Charlie Beale has been involved in youth baseball and softball in some facet now for more than 27 years.
Surely, during that extended time, Beale would have seen it all.
"Up until the last few years, we've never had 10-year-olds (regularly) hitting it out of the park," said Beale, the recreation manager for Columbia County. "We're talking about 200-foot parks (symmetrical). There were always a few who could hit it out at that age, but more and more are doing it now because of the technology.
"And who knows what's going to happen in the future if technology keeps going the way it is going now."
Indeed, the aluminum bat has revolutionized the game even at the grass-roots level.
"And we might not have seen anything yet," Beale said.
While the NCAA recently had a panel of scientists and sports experts study the risks associated with aluminum bats, most youth leagues across the country have only one regulation in regard to bat safety.
Before a bat can be used in league play, be it Little League, Babe Ruth Baseball, Dixie Youth Baseball, PONY Baseball or the American Amateur Baseball Congress, it must have a stamp of approval from the respective league on the bat's barrel.
Virtually all of your big-name bat makers -- Easton, Louisville Slugger, Hammer, Worth -- produce bats that come with the stamp of approval.
"We're fortunate in that we haven't had any problems or incidents, as far as I know, with bats or bat safety anywhere in Georgia," said J.B. Bass, one of the state's three Dixie Youth Baseball national directors.
"Is safety a concern? Absolutely. Anytime you're dealing with kids, safety is always a primary concern," Bass said. "We do everything we can as an organization, just as all the others do, to keep the kids safe."
Some preliminary studies have shown that a pitcher caught off-balance with his weight moving toward home plate after releasing a pitch does now have ample time to react to a ball hit directly at him off an aluminum bat.
Everyone contacted for this story, however, said there has not been a significant increase in the number of injuries during the past decade or so.
In regard to bat regulations, most youth organizations have a 25-inch minimum and 33-inch maximum, although 24-inch bats are allowed for T-ball play.
Also, the barrel can be no more than 2 1/4 inches in diameter, plus or minus 1/32 inch, which helps limit the exit speed at which the ball leaves the bat. Studies have shown exit speeds from some aluminum bats can reach 113 mph.
In addition, the grip on the handle can extend no more than 16 inches toward the barrel, regardless of the length of the bat.
"Making sure the bats are up to regulation is something we take very seriously," Bass said. "Virtually every kid out there has his own bat. It's our job to make sure they are using bats that fit the specifications."
Mike Garbett can be reached at (706) 823-3349.
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