My youngest son, a high school freshman baseball player, correctly takes all of his batting practice with wood – I love it when they internalize good habits. While most of his teammates use metal for batting practice, few use wood and fewer still know how to hit with wood. My son has accumulated an interesting collection of wood bats so occasionally his teammates ask to try his. The downside to his generous nature is that I have a corner of my office dedicated to cracked and broken bats, many of which were lent to other players during batting practice. I’d rather have them be better batters and break a few bats than not learn the right way to hit with wood.

Yesterday, I got to practice early and was watching the last few players take batting practice in the cages. One of my son’s teammates asked to borrow one of his bats – a pro-grade wood bat given to him by an Indians minor leaguer who he takes lessons with. The kid stepped into the batters box, looked at the bat, checked the label, set his grip and took some cuts. Interestingly, he did the same thing I’ve seen major leaguers do during batting practice and even in games. After each hit, he carefully rolled the bat in his hands about a quarter of a turn – perfectly following the written instructions included with every metal bat.

The sound of flat-grain contact on the ash bat was clearly flat and lacked the crisp pop you hear when an ash bat properly hits a ball on the edge-grain. I subtly pointed this out to my son who promptly stopped the coach from pitching and stepped in to explain the “label-up” requirement of hitting with wood. The batter was a bit confused by this “label-always up or down” approach to hitting but accepted the advice and got back in the box. After a few more swings, he began to roll the bat in his hands again, a habit that almost cost my son another one of his bats. Fortunately, the bat survived and the label-up lesson continued while they packed up their gear.

Here are the three most important things young players need to know about hitting with wood:

1.       Always grip the bat with the label facing up – some prefer label down. After a few solid contacts, check your barrel to see where you are making contact with the ball. If the marks are closer to the label, slightly roll the label away from the marks next time you hit. If the marks are more to the back of the barrel, rotate the label slightly forward. Pay close attention to where the label is, so you make consistent contact with the side of the barrel.

2.       The “sweet spot” on a wood bat is, generally speaking, roughly 2.5″ long verses five to six on metal and starts about four to five inches from the end of the barrel, depending on the bat. The goal is to consistently hit on the sweet spot. Here’s a video on how to find the exact sweet spot on a wood bat – http://lockerdome.com/media/106646915

3.       To help your wood bat last longer, tape the barrel with athletic tape then mark the sweet spot area witha ring of colored tape to mark the sweet spot. Also, avoid hitting rubber batting cage balls with your wood bat, they dish out a lot of abuse to wood. You’ll still break a few bats during practice sessions but far fewer when you tape and hit with standard baseballs.

Practicing with wood makes player’s better hitters – the sweet spot of a wood bat is so much smaller than a metal bat. Hitters learn to avoid the sting of hitting off the end or the handle with wood and become much more accurate and consistent hitters over time. Hitting with wood bats is a fine art – just remember to admire the artistic label on the bat before you take your cuts.