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Baseball vs Lafayette - Spencer Branigan Credit: Dan Getelman

If chicks really do dig the long ball, the Penn baseball position players might be in for a rough surprise when making the rounds this spring.

In the wake of alarmingly high scoring contests that endangered pitchers and dragged ballgames on for hours, the NCAA took action this season with the institution of their new line of “bat-ball coefficient of restitution” bats. The new lumber — though still metal — has a smaller sweet spot and severely decreased “pop,” much to the chagrin of the Quakers lineup.

“It definitely changes the game a lot,” first baseman Spencer Branigan conceded. “I’ve been working on hitting the ball the opposite way and putting it on the ground … Last year I could hit the ball out even if I didn’t hit it on the sweet spot. This year, you really have to barrel it up to get it out of the park.”

Coach John Cole, however, isn’t as concerned with the impending dip in power numbers.

“It makes you play baseball instead of gorilla ball,” Cole explained. “Base on balls, hit by pitches and errors are really going to escalate now because you can’t cover up so much the next inning with a three-run home run. So the little things I like — it’s true baseball, and I enjoy it.”

Cole used Vanderbilt, a former No. 1 team in the country according to the USA Today coaches poll, as an example. Through their first six undefeated games, the Commodores have not hit a single home run.

“That’s amazing. That’s a big change,” he said.

The Penn hurlers, understandably, are of a similar mind.

“I think it was a really good decision,” junior righty Vince Voiro said. “The numbers that people were putting up were ridiculous. It was just a completely different game than it should be.”

Not only will the new bats help the pitchers lower their earned run averages, they might save a life or two.

“It’s definitely going to make the game safer for a lot of people,” Voiro said.

The rule change is expected to drastically affect strategy, as the decreased power naturally favors a “small-ball” style of play.

“It’s definitely changed your approach to the game,” Cole said. “You’ve got to really be strong on the little things. Holding runners, bunt coverages and challenging balls in the zone.”

Cole mentioned he also plans to shift his corner outfielders in to take away weakly hit opposite-field bloopers.

The outfielders will also have to adjust to the new “ping” of the bat, which they use to make their reads.

On offense, Penn’s style will change substantially.

“We’ve relied on home runs a lot and we’re going to have to play small-ball now,” Voiro said. “We’re going to have to bunt, we’re going to have to move guys over, and that’s why the game’s going to be become a little more intricate.”

Cole said his focus in recruiting has also shifted to accommodate the new style of play.

“That six-foot 180-pound guy who’s a tweener, average speed, average power, hits some doubles — now I don’t know if he has a place anymore,” Cole said. “You might get some smaller guys who can really scoot, and the guys have to be real big and strong to drive the ball. So you’ve gotta go after more speed, no doubt.”

But come opening day — this Saturday for Penn on a spring break trip to Florida — there’s certainly still a spot for the sluggers in Penn’s lineup.

“I’ve got to work on a lot of bunting,” Branigan said. “But if you hit the ball on the barrel, it’ll still travel, which is what I like.”

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