Each spring, one of the biggest challenges facing Madison Mallards manager C.J. Thieleke is to take college players accustomed to using aluminum bats and get them comfortable hitting with wood.
The sweet spot on a wood bat is much smaller than on an aluminum or composite bat, which means undisciplined hitters who reach for bad pitches can still get good results with aluminum. They need to retrain their baseball brains when they pick up a wood bat.
"We try to get guys who, from what we're told, have a swing that will work well with wood, get good bat speed and get the barrel of the bat moving good and fast," says Thieleke.
When players start showing up in Madison each spring, they try out up to 15 different bat models; all are made out of ash by Rawlings, which has a deal with the Northwoods League. Late-arriving players have slimmer pickings.
"One of the challenges for offensive players in this league is that you're not always comfortable with the bat in your hand," Thieleke says. "They say with good, pure hitters it doesn't really matter, but it can definitely play a role."
One guy who doesn't seem bothered by the transition is designated hitter and first baseman Harold Riggins, a quiet and intense sophomore-to-be at North Carolina State. Riggins is hitting .319, with seven homers, a single-season Mallards record. His secret?
"I found a bat I like," he says with a shrug.