Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Injury puts new focus on metal bats
RT Staff Note: This is in today's San Francisco Chronicle.
A day after he was hit in the head with a baseball, Gunnar Sandberg was in the hospital, shaking hands with nurses, visiting with friends and joyfully cracking his knuckles.
But Monday, the gregarious 16-year-old high school baseball player from Kentfield was clinging to life, and his school, Marin Catholic, was rethinking the use of metal baseball bats.
The school's baseball team switched from metal bats to wooden bats as a safety measure in Gunnar's honor after the March 11 practice game against De La Salle when a batter slammed a line drive into Gunnar's left temple. Gunnar, who usually plays second base, was on a temporary stint at pitcher when he was struck.
Players tend to hit harder with metal bats, which are lighter, and some coaches and parents argue that they've led to an increase in injuries. North Dakota and New York City have banned metal bats in youth baseball.
Gunnar was struck by a ball that was traveling at least 100 mph. He immediately collapsed on the pitching mound, tried to stand up, then fell again. He was transported to nearby Marin General Hospital, where he remained conscious for the next day or so, as he underwent brain scans and talked to family and friends, according to his sister, Kalli Sandberg.
Late March 12 his conditioned worsened, however, as his head began to swell and his movements slowed.
"He looked like a baby in a teenager's body," his sister wrote on a Web site. "His pupils were huge and unresponsive. ... It was so hard to see my little brother like this."
Doctors operated on his brain that night to alleviate the pressure and placed him in a chemical-induced coma.
On Thursday doctors stopped the chemicals, began another round of scans and are now awaiting his response.
His condition was described by his uncle, Chip Block, as "day to day, minute by minute."
Although family and friends are optimistic, the outlook is precarious, those familiar with the case said.
"They haven't gotten the signals from him they were hoping for," said Marin Catholic spokeswoman Becket Colombo. "But everyone's hopeful. Miracles happen."
More than 500 people attended a candlelight vigil for Gunnar on Sunday night at Creekside Park across from the hospital and adjacent to the high school.
Marin Catholic hosted a Mass in Gunnar's honor Monday, and students are wearing school colors, blue and white, today as a tribute.
"The mood here is hopeful, but very somber," Colombo said.
At a game last week, both Marin Catholic and Drake High School used wooden bats, and Marin Catholic plans to address the wooden-versus-metal bat issue on a game-by-game basis.
Opposed to bat ban
Little League, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the American Baseball Coaches Association are opposed to banning metal bats, saying the injury rate is not discernibly different than from wooden bats.
Metal bats have been in use since the 1920s, as a cost-effective solution to wooden bats occasionally snapping during games. By the 1970s they were in widespread use in high schools, and today they're used in nearly all youth baseball.
The North Coast Section, the umbrella group overseeing high school sports in much of the Bay Area, including Marin Catholic, follows national high school guidelines regulating bat safety, said commissioner Gil Lemmon.
Two studies have shown that balls hit by metal bats travel 4 mph faster than those hit by wooden bats, he said.
As far as he knows, Marin Catholic was in compliance with all safety regulations the day of the game, he said. Gunnar was not wearing a helmet, but pitchers are not required to do so, he said.
Playing since age 5
Gunnar has been playing baseball since he was 5, and is devoted to the sport, his uncle, Chip Block, said Monday.
Gunnar coaches youth baseball at St. Patrick's School in Larkspur and mentors dozens of kids on an informal basis, he said.
"He's a very giving, very funny, extremely sensitive, nice young man," Block said. "He's never said a bad word about anyone."
His family is enduring a roller coaster of tears, anger and hope, Block said.
"I tell Gunnar every day, my son wants to be just like him, so he can't go anywhere," Block said. "We need him to stick around. My kids love him too much."
E-mail Carolyn Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/03/23/MNBL1CJOT6.DTL#ixzz0j0hz3Rku