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Time for some wood
By CHRIS RAHN
Asst. Sports Editor
The 6-foot 5-inch pitcher winds up and delivers a 90 mph fastball right down the pipe. The 6-foot-3-inch batter times the pitch and makes contact with the ball to send a line drive directly back towards the mound where the helpless pitcher stands.
No matter how good the pitcher's reaction time is, however, he has no chance of avoiding a baseball that is coming directly towards his face at speeds exceeding 105 mph.
If the pitcher's lucky he'll get a glove on the ball or he'll be struck in a spot where the pain will be somewhat tolerable. But this time, the ball hits the pitcher in the face.
Unfortunately, accidents like this happen occasionally in baseball. There is no way of preventing them from happening, but there is a way to reduce their frequency.
Welcome in the wooden bat.
With recent technologies, aluminum bats have undergone a vast transformation. Baseball's latest bats are more so weapons than pieces of sporting equipment that can take the ball yard on any given swing.
When aluminum bats were first introduced, they were considered to be a cheaper alternative for players because wood bats tended to break easily during games. From the little leagues to collegiate ball, it can be very costly for a player to replace a bat multiple times during a season.
An aluminum bat can cost a player anywhere from $100 to $400, depending on the bat's capabilities. A player should be able to get at least a couple seasons out of their aluminum bat.
Wooden bats average around $50 each. For a stronger, longer lasting wood such as maple, it'll cost upwards of $80. It makes more sense to go with aluminum because with a wood bat, players always need to have a back-up bat in case one breaks.
But is making the game less expensive for college players worth subjecting them to the dangers of aluminum bats?
Major League Baseball has never allowed their players to pack this kind of heat, but aluminum has been prevalent in college and high school level baseball since the late 1970's.
Don't get me wrong, wood bats aren't perfectly safe. The MLB still has their fair share of incidents, but they are still considerably safer than aluminum.
Players today are bigger and stronger. Putting an aluminum bat in the hands of a 6-foot-plus, 21-year-old is just as dangerous as putting a 12-year-old behind the steering wheel of a car.
College baseball players are strong enough to hit the ball far without the help of an aluminum weapon.
I've been playing in a wooden bat summer baseball league for the past couple years and even I can turn on a fastball and hit it over the fence with maple. I'm by no means at the same skill level as a college baseball player.
Most young players today have experience using wood bats. There are many summer leagues that prepare players for professional baseball.
The Cape Cod League is the most prestigious collegiate level summer baseball league and has produced a number of MLB stars. They have never let their players use aluminum.
As someone who has been around the game of baseball my entire life, America's favorite pastime feels more natural and pure with wooden bats.
Aluminum is great for younger players, but it gets to a point where the game starts to seem artificial when metal bats are used.
If safety isn't enough of a reason to make the switch, let's do it for the purity of the game.
Many students at UB would love to be living in California, but for one freshman, moving from the Golden State to the Queen City was a welcoming change.
Softball first baseman Jessica Griffin is a long way from home. But for Griffin, making the trek across the country to join the Bulls was the right choice.
Born and raised in Placentia, Calif., Griffin grew up under the rays of the sun with her feet in the sand for much of her life. Making the transition from fun in the sun to sleet, snow and cold is usually tough for most people. But for Griffin, the weather was overshadowed by more important factors when she decided to come to Buffalo.
"When I came on my visit here I really liked the environment. I felt like I was on a college campus [and] everyone was really dedicated to making sure that athletes had the academic focus that we needed," Griffin said. "[They had a] really strong work ethic and I liked the diversity of the school."
As an international studies major, diversity played a large role in Griffin's decision to attend Buffalo. She felt that understanding where people came from was very important.
Griffin has started every game for the Bulls at first base this season and has made her presence in the line up felt by opponents.
Just ask Louisiana Tech.
In the third game of a triple-header, Griffin went 2-for-4 with four RBIs and blasted her first career home run in a 10-7 victory over the Lady Techsters.
"It was very exciting to get those first few hits out of the way, [and getting my] first home run out of the way felt great," Griffin said.
Difference making performances from Griffin will be a common sight in the near future as she progresses and learns the ways of playing Division I softball. Griffin feels that her best attributes were on display during the Tech game.
"I like to feel like I bring power to the team. I really want to bring clutch timing and a presence," Griffin said.
But Griffin has a bigger goal that she would like to accomplish: bringing home a Mid-American Conference Championship is something she feels the team can accomplish this season.
"I really want to win [the] MAC," Griffin said. "Definitely the goal is to get to the MAC tournament and be champions there and [then] go to regionals and so forth."
During spring break, the softball team traveled to California to play games in San Diego and Long Beach, a homecoming of sorts for Griffin. San Diego is roughly two hours from her hometown and Long Beach was a short drive of 20 minutes.
Griffin was excited for the opportunity to play close to home as her family and friends attended the games. She looked forward to catching some of her high school team's games while she was back on the west coast as well.
Although she is enjoying Buffalo, Griffin did admit it would be nice to get back to the more desirable weather of southern California.
"Weather [in California] was great," Griffin said. "[A] tiny difference from here."
Although the results weren't ideal, four young wrestlers gained valuable experience at the NCAA Championships.
Sophomores Desi Green, Kevin Smith and John-Martin Cannon, as well as junior Jimmy Hamel, all competed at the NCAA Wrestling Championships over the weekend in Omaha, Neb.
After battling through injuries throughout the first day, Cannon and Hamel were eliminated, while Green and Smith each advanced in consolation rounds before being defeated.
"It's just the nature of the NCAA championships," said Bulls' head coach Jim Beichner. "One guy leaves happy and one guy doesn't."
Competing in the 149-pound weight class, No 18. nationally ranked Green defeated Virginia's Shawn Harris in a 9-8 decision in his first bout. In the following match, No. 6 ranked wrestler, Matt Kyler of Army, shut out Green, 9-0.
On the second day of action, Green met Mid-American Conference rival and No. 19 ranked Seth Morton of Ohio University. At the MAC Championships earlier in the month, Green defeated Morton to win the individual crown. The results weren't any different this time around as Green won the match 5-4 to advance to the fourth consolation round.
Green's NCAA trip came to an end against No. 16 Andrew Nadhir of Northwestern. Down 6-3, Green battled his way back into the match to even the score at six, but Nadhir regained control of the match to edge out Green in a 9-6 decision.
Making his first appearance at an NCAA Championship, 17th ranked Smith wrestled in the 133-pound weight class.
Smith's tournament began with his toughest opponent of the season in a bout with No. 3 Daniel Dennis of Iowa. After a close first period in which Smith trailed 2-1, Dennis pulled away for a 6-2 victory. Dennis eventually won championship in the weight class.
Later in the day, Smith notched his first victory by defeating Jimmy Kirchner of Rider, 11-5, to advance to the third consolation round.
Smith was set for a rematch with 14th ranked Steve Mytych of Drexel, who defeated Smith 6-4 at the East Stroudsburg Duals earlier in the year.
After a closely contested first period, Mytych held a 3-2 lead over Smith and held on to win the match, 5-2.
Also making his first appearance in the Championships, Cannon competed at the 165-pound weight class. Struggling with an injury against No. 5 ranked Colt Sponsellor of Ohio State, Cannon was defeated by pin fall at 6:22.
Cannon was also defeated by 10th ranked Paul Young of Indiana. Cannon kept the match close through the first period but trailed by a slim margin of 2-1. Cannon decided to keep wrestling despite taking an injury timeout in the second period, but eventually by a 10-2 decision.
Making his second-straight NCAA appearance, Hamel wrestled in the 197 pound weight class and met 20th ranked Micah Burak of Penn in the first round. After an exciting extra overtime match, Hamel was defeated by a score of 6-5.
In his next match, Hamel held an early 3-0 advantage over Tyler Sorenson of South Dakota State. Sorenson came back to win the match 5-3 to eliminate Hamel.
The Bulls only lose three seniors and should be able to utilize the experience gained this year to compete in the MAC and national championships next season.
With a halftime lead, the women's basketball team looked as though it would pull off an upset, but a mess of turnovers cost the Bulls a win on senior night.
There's no denying that the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver have been as competitive as ever. Many people consider the games to be a gathering of the greatest athletes in the world, but is this true?
Are these really the world's greatest athletes?
I don't think so.
Geographic location and socio-economic status limit the exposure of many of these winter sports. Athletes that partake in these games – for the most part – were born into an ideal situation that allowed them to find success in their event. I don't want to take anything away from these athletes, because they dedicate their lives to their sports, but they are only the best of a small percentage of people around the world.
Many Winter Olympic events require athletes to spend an unfathomable amount of money on expensive equipment and specialized training that is necessary to achieve great success. Not everyone has the means to even think about being involved in such sports at a young age.
The cost of picking up snowboarding can run someone around $1,000 on equipment alone, not to mention the additional expenses that arise every time the boarder grows. Just to get on a mountain alone costs no less than $50 for a lift ticket, unless you buy a season pass for about $500.
Now imagine how much it would cost for one to be good enough to compete in the Olympics.
Expenses aside, geography limits many would-be competitors too. Only people in certain regions of the country have the ability to participate in certain winter sports, limiting the competing population even more.
Sports such as figure skating require a lifelong commitment. Think about male figure skater Johnny Weir, who is considered to be one of the best figure skaters in the United States. Weir picked up figure skating at the age of 11, which is considered very late for an Olympian. By the age of 12, his family had moved from Pennsylvania to Delaware so he could be closer to his coach and training rink.
This demonstrates not only his parents' dedication to establishing a figure skating career for Johnny, but also proves that location matters. They moved to another state with the hopes that their son would someday hold a gold medal on an international podium. But what if they couldn't afford the training or the taxes in Delaware?
Another sport I question is curling.
For those of you who aren't familiar with curling, it's nothing more than heaving a heavy stone down a narrow ice rink toward a target – similar to shuffleboard. Two teammates use brooms to sweep in front of the stone to direct its path towards a strategically targeted spot.
But seriously, who curls?
At what point in your life do you realize that you are good enough to be in the Olympics for curling? I personally think our curling team is recruited from the country's best janitors. I overheard during the curling broadcast that a lot of our team's training takes place in a bar. If that's really the case, there's a chance I could be the best curler in the world – but no one would ever know.
Furthermore, the competition for an athlete to qualify for the Olympics in sports such as skiing, speed skating or luge is nowhere near what it is for a sport like basketball. I don't mean to disrespect these athletes and their abilities. What Shaun White did this year in the snowboarding half-pipe competition was amazing. But who's to say there is not someone out there that is better, but just hasn't had the means to pick up the sport?
The competitors in these sports emerged from such a small population that it would be ignorant to call them the greatest athletes in the world. Throw me some money, put me in skis and give me a mountain.
I'll be representing the red, white and blue come 2014.