High School baseball players across the TIMES NEWS coverage area are approaching the batter's box with a new type of bat in hand in 2012.
The local players aren't alone, however, as a move initiated by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has put new restrictions and limits on the bats used by high school baseball players from across the entire country.
This happened when the NFHS approved the implementation BBCOR-certified (Batted Balls Coefficient of Restitution) bats instead of the previously used BESR (Ball Exit Speed Ratio) bats.
It came as no surprise to local high school coaches like Marian's Jeff Nietz.
"The national federation does these kind of studies all the time," Nietz said. "One of the studies they did two years ago was the study on proving the ball was coming off these new bats entirely way too fast. There was not enough reaction time for fielders, spectators, pitchers and coaches to react.
"While the (BESR) bat enhanced the game and produced more offense, it was also becoming more dangerous at higher levels, specifically college and high school."
A year after the BBCOR bats were implemented at the collegiate level, high schools are now forced to deal with the change.
The old BESR bat produced a "ping" sound around the baseball diamond. By contrast, the new BBCOR bats are quieter.
One adjustment players have to get used to with the new bats deals with that lack of sound.
"It almost sounds like a 'dead bat' when you hit the ball," Nietz said. "As a fielder, you're used to hearing that ball come off the bat whether it was wood or metal. You heard the sound and it helps you judge how hard the ball was hit ... but these new bats have that 'dead sound' to them and you really can't tell what's going on.
"If you're in the outfield, or in the infield, you can't tell the velocity off that bat now, which you could have in the past. It's making it a little bit more difficult for the fielders."
The biggest difference is going to be felt by the batters.
"They hitters have to work harder now," said Nietz. "They're not getting that home run. It's more warning-track power stuff now because the ball just isn't jumping off the bat."
Panther Valley head coach John Cooper said it's obvious the new bats will make a change in the high school game.
"We only have played a few games so far, but the main thing you're going to see is the number of home runs limited," Cooper said. "The balls aren't going to get out of the park as easily as they did in the past. In general, we have been using them in practice and batting practice and stuff like that. I think the main thing is its going to limit the number of home runs and that may force teams to play more small ball."
The new bats also decrease the pressure on those individuals who stand 60-feet, 6-inches away from home plate.
"The pitcher now can pitch with a lot more confidence knowing they will be able to pound the strike zone more and not try to nibble around the plate," Cooper said. "We're stressing to our pitchers to keep the ball down and make them put the bat on it and the damage shouldn't be as significant as in years past."
The switch in bats could cause a significance change in the high school game. Northwestern coach Len Smith has had to make some adjustments on defense because it.
"It's definitely a change as the ball doesn't travel like it used to," Smith said. "It doesn't come off as a solid.
"We have been playing some of our fielders in a lot closer than we normally do. We have them in about 10-15 feet because of the situation. That's a big difference. The ball just does not come off those bats as well as before."
Despite the change in equipment at home plate, Cooper plans on stressing the same philosophy to his players when it comes to hitting the ball.
"As far as coaching, we really didn't change our approach or anything," Cooper said. "We always try to teach kids to try and hit line drives and try to hit the gaps and alleys and homeruns will happen accidentally.
"It really hasn't changed much of our philosophy. We'll probably bunt more this year and stuff like that. But, in general, I don't think it's going to provide anyone with an advantage. It still comes down to executing the fundamentals."
ONE-HIT WEDNESDAY ... Tamaqua's Brett Kosciolek and Pleasant Valley's Diane Klapatch each had great days on the mound and ended up throwing one-hitters last Wednesday.
Kosciolek one-hit Jim Thorpe in a 1-0 victory. He allowed a single in the third inning, but then went on to finish with 13 strikeouts.
Then, on Tuesday, Kosciolek pushed his consecutive scoreless inning streak to 13 when he shutout Panther Valley in six innings. The freshman struck out five and allowed three hits in the win.
Klapatch came much closer to tossing a no-no, as she surrendered a single to right field with one out in the seventh. It didn't seem to bother her though, as she went on to fan the last two batters and ended the day with nine punchouts in a 6-0 win over East Stroudsburg South.
GOIN' YARD ... Palmerton's softball team went deep four times on Monday in its 11-8 win over Catasauqua.
Janel Tracy hit two bombs for the Bombers, as she hit two solo homers. Teammates Steph Brinker added a two-run shot, while Lauren Campbell cranked a grand slam in the sixth to essentially win the game for the locals.
TOURNEY TIME ... The Mountain Valley Conference Boys Tennis Tournament will take place this Friday at 12 noon at the Pleasant Valley. Competition will be held at No. 1, 2 and 3 singles and at No. 2, 3, and 4 doubles. The finals will take place at approximately 4 p.m.