Only 20 years ago
Just one generation ago the largest margin of score in the Women's College World Series was UCLA beating Long Beach State 6-0. Fresno State lost 1-0 to Florida State in the first round and won all there loser bracket games by scores of 1-0 or 2-0 before losing to UCLA in the finals 2-zip. Now compare that with UCLA and Florida scores of this year or UCLA vs Arizona? Is it the softball bats or have the players gotten better?
Without a doubt female softball players are better
One can make the argument that today's women athletes are better and only the crazy would argue differently. While the elite softball pitchers are still getting the ball to the plate in the mid to upper 60's and still getting their fair share of strikeouts, the biggest advance in my opinion is the understanding the hitters have as they approach the plate. In 1989 I had the good fortune to participate in the Olympic Festival held in Norman Oklahoma, that was the first time that I spent some time watching the womens game. For 10 days we traveled to and from Norman to Oklahoma City with the 4 womens fastpitch teams. Our destination was the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, the very same park that is home to the College World Series. Now all these years later I don't recall seeing the ball fly out of the yard as much as we see it today. I do recall seeing the slappers move the game to another level, I do recall seeing some very good hitters catch up with some very good pitching, I do recall being very impressed, but I don't recall hitters being completley fooled, out on their front foot, taking excuse me swings and seeing the ball leave the yard like we saw in this seasons College World Series.
I do believe todays hitters are exposed to better teaching in large part do to video technology and an overall greater focus on the game. I believe the coaching is getting better, and more importantly I believe the young female atheltes are extremely dedicated to improving their game. All of that said, I still have to question the number of home runs? Are they a product of improved performance? Yes. Are the hitters finally catching up to the pitching? Yes. Would the game be just as exciting with toned down fastpitch softball bats? Yes. Would there be as many unearned home runs? No!
What are our options?
Trust me, I'm not trying to be the guy that exposes Santa or the Easter Bunny here, I like seeing a talented hitter face a talented pitcher, I love seeing the swing mechanics on todays young hitters, I love the agressiveness and the ownership of the batters box that these fastpitch softball hitters are taking as they dig in, but I don't enjoy seeing check swing home runs. I don't enjoy seeing pitchers duck for their lifes, I don't enjoy seeing 1st and 3rd basewomen being taken out by screaming line drives. These positions felt the rath of good hitters with undoctored bats, now with every pitch they're subject to being human dartboards.
I recently read an article about moving the fences back, is this the option we're looking for? There were balls hit in this WCWS that went well over 250 feet. Is this the answer, move the fences back to Two Hundred and Fifty Feet the same distance as the mens game? This option would open the doors to more triples being hit, which could be fun, but it would also expose a lot of outfielders ability to cover the gaps and make longer throws, which wouldn't be fun and while it's an option where would it stop? Wouldn't softball bat makers just keep working to make hotter bats? Wouldn't we see more businesses pop up that promise more distance from your bat by using our improved rolling technique? Would we just move the fences back for the College game or would High Schools be subject to the same distance, how would this affect your 18 Gold Travel teams?
You see I think we're pretty deep here, and I'm all for progress, but where do we draw the line for the integrity of the game? Major League Baseball doesn't allow corked bats, why should competitive softball allow something very similar?
So what is the solution?
Should we just let it be, turn a blind eye and enjoy watching the balls fly from the yard like a slow pitch game? Should we wait until it hits closer to home and a young developing player, say on one of your 10u, or 12u teams gets injured severly because they can't react to a ball hit by an opposing player? Do we add helmets to the facemasks many defensive players are all ready wearing? Do we continue to change the game just for the softball bats?
The real question is are today's fastpitch softball bats changing the game as we know it, both offensivley and defensivley and should they be regulated for the integrity of the game? We'd love to hear your thoughts and hope that you take the time to take our survey on the home page.