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Buffalo Schools' Thomas goes to bat for wood First concern is safety of players

There may be a national debate raging over the use of aluminum bats versus wooden, but not with Dave Thomas.

The director of athletics for the Buffalo Public Schools has gone to using all wood bats in the City's Cornell Cup. And it was an easy call.

Thomas said he refused to put the players in his league at risk of getting seriously hurt or killed by line drives coming off aluminum bats.

Thomas has never been a fan of aluminum. He said he's saved a newspaper article from June 5, 1994, that reported a 16-year-old second baseman from St. Mary's of Lancaster getting struck in the chest by a bad-hop grounder. He suffered sudden cardiac arrest and almost died.

"They are a real danger. And it's extremely dangerous for pitchers because they are off balance after they pitch the ball," Thomas said. "When it's a bunting situation, and I see the third and first basemen moving in to make a play -- good Lord they're within 15 feet of the plate."

With the mound 60 feet, 6 inches from the plate, a ball traveling faster than 94 mph gets to a pitcher in 3/1 0ths of a second.

Thomas said 11 of the league's 13 coaches welcomed the change.

Public schools in Western New York have been using aluminum bats since 1977. A lot of school went to aluminum to save on the cost of replacing cracked wooden bats. But it's not the economic issue it once was.

Thomas said he can buy a wooden bat for $25 while the cost of a good aluminum bat is upward of $250. While aluminum bats will not crack they generally last one season before they go dead. Each team in the Cornell Cup will be given 10 wooden bats and they will use composite bats in practice.

Thomas is not ashamed to admit he's following the lead of the Monsignor Martin Association, which went to wood five years ago.

Bishop Timon-St. Jude coach Jim Palano said in addition to the safety factor, aluminum bats are misleading for scouts and are tough on pitching. He's seen kids check their swing with an aluminum bat and line the ball down the baseline for a hit.

Palano cited the fact that in New York the city council voted in March to ban the use of aluminum bats throughout city schools in favor of wooden bats. He said aluminum bats are the worst thing to ever happen to the college game, and he predicts they'll go back to wood after their contracts with bat companies expire.

Wood is used in Major League Baseball and in the minor leagues, so college and high school players talented enough to turn pro must also deal with the transition.

"Safety is the huge thing, but it's the way the game is supposed to be played," said Palano, who has seen his share of kids getting hit in the face at the college level. "It's not an economic thing anymore, it's protecting the arms of pitchers, learning fundamentals better and having to work because you're not going to get cheap hits. It's a totally different game."

Bob Kowal, who coaches Lake Shore and the Empire State Games scholastic team, said he doesn't see the public schools going back. "I don't think anybody would mind, but until colleges go back to wood, I don't see it happening," he said.

e-mail: mmonnin@buffnews.com

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