Hello Fastpitch Bulletin Readers,
Like a swarm of bees.
That's how the batter's hands felt after fouling off a nasty drop ball from the 60 mph+ pitcher.
Later in the inning another batter from the same team experienced the same sort of feeling but instead of in the palms of her hands, this batter had that feeling out in her fingers and all the way to the tips.
In both cases the pain was great enough that neither batter really wanted to step back into the batter's box and face the "queen bee" doing the pitching on that day.
So just what causes that terrible vibration and resulting "nest of bees" feeling?
First and foremost, like many of the coaches out there, I consider myself a teacher. I teach fastpitch softball to the students that assemble at any given practice. It might be a private lesson here at my home training center, a multiple day camp such as the one I do in Pepin each year, or a practice with one of the teams I am responsible for.
You have to keep in mind that I clearly remember a night in 1969 when the leader of our Poynette American Legion Clyde Post 271 men's fastpitch team showed up with two metal bats. They were two of the first aluminum bats to ever hit the softball scene. Made by a company in St. Louis, the bats were labeled "Orbit Launcher" and launch balls they did. At first all of us were aghast at the thought of using such a bat but it didn't take long and we realized that what we actually had were two new weapons. They were amazing compared to the wooden H&B Speed Swing 125 I was accustomed to swinging and of course breaking. The amazing thing with those original Orbit Launchers was the fact that seldom, very seldom did we experience bees in our hands. There just didn't seem to be very much vibration when those hurlers we faced were sawing us off inside and low, outside and low, up and in and out and away. Balls started leaving those bats faster than when wooden ones were used. At least it seemed that way.
Don't get me wrong here. The guys who couldn't hit a ball out of the yard still couldn't hit balls out with the new bats either. They weighed 36 or 38 ounces so it took a man to swing one. The "Punchin Judys" as they were known as, remained so, but they did seem to get balls through the infields a bit more often, just beyond the leather of a diving shortstop or second sacker.
Not long after the Orbit Launcher hit the fastpitch scene the regular wooden bat manufacturers realized that without so many broken wooden bats their revenue was going to diminish. As a result their research and development teams were hard pressed to get something out their with their trademarks on them.
Louisville Slugger's first metal bat was called the "Hot Bat." It was a creamy colored bat, 33 or 34 inches long weighing in the neighbordhood of 35 ounces and it had a rubber grip and a rubber knob. The problem with the "Hot Bat" was the fact that after so many men were creating high levels of torque while swinging those babies, the glue would let go under the rubber grip and a twisting action occurred. After enough twisting action a guy would take a gigantic cut and suddenly the rubber knob would tear off the grip and the bat would "helicopter" out toward an unsuspecting pitcher or infielder who was attempting to field the cork-centered sphere the batter had hit his way.
The "Hot Bat" and the Orbit launchers thus became illegal bats because they malfunctioned after time. The Orbit Launchers, those original metal monsters actually had a wooden knob that was lathe-turned and the dowel part of the turning was inserted up into the thick aluminum shaft and, believe it or not, was pop riveted in place. So too were the rubber plugs on the ends of those bats.
Soon thereafter the bat companies really jumped into the fray with all the energy and political power they could muster. H&B created what they thought would be the wave of the future when they presented the fastpitch world with the "Mag Bat." Made from magnesium alloys H&B claimed it was the bat of the future and would never break. My thoughts are that they failed to do any field testing with men's fastpitch players in game situations facing pitchers hurling 12 inch spheres toward them at speeds up to 85-88 mph. Those bat and ball collisions, lasting only two one hundredths of a second were so violent that those 33 inch red Mag Bats and the 34 inch Yellow Mag bats would actually snap into two pieces just above the batter's hands and again, there were conical shaped bats helicoptering out toward unsuspecting fielders and pitchers. As quickly as they hit the scene they were deemed dangerous and were then "banned bats."
All the while the men were using all those new metal bats the women were still using, primarily the lighter wooden models they always used. That was the way it was until, the bat companies, using 7641 aluminum found that they could make bats in one piece designs and keep them from breaking into pieces very often. Bats with names such as Bombat were on the market. Soon Easton introduced a bat with a crooked handle named the Zapper. It was supposedly ergonomically designed so as to give the batter an advantage by getting the bat to the point of contact faster with the crooked handle providing the torque to do so.
Ohter bats entered the scene. Easton was now in the bat business and not just the foil wrap or archery arrow arena. Easton soon introduced the Zapper II which to me seemed to be the same but but perhaps a few ounces lighter.
Things really changed around the mid to late 80s. Easton, using CU31 aluminum introduced the SX10 bat. Suddenly men who were accustomed to swinging 35 to 38 ounce bats were swinging those SX10s in the 28-32 ounce range or 35 ounces at the heaviest. A star-shaped rubber plug inserted into the bat that weighed 77 grams fit snugly right under the S-O-T on EASTON. That was the "sweet spot" on those SX10s. Hit it there and watch it zip throught the infield or over those 250 foot fences and beyond. Slow pitch players were suddenly hitting balls 300 feet and so too were some of the men's fastpitch players. Balls were splashing down with regularity into the Fox River beyond the banks in left field at the lower diamond at Sunset Park in Kimberly. Balls were launched well over the scoreboard roof at historic Gelein Field at Carson Park in Eau Claire. Women were using those lighter, high tech SX10s too.
Then, along came Worth with their contributions to the high tech metal bat industry and along came a company known as DeMarini and then a Minnesota company called Miken was suddenly on the scene. It was a war of bat technology and it continues today.
Double Walls, Composite bats that start out hot but get so hot that tiny, petite little girls are able to hit bombs over fences 225 feet away. Years ago those players wouldn't have been able to hit a warning track at 190 feet.Now it is all about "trampoline effect." In the men's game the bunt soon seemed like an obsolete way to try to score runs. Why give up a precious out when the guy at the plate stood a good chance of hitting a two or three run homer? In the girls and women's game outfielders were being forced to play deeper and deeper. Infields had to be cut deeper to give middle infielders a chance to get to balls before they cut grass once they hit the outfield.
Now any pitcher, corner player or even middle infielder is nuts if they don't'b wear a defensive face mask. Even in the men's game those guys should be thinking about those masks. The corners in the men's game have moved back, way back, to keep from gettting drilled and end up looking like they have been in a hockey game and came out toothless.
However, even with all the technology today, batter's still suffer from bees in the hands and in their fingers.
Here is why.
Wooden bats are more apt to give a batter bees but metal and composite bats do as well. It all has to do with an acronym known as C.O.P. or COP. It stands for "Center of Percussion." Ultimately a batter wants to hit the sphere which legally can't exceed a C.O.R. (Coefficient of Restititution) of .47 and a compression level of not more than .375, right on the sweet spot. No matter the bat the COP is about six to eight inches from the fat end of the bat. When a batter, using a normal grip with their bottom hand againt teh knob, connects with a ball right on the COP (sweet spot) they really feel nothing. They just know that it "felt good" or "felt sweet."
The ball exits the bat quickly.
When they hit the ball off the COP and closer to their hands they will experience bat vibration and the bat will rotate in their hands. It's caused by a slight force pushing the bat back into the palms of their hands. They get a nest of bees in the palms of their hands and it hurts. Especially in cold weather. I've had many players just leave the cage or their battting practice gig because their hands hurt so much.
When a batter makes contact with the ball out beyond the COP the nest of bees takes place in their fingers. It's caused because their is now a slight push on the fingers in the opposite direction from what the hands were traveling.
When a batter "chokes up" or shortens up and tries to just "punch it," the COP moves out away from their hands. They thus, lose some of the trampoline effect the high tech bat provided to begin with.
I work with kids and adults of all ages on their hitting technique. Young kids who bring a very short bat that weighs only 16-19 ounces (t-ball bats) often demostratively show that "push in the opposite direction." It's prevalent and easy to see. They swing those short, lightweight bats and connect with a ball going 30-33 mph and the push is more than slight. Those balls at that low speed actually push stop their swings and push the bat back toward the origination of their swing. It happened twice today in my batting cage here at the training center in the back yard. Two kids, one a girl and one a boy were brought to see me becasue they have now played their last-ever T-ball game. Next year they move up to machine pitch. Their parents want to get a jump on the competition and start working on hitting pitched balls now and until the snow flies and even after in my new indoor facility. They brought their daughter and later a son to see me for instruction and they both had their t-ball bats with them.
After some instruction on the basics of a good swing we dropped some balls into the Casey 2 at 31 mph. When those two did start to connect, the balls stopped their bats.
I gave them more instruction such as: "Swing Harder," Swing with every ounce of energy you can muster," "Whoosh the bat,' Really, you need to swing it hard enough to hear the air whoosh as the bat creates an empty spot in the air and the air quickly fills back in,"
Then I gave them a longer, heavier bat and even increased the speed of the machine by 2 mph. Soon they were both hitting some balls. They were tracking, they were negative loading, they were short striding to ice and they were pivoting on their back foot. They were getting to the ball. They were hitting balls harder and not experiencing as many bees.
It's a great game, one I enjoy teaching to anyone who wants to learn and even more so, one I enjoy learning more about every day that goes by.
So there you have a bit of softball history and some scientfic terminology as well as information that explains the nest of bees feeling when that hummer saws you off on that low, inside drop ball.
Stop by some time, we can chat about the game and teach each other a thing or two that works for us. One should never stop trying to learn more. If we stop trying to learn more we may not come up with the next great idea.
Good luck with that! It's out there!
Oh, did I tell you that in my extensive softball bat collection there are three Orbit Launchers, a Zapper II, a red Mag Bat, a yellow Mag, bat, an Easton Ceramic Bat, several Bombats, a lot of Easton SX10s, and many more old bats including one of the first 100 prototype Easton Titanium Typhoon bats that are the greatest and most lethal bats ever manufactured. Mine is #095 out of the first 100. Look that bat up on E-Bay now, you'll be amazed at the price being asked for on it there and it's a banned bat.
Have a great day - and as always -
Keep it Rising!