at indeed lightens it but also results in a bat that is somewhat more brittle and is apt to splinter and "helicopter away.” Moreover, there are some 30 bat companies vying with Louisville Slugger for a share of what Dill estimates to be a $300 million industry "just for wood,” which would appear to open the door to a variation in quality.
Dill says the timing of the Radial Bat could not be better. Why?
"Because of the safety issue and the growing feeling out there that metal bats have degraded the game,” says Dill, who produces both ash and maple bats in a factory with a 10-person staff. "And I am not sure if a better idea for a baseball bat will come along in the next 50 years.”
But as convinced of that as he is himself, Dill has yet to bring MLB onboard. While the Radial Bat has passed the NCAA "Ball Exit Speed Ratio” Performance Test, which is to say that it has been certified for use in NCAA games, Dill says that his presentation before MLB and at the players association was greeted with skepticism. "They were dismissive,” says Dill, who explains that the executives he met with said it was "the same as every other composite bat” and that "it will never be approved.” Undeterred, Dill says he wants to get the bat into the hands of some up-and-coming players with the hope that they develop an affinity for it. He is also trying to get it in the hands of big-league batting coaches for use in indoor batting cages (only MLB-approved equipment is allowed on the field on game day). While Thompson says that he had not heard of Radial Bats (nor had Orioles batting coach Terry Crowley), Frank Coppenbarger, the Phillies’ director of team travel and clubhouse services, said he had "vaguely heard of it” and added that he always recommends someone with an innovation to try to build a client base in the minor leagues.
Dill says he understands the position MLB is in. "The problem is that we have a century worth of records that have been established with bats that have been carved from a single piece of wood,” says Dill, who earned his living as a management consultant. "So to accommodate the Radial Bat, they would have to rewrite the rules in such a way that it would not let in all kinds of other stuff. I empathize with that challenge, but I also know that our bat performs exactly the same as a single piece of wood.”
The NCAA found exactly that when it concluded that the Radial Bat behaved with the acceptable parameters for "liveliness.” In other words, it did not produce the "trampoline effect” commonly associated with metal bats and which has proved to be so dangerous to players.
While 95 percent of amateur players still use metal bats (or variations composed of other alloys), Dill hopes that he can get that to below 50 percent within five years, given that the $100 to $150 cost of the Radial Bat is offset by a longer life cycle and the potential for fewer injuries. Given that it is such a huge transition for high school and college players to switch from metal bats to wooden ones, and even creates certain issues in evaluating them during the scouting process, Dill is so optimistic that the Radial Bat will become a fixture in the bat racks of America that he has ramped up production from 20,000 bats to 60,000 this year alone. Says Dill: "We are out there now but we plan to even be a bigger player.”
Whatever happens to the Radial Bat, it has achieved one thing: It has married the two passions that have soared inside of Dill since childhood: woodworking and baseball. He was only 15 years old when received his first lathe, and he was a very fine baseball player in high school. "No one had a better arm,” says Dill, who remembers that his career came to a halt at the University of Massachusetts as a walk-on. In an intrasquad game one day, he found himself facing Mike Flanagan, who would win a Cy Young Award for the Orioles. Flanagan fell behind in the count 3-0, but then threw three curveballs that were so dazzling that, well … just say that Dill was in no danger of breaking his bat. Or even using it.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service