July 27, 2020 /
Jona Elwell

Which Tree Wood Make the Best Bat?

While it was an unusual, rainy, and shortened, Opening Day in D.C. last week, we’re still thrilled to see baseball’s return (even if it didn’t go the way we wanted). We originally posted this when we won the World Series and wanted to share in honor of Nats Opening Day and the beginning of short, but hopefully, sweet season.

Our scrappy, D.C. hometown team the Nationals recently won the WORLD SERIES! We celebrated when they won, we celebrated with a parade, and we’re gonna keep celebrating by looking at the crucial role trees play in baseball. After all, you can’t hit homers without one very important piece of equipment – a wooden bat ?

Much like guitars, bats can be made from a variety of lumber and different trees have different qualities. Hollow metal (such as aluminum) and composite bats are now standard in most amateur baseball and some professional leagues outside of North America. The non-wooden bats can hit the ball much harder and further than wooden bats, and many leagues are now placing restrictions on their performance. Hilariously enough, the Major League has pretty low key rules about bats – one stipulation is the bat shall be one piece of solid wood. So just what kind of trees make bats?

Maple is a dense wood that gives a baseball bat a heavier feel. Density is directly related to hardness and durability. The denser the wood used to make a bat, the more durable a bat will be and the more pop it will have – perfect for those game-changing homers. We can help you plant a Red Maple for free on your property! While you probably won’t plant it to harvest its wood for bats, you can enjoy its brilliant fall color, the money you saved, and the goodwill from re-treeing D.C.

Before maple bats became popular, most traditional wood bats were made of ash. Ash is more flexible than maple, which many players believe allows them to “whip” the barrel through the hitting zone creating more bat speed. Ash is the lightest type of wood bat and offers an excellent combination of strength and forgiveness with its flexible feel. Enjoy these while they last, as Ash trees throughout North America are being decimated by the invasive pest Emerald Ash Borer [EAB]. Due to EAB we don’t plant ash trees, we’d be happy to add a Hackberry, which is a low-maintenance shade tree that can handle just about anything, to your yard (for free!).

Birch bats blend the hard-hitting surface found in maple bats with a lighter, more flexible feel similar to ash. Its flexibility comes from the fact that birch is a softer wood that allows a player to create more whip and generate more bat speed. However, since they’re so soft most birch bats will need to have a “break-in” period in order for the bat to harden as a result of the repetitive impact from hitting the baseball. Remind yourself of Nats Stadium, which sits alongside the Anacostia River, when you plant a River Birch in your yard for free!

Mid-production bats at Victus Sports. Photo courtesy John George

While they’re not legal in the Major leagues, composite wood (a combo of composite materials and wood) bats and Bamboo wood bats are the most durable designs on the market.

Overall, over the course of the last 20 years, Maple bats have emerged as the most popular species of wood used by players at the major league level.  This is due to the hardness, durability, and overall performance of the wood. Maple bats make up approximately 75% to 80% of all bats used at the major league level.

Bonus baseball and tree-related content – why have I heard about pine tar and baseball?

In baseball, pine tar (which comes from the stumps and roots from pine trees) is that brownish-black, tacky substance some players decide to put on the handle of their bats to help improve their grip and prevent the bat from flying out of their hands. It also allows players to have a more relaxed grip, which can provide more pop on contact. 

Top photo courtesy of Getty Images.