BILLINGS, Mont. - The Miles City Mavericks haven't "faced metal" in the nearly three years since pitcher Brandon Patch died after a line drive off an aluminum bat struck his head.
And the team wasn't about to start, opting instead to forfeit games Monday and Tuesday against American Legion rival Bozeman.
Team leaders say safety was the leading factor in deciding not to face Bozeman, a squad that unlike others in Miles City's conference, wouldn't commit to playing with wooden bats.
"It's our decision to protect our kids," Jim Regan, a member of the American Legion committee of the Miles City Youth Baseball Association, said Monday about the team's decision to forfeit the games.
Regan, who said he was at the July 25, 2003, game in Helena at which the 18-year-old Patch was fatally injured, thinks the death could have been prevented if wooden bats had been used.
Regan is among those who argue that metal bats are capable of sending baseballs farther and faster, potentially causing serious injury to players. Researchers from Brown University, in a limited study several years ago, found metal bats easily outperformed wooden counterparts overall.
But Jim Quinlan, the national program coordinator for American Legion Baseball, disputes the suggestion wood bats are safer, saying statistics don't support that and that Miles City apparently stands alone among about 5,500 American Legion teams nationwide in insisting on wooden bat-only play.
Last year, American Legion's National Baseball Subcommittee, after a nine-month review that took into account studies and statistics from a range of sources, concluded there was no substantial scientific evidence to support argument that wooden bats are safer.
"I understand the fans and administrators in Miles City are convinced that if they switch to wooden bats, this won't happen again," Quinlan said. "But they haven't convinced the rest of the country."
Mitch Messer, who coaches the Bozeman Bucks, said his team's decision to use metal bats wasn't meant to show disrespect and was "strictly a baseball decision."
American Legion rules allow for the use of wood or metal bats, he noted; the bats must meet certain standards.
"We're doing what 99.9 percent of the country does, using metal bats," Messer said.