Trees and Baseball
For decades, the makers of baseball bats used wood from ash trees to provide just the right feel for hitting homers. The density and loose grain of ash wood gives the bat a “trampoline” effect, producing a boost that can drive the ball further and faster.
But recently, ash bats have been sidelined due to a tiny beetle, the Emerald Ash Borer, which was accidentally introduced to the United States from Asia in wood packing material. The larvae feed on ash tree’s inner bark, blocking the transport of water and nutrients. So far, these insects have killed over seven billion ash trees.
The beetle has spread rapidly throughout the country because here, they have no natural enemies. Researchers are exploring whether predators in the beetles’ native habitats could be brought over to control the insect spread across the country.
Ash bats also took a hit in 2001, when Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs using bats made from sugar maple trees. Suddenly, everyone wanted a maple bat. What’s the difference between these two woods? The greater density of maple wood means players can lean into hitting the ball with as much power as they can give it.
And bats are not the only way trees show up in the batter’s box. Just before they step up to home plate, most players rub sticky dabs of pine tar – derived from Scot’s pine trees — on their bat handles. It improves their grip, giving the ball more pop on contact.
Trees have been part of sports history for years, from basketball floors to golf clubs to pool cues. But baseball is one of the few sports that still relies on wood’s natural properties to play — and win — the game. Maybe we should be singing, “Root root root for the home tree.”