To Joe Domalewski, the ordinary metal baseball bat isn't an innocent piece of sports equipment. No, it's a scary "weapon," as he puts it, that has no more business being in the hands of a child than a chain saw does. Last June, as Domalewski looked on, his 12-year-old son Steven, who was pitching, was struck in the chest by a line drive off a metal bat in a game in Wayne, N.J. The impact stopped his heart, leaving him with brain damage—and the Domalewskis with the conviction that the high-tech bat was to blame for the tragedy. Says Domalewski, a high school teacher: "How many kids have to get hurt before they do something?" As he quickly discovered, others were doing plenty. In Montana, Duane and Debbie Patch, the parents of Brandon Patch, a 18-year-old pitcher who was killed by a line drive to the head off a metal bat in 2003, had successfully lobbied to have wood bats, which they believe don't hit balls as hard, used in a local league. This March, the New York City council passed legislation mandating that wood bats be used in all city high school games starting this September. "No parent should lose a child on an athletic field," says Councilman James Oddo, who fought for the bill, "when the kid is simply playing a game."
But bat manufacturers, who vehemently oppose the ban—metal bats, which last longer, are more expensive—say it is the proponents who are playing games with the facts. Statistics compiled by organized Little League show that the number of injuries from batted balls is actually down (in 2005, 23 Little League pitchers were hurt by batted balls)—though advocates of the ban argue that is because the records only count injured kids who file claims with Little League's insurance. What's more, the companies point out that rules now stipulate that wood bats and metal bats must perform comparably. All in all, insists Jim Darby of Easton Sports, the largest manufacturer of metal bats, non-wood bats "are as safe, if not safer, than wood bats." (Daniel Russell, a physicist at Kettering University, says his review of the data shows, among other things, that a ball struck by a metal bat may travel 5 mph faster than off a wood bat.)
Meanwhile, the Domalewskis have helped to get a bill pending in New Jersey to ban metal bats from all youth games—though the success of their crusade offers scant comfort for the anguish over Steven, who is home but remains largely paralyzed. "You can feel the pain in this house," says Joe Domalewski. "Every day we're in mourning."
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