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Composite baseball bats seemed a modern space-age novelty when they surfaced in the 1990s ~ kicking off a sort-of arms race among manufacturers to produce the biggest bang possible from the batter’s box. They are still around (though quite more regulated), and considering the costs of higher-end models, owners will wonder about proper care for their sticks.
A topic that will surface often for composite baseball bats is extreme cold. How do the bats perform if used during very cold temperatures? Can composite bats be stored in cold weather? The answer to both is, it is not advised to use, or even store, composite bats in cold weather or very cold environments.
Think of the meaning of “composite,” and you get the composition of an item from different materials. That is, composite bats are not made entirely of wood, or a type of metal like aluminum, but particles of plastic fibers packed very tightly together.
For this reason mainly, composition bats can be more easily broken when used in harshly cold temperatures, and then struck by hard 5-ounce balls traveling at high velocity. Let’s explore the how and the why.
Composite baseball bats are absolutely different from their wood or aluminum counterparts, as the materials used to construct them are fiber polymer, or in English, a reinforced plastic. More specifically, the bats are made of a reinforced carbon fiber polymer, either in their entirety, or parts of the bat.
The composite polymer makeup is advantageous over aluminum alloys or wood for durability, as well as weight distribution, avoiding hand stings, and other pluses.
Part of the popularity of composite bats when they were first introduced was from what is called the “trampoline effect,” or the barrel’s ability to bend inward at the moment of contact, then bounce back to propel the struck ball forward faster than it would go naturally.
However, after an abundance of games with football-like scores, college and high school officials caught on and regulations starting in 2011 began dampening the trampoline effect in composite bats.
Composite bat manufacturers will inform buyers not to use those bats in very cold weather. In fact, their manufacturer’s warranties usually include this in their terms and conditions, so if it’s proved the bat broke during cold weather the warranty could be voided. The damaged bat would not be replaced, at least at the manufacturer’s cost.
Some say composite bats, because of the compressed-plastics makeup, are prone to harden and possibly break in very cold conditions. Others state it’s the ball that causes the trouble: balls harden in density when very cold, therefore are more dangerous to the things they strike.
Whichever, it is not being advised to use composite bats in the cold. However, what does that mean for storage? The answer is, it couldn’t be good for the bat. Plastics do wear down in effectiveness over time. Ever notice how soft a plastic food container gets after months of in-and-out of the refrigerator and possibly microwave oven?
The same could be true for composite bats ~ their chemical makeup could be weakened by extreme temperature changes over time. Whether or not this is true scientifically is a moot point, because if you invested in a composite bat, they are not cheap. So, why even chance harming its performance with improper storage?
Using a composite bat in very cold temperatures could result in a crack, or other types of problems with the bat, often at the connection point of the barrel and handle. The composite part of these bats is usually the barrel; the handles still might be metal, with the parts expertly sealed together. The cold could affect these seals negatively.
Composite bats are also known to be rather fickle, that is, unpredictable with heavy use. In the early days, it was believed that the bats performed better after a lot of use, as if the barrels got harder over time as the polymer material was compressed by thousands of smacks with balls.
However, the aforementioned regulations starting in 2011 began to require bat performance tests after a certain amount of use, so over time the belief that composite bats needed to be “broken in” faded.
Still, some composite bat owners report changed “pop” tendencies in composite bats after extended use in very cold weather. The term used is the composite bats can “go dead,” or lose their power potential.
These guidelines will help extend the life of any baseball bat, composite or otherwise.
- Limit use of the bat by others; try to be the only one player to use your bat.
- Do not use in temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (or 16 degrees Celsius).
- Beware of any extreme temperatures ~ avoid storing bats in very cold or very hot places. (Car trunks seem to come to mind).
- Never use your best game bat to hit in batting cages. They typically use very hard rubber balls, unlike real baseballs of tightly-wound string covered by leather.
- Avoid waterlogged balls.
- Routinely inspect the bat for potential damage. Use of a bat already damaged is a recipe for a destroyed stick.
- Learn to rotate the bat a quarter-turn for each swing. This avoids wearing down only one side of the barrel.
Question: What do the manufacturer’s warranties say?
Answer: Basic terminology warning of actions that would void the legal contract, may along the lines of a bat that has been “abused, or altered in any way, or mistreated.” Often it’s very broad and maybe even vague, covering just about anything. Many can be specific, too, like: “bats that have been used in a batting cage.” Composite bat owners should read their warranties carefully.
Q.: Are composite bats still popular?
A.: Yes, for some high school and college players, though not as popular as when they were first introduced, before the regulations. Today there are bats made of high-tech metals like titanium that are light, very strong, and produce quite the pop. Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball do not allow composite or metal bats; those top-level pro leagues require use of wood bats.