The increasing number of metal bat bans by regional and state sanctioning bodies has become a political bone of contention.

Opponents have characterized the sweeping change to all wooden bats in North Dakota and the impending switch in New York City as an infringement upon personal freedom. Internet discussion boards have drawn parallels to the push to the ongoing public health discussions about smoking and fast food.

Even with metal bats being used almost exclusively, baseball has one of the best safety records of all youth sports.

Among all ages, basketball is responsible for almost twice as many emergency room visits, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And while the recorded number of deaths on the baseball diamond has averaged one to two per year over the last two decades, football’s numbers are far more striking.

Fifteen high school football players died in 1996. Seventeen were killed in 1999.

Many of those were the result of asthma attacks or heat-related illness. As traditionally hot-weather states made changes to their practice and game procedures, the number dropped to six in 2003.

Maine football hasn’t suffered a death or catastrophic injury in several decades, but that didn’t stop officials from making a preemptive strike. Last summer, the Maine Principals’ Association imposed time limits for the first week of football practice while prohibiting teams from practicing in full pads for the first several days.

It could be argued that in Maine, the risk of a pitcher being hit by a batted ball is greater than the chance of an offensive lineman collapsing due to heat exhaustion. Maine’s best pitchers commonly hit or exceed 85 mph on the radar gun. And while it’s spoken about in hushed tones, high school hitters today have access to all the over-the-counter supplements at your local drug store.

“You look at a guy in the Major Leagues, it’s different when he’s throwing in the 90s and with the strength of the guys hitting the ball back at him. The ball would just fly off the bat,” said umpire and Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School athletic director Jeff Benson. “I guess it’s all relative to strength.”

– Kalle Oakes

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