Slowpitch baseball is a bit different than the baseball most people think of and, as such, requires its own bats. The main difference is the baseball; rather than the usual hardball most people are used to, slowpitch baseball uses a softball, a larger, mushier ball that requires more force in order to get the same distance. The newest ball is designed to be a little safer than previous balls, meaning that it bounces more. As the American Softball Association has also changed the rules for which bats are acceptable, teams must ensure that they are compliant with the new requirements in order to compete in ASA games.
In 2013, the ASA introduced the .52 COR 300 compression softball. The old bats were incompatible with the new softball; while the new softball was meant to enhance safety for players, it made it easier for composite bats that were not meant for the ball to break or otherwise become damaged. While the bats that had been certified from 2000-2004 are still fine for Outlaw Leagues and some WSL events, they are not acceptable in ASA sanctioned events and altering bats can result in a ban of two to five years.
Also, players usually find themselves in two different camps: balanced and end loaded. Generally, contact or “base” hitters prefer to use balanced bats, where the weight is distributed evenly throughout the entire bat; this results in a lower moment of inertia than end-loaded bats and, therefore, a faster swing. Players that can already generate a high swing speed prefer an end-loaded bat; these bats have an extra load of a half to a full ounce in the tip and sometimes up to three ounces. These bats can add distance to the ball hit.
Most NSA slowpitch softball bats have a 2-1/4 diameter barrel and are 34 inches long. The bats can weigh from 26 to 30 ounces; smaller players and those looking for a higher swing speed tend to use lower weights, while larger players and those looking for a greater distance should look for heavier bats. As noted above, bats also come in balanced and end-loaded flavors. If you are unsure which bat you prefer, swing the bat a couple of times; the one you are comfortable with is the bat you should be using. You will need to choose the material it is made of: wooden, aluminum, composite, and hybrid.
What Your Bat is Made Of
Most bats are wooden, followed by aluminum. Wooden bats come in ash, birch, and maple and are usually cheaper; however, because they break more often, that advantage is usually lost; this makes aluminum the cheaper bat overall. The best swings come from the label being up and from their smaller sweet spot. Wood bats are usually cupped at the end to decrease swing weight and are usually heavier than aluminum bats. Aluminum bats tend to feel stiffer when they hit and are better in cold weather. They also tend to dent rather than break and are usually ready to go right from when they are purchased.
Composite bats are made of carbon fibers, and the barrel and handle may be mended together from two separate pieces. They crack when they break and tend to have an endurance somewhere between aluminum and wooden bats. They are also the most expensive bats. Composite bats are also known for their “trampoline effect”, or amount of pop; this tends to increase as the bat is worked in, usually requiring several hundred hits to maximize. This effect is regulated.
Hybrid bats usually have a composite handle and aluminum barrel; generally, this gives them a little more endurance than composite bats but also makes them a little less expensive. The bats have a better feel at contact due to the connective piece between the two materials. They are good-to-go right from being unwrapped. Variations of hybrid bats have composite barrels and aluminum handles as well as a soft composite shell over a hard aluminum inner barrel.
The Best Bat
With all of these different types of bats, there is obviously only one that is the best for you, but that one is going to depend on how you like to swing and what additional features you are looking for in a bat. As such, you are going to have to experiment with different bats to find the best one for you, and that is just an excuse to take a couple of bats and go play some softball.