As field dimensions go, few are more hitter friendly than Warwick's overgrown backyard, where it's 289 and 293 feet down the lines. With the wind blowing out, a check swing might have a chance to get out.
Yet six games in "Raiderland," as they call it, have produced all of seven home runs. A year ago at this stage of the season, 13 had been hit out of Warwick's launching pad.
Baseball coaches around the country are seeing similar results — some not as extreme, some probably more so. It's the byproduct of new bat restrictions put forward by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which went into effect this season.
The Federation has banned all composite bats that are not Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) certified. Bats now carry less of a trampoline effect and have a shortened sweet spot. This leads to a reduced speed of batted balls — or, as they say in baseball, "less pop."
The intent was to make the game safer and to give pitchers standing 60 feet, 6 inches away more time to react to frightening line drives. Coaches understand that, but they also say it's dramatically impacted the game.
"It's absolutely night and day," Warwick coach Todd Barker said. "If you get ahold of one perfectly, it'll still be out of our place. But the bats now have a smaller sweet spot, so there's not as much pop. We've seen tons of balls hit to the gap that in past years would be home runs or doubles but are now routine fly balls."
Years ago at York High, Robb Berryman hit a fly ball off of the handle to the fence in deep center as his aluminum bat amazingly broke in two. On Monday at York, Tim Kelly, perhaps the Falcons' most feared power hitter since the Berryman era, crushed a ball off the sweet spot of his BBCOR bat. It hit the center-field fence on the fly.
Similar bombs a year ago accounted for eight Kelly home runs on a York team that hit 20. Kelly owns the one home run York has through 10 games this season, and that came at hitter-friendly Jamestown.
"The sweet spot on these bats is a lot shorter, and you've got to try and hit it on that sweet spot every time," said Poquoson outfielder Dylan Hill, whose six career homers all came before this season. "If not, you're not going to have any umph on the ball.
"You can't think home run anymore. Now we're working on hitting middle-to-right side of the field, getting line drives in the gap for base hits and just worrying about getting on base."
Bay Rivers District hitters are doing just that, because the reduced pop in the bats has not led to a corresponding reduction in runs. Run production in the Bay Rivers actually has increased from 11.12 per game in 2011 to 13.18 runs per game through the first 10 play-dates this season.
While acknowledging that fly balls are traveling 20-to-30 feet less on average than a year ago, York coach Rusty Ingram thinks the new bats have led to improved hitting in the Bay Rivers. His Falcons (9-1) — tied atop the district with Grafton — have scored 124 runs in 10 district games after scoring 137 in 18 games en route to the 2011 district title.
"It is a big difference in home runs," Ingram said. "But at the same time, knowing that, we've worked really hard teaching the kids how to hit properly and understanding a new approach at the plate.
"If you take a backside approach and try to hit the ball the other way, it lets you stay on the ball a lot longer and square it up. That in itself has allowed us to be a much stronger offensive team."
Runs are down this year in the Peninsula District, although not as much as you might expect. In 2011, the average PD game's run total was 11.9. Just past the midpoint this year, it's 11.2.
It's fair to suggest this year's average run total might be in the 10.5 range this season if not for the graduation of five premier pitchers: Kecoughtan's Jake Cave, Woodside's Brett Mays, Menchville's Deshorn Lake, Warwick's Brandon Vick and Denbigh's Aaron Myers.
Cave signed with the New York Yankees, who drafted him in the sixth round. The other four are freshmen pitchers at Division I programs this spring.
A reduction in Division I-level arms in the Bay Rivers from a year ago also has made the transition more forgiving on hitters. Tabb's Jared Lyons and Patrick Corbett, and Smithfield's Kevin Griffey graduated and are playing in D-I.
East Carolina-bound Kyle Majette of Jamestown has not thrown a pitch this season because of back soreness, while York's Kelly, a Virginia Tech signee, has not thrown in nine games because of a sore shoulder. Grafton's Blake Ream (Longwood) has only recently gotten significant mound time after starting baseball late because he helped the Clippers reach the state basketball championship game.
"The amount of quality pitching is not the same, and, overall, everyone's pitching is younger this season," Poquoson coach Ken Bennett said.
Still, the coaches and players are seeing a huge difference in the bats.
"It might not be much of a big difference in terms of numbers on the scoreboard, but in high school you have more kids who can't throw strikes and commit errors," Woodside coach Kevin Hare said. "One thing I have noticed is that you have to put hits together more now.
"Maybe that's why you've seen some lower teams beating some upper teams. I think it's leveled the playing field, to be honest with you."
Last year, Woodside hit 13 home runs. So far this season, it has three — two at Warwick, one at Menchvile's cozy field.
"I feel these bats are showing who the true hitters are in the district," Wolverine catcher Anthony Rouleau said. "Last year with the more powerful bats, the contact would go so far. Now, with the smaller sweet spot, it's showing who the true hitters are."
Grafton center fielder Kyri Washington, a Longwood University signee, said he realized hard-hit balls were flying 20 feet less during the summer, when he began experimenting with the BBCOR bats. The discovery sent him sprinting for the weight room and he's done fine: batting .525 at midseason.
"I knew I'd have to work to get stronger, so I started lifting a lot of weights using the legs and forearms," he said. "Guys that I talked to in college (where BBCOR bats became mandatory in 2011) said home runs have been cut in half, and there's a lot more bunting."
Bennett says that increase in bunting is true as well on the high school level.
"I've seen the bunt used more this year than in the past five years, especially up and down the lineup," he said. "You used to see it in a certain place, and you could count someone bunting in the (Nos.) 8 or 9 (batting) spots.
"No you might see a 5 or 6 hitter bunt, depending on the situation."
Though the scoring isn't significantly different, the power numbers are. Last season, the top four teams in the standings — Woodside, Menchville, Kecoughtan and Warwick — combined for 59 home runs. Going into Friday's games, they had 15.
"One thing it's really done is take away the opposite field," Hampton coach Danny Mitchell said. "What used to be home runs or doubles to the alley are now ground balls to second base."
From the defense's perspective, with balls hit not quite as sharp as in the past, things aren't as tough.
"A lot of ground balls aren't as hard as they used to be," Woodside second baseman Justin Carter said. "It's a lot easier to make plays and get outs."
Pitchers can get away with mistakes more often.
"You're not as afraid to pitch inside as much," Bennett said. "You don't have to have an 85-87 mph kid to pitch inside now.
"You can have an 82-83 mph kid come inside because the margin of error for hitters is smaller. And you don't have to have as overpowering a pitcher to succeed on the mound."
Ingram said, "A pitcher can attack both side of the plate without fear of giving up a bomb. It allows you to throw an array of pitches.
"If you just throw fastballs all day, you're not going to be successful."
And pitchers don't feel as vulnerable.
"It's a lot safer out there now," Kecoughtan pitcher Nate Matheson said. "I don't have to worry as much about getting hit in the face or leg, something that would cause me to miss a lot of games. And even if I do, it wouldn't be like one of those (more powerful) bats."
Warhill pitcher Teddy West said, "I took a ground ball off the head a couple of years ago, but nothing too scary. It's definitely reassuring to know the balls aren't jumping off the bats like they were, but if you hit it hard they're still going to go."
IN THE PD
(District games only)
Bethel;6.1 per game;5.6
IN THE BRD