood coupon bat. Now what? There are some important things you need to know if you hope to get some longevity from your new purchase. Pay very close attention to the label or trademark. It plays a very important role in your happiness. All manufacturers place some sort of label or trademark on their bats. It is strategically placed in such a way to make it very clear to the hitter the location of the strongest and weakest parts of the bat. This holds true for all solid wood bats whether they are made of maple, ash or another type of wood - this also has a relation to in several ways. The surface of the bat on which the label is placed is the weakest part of the bat, as is the surface directly opposite the label. The strongest parts of the bat are the two surfaces on either the left or right side of the label as you look directly down on it. A good visual image is of a deck of cards. Compare the fifty two lines made by the edge of each card to the grain on a bat. If you pick up the deck holding it sideways, and hit a hard surface with the edge of it, you will see that it does not bend.
It feels rigid and strong. However, if you hold the deck flat by one end, and slap it down on a surface,
you will see that it flexes and bends upon contact. The bottom line is you want the ball to contact the bat on either side of the label for maximum durability and pop.
If you were lucky enough to hit with wood as a kid, you probably grew tired of hearing “keep the label” up. This is a truism, but there’s a little more to it than that. If you start with the label up, but roll your wrists prior to contact, the ball will not hit the bat in an ideal spot. The true test is where you are leaving ball marks on the bat. It’s easy to see the marks you leave on a wood bat, so use this tool to make an adjustment. Personally, I start with the label skyward and then rotate it a quarter turn toward the pitcher. With my particular style of hitting, this makes the ball contact the bat at a ninety degree angle to the label in a perfect position.
Let’s get into the real meat of this article. How should you swing a wood bat to be successful? I touched on the differences between metal and wood bats in a previous article, but let’s review. Metal bat manufacturers can manipulate the balance and sweet spot of their bat. Wood bat manufacturers can produce different models with different balance points, but to a much lesser degree than the metal guys. There is a huge difference in the size of the sweet spot between the two, making metal much more forgiving than wood. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you have ever been busted in on your hands with a wood bat on a cold day. The “hand full of bees” sensation is quite unique. The sweet spot on any bat is that point that creates the fewest vibrations. Generally this spot starts approximately 4 ½ inches down from the barrel end of a wood bat and extends for about another 3 inches. The first adjustment a hitter needs to make when converting to wood is to be fully aware of the smaller sweet spot, and learn how to control this section of the bat. This is accomplished mechanically by keeping your weight back and your hands inside the baseball until you extend your arms to and through the ball. You must be much more mechanically sound to experience success hitting with a wood bat compared to metal. The forgiving nature of metal creates very bad habits in hitters. My personal observation is that many metal bat hitters jump at the ball extending or bar arming their left arm (right handed hitters) and dragging the barrel through the zone. This is a very weak mechanical position and makes for a slow bat with little pop. This same swing produces very poor results when a using a wood bat. The heavier barrel weight of a wood bat turns this swing into a pop up or weak fly ball. You must learn to keep your hands up and in during your stance and to stride while keeping your weight and hands back. Start the bat forward with flexed arms and elbows close to your body, whipping the barrel down and through the hitting zone with authority. You must also learn to control the strike zone. Stay back and wait for a pitch that you can handle. A ball hit off the fists or end of the bat is usually an out when hitting with wood. Force yourself to pick up the flight and rotation of the ball as early as possible. Focus on the ball from the hand to the bat as if your life depended on it.
The fact that hitting with wood forces you to improve your mechanics is the very reason so many coaches are forcing their players to hit with wood even though they may play in a metal bat league. If you can master the techniques of hitting with wood and convert that swing to metal, you will be a force to be reckoned with.I would strongly encourage all players to get their hands on a wood bat and practice, practice, practice. Over a period of time, the added barrel weight increases your bat speed. You become stronger and quicker. The instant feedback you receive from contact on or off the sweet spot is a great training tool. If you’re new to wood bats, be patient. There is a learning curve that takes place. Initially you might get frustrated with your lack of success, but it won’t be long before you hit one on the button and the light bulb clicks. Stick with it and you will be rewarded with vastly improved skills at the plate.