Just as Chevrolet’s designers and engineers continue to reinvent driving, technology continues to reinvent baseball
By Tracey Savell Reavis
Americans have been enraptured by baseball since its invention in the late 1800s. But while the basic concept of hitting a ball with a bat and trying to score more runs than the other team remains the same, today’s version of the game is a vast improvement over the one played more than 100 years ago—thanks to a wide variety of technological advances. Here’s a look at baseball innovations that have changed the nature of our national pastime, in much the same way that Chevrolet is changing the nature of driving and, through Chevrolet MyLink Radio*, turning its vehicles into virtual sports command centers on wheels.
Gone are the old 42-ounce hickory bats favored by homerun hitter Babe Ruth. They were so 19th Century. With batters constantly seeking a new competitive edge, bat shape, size and materials have had to evolve. Louisville Slugger, the company that’s dominated the industry since carving its first bat in 1884, uses cutting-edge technology to meet the needs of current baseball players. The woods of choice these days are maple (a dense, harder timber that big swingers prefer) and ash (lighter and more flexible, giving homerun hitters a more forgiving sweet spot). Bats are put through a patented 360-degree compression process and an advanced finishing system to guarantee a 9H hardness: the highest rating available on the 21-level universal hardness scale. Hitters can chose from bat weights as low as 26 ounces and swing for the fences.
Move over fingerless mitts. The most notable changes in baseball gloves include material—going from cloth to leather—and webbing and cushioning, to help athletes catch and trap the ball better. Mizuno, a Japan-based company, designs innovative products to help not just professional baseball players but young, developing players as well—for whom they’ve spearheaded the unique Power Close glove technology. These are not your father’s baseball mitts. Mizuno placed a V-Flex Notch in the heel, creating a natural flex point in just the right position to help younger players easily close the glove with good form. An exclusive Tartan Flex Webbing locks in the ball for a more secure catch. These new technologies will allow the next generation of players to build a more solid foundation as they graduate to higher levels of play.
Innovations in protective equipment have extended the careers of countless baseball players—especially those behind the plate—by helping them avoid injury. Catchers face 95 mph wild pitches, redirected foul balls and base runners barreling for home. One of the first recorded uses of any form of face mask for protection was in 1876, when a Harvard University catcher used an adapted fencing mask. Today’s masks look more like they belong on a sci-fi movie set, but they offer superior protection. Sports manufacturer Easton employs exclusive gel-injected pads that stand up to abuse and reduce shock and vibration by up to 76 percent. Made from translucent polycarbonate, their lightweight headgear is similar to what hockey players wear. It protects the top, sides and back of the head, while the wide, cage-like opening in the front expands the catcher’s peripheral vision so he can see and avoid potential dangers.
Leather and laces were the sole materials of early baseball shoes, with not much technology factored into their construction. Cleats were practical, giving ball players traction as they ran the bases and chased down balls in the grass. These shoes remained relatively unchanged for decades. But baseball players in this century can thank Mizuno’s research and development team for designing the world’s first mechanical midsole: the Mizuno Wave. As the company notes on its website, Wave footwear technology takes its inspiration from “your car’s suspension,” offering cushioning and stability. Specifically designed for running bases, swinging at the plate and throwing out batters, these innovative cleats adjust to the natural movements of a foot in motion, reducing and redirecting impact forces away from the foot. And the type of leather used to make these shoes, along with their compact form, mean they’re sleek and light, provide a more natural and comfortable fit, and give better traction. Just as new technologies in lighting brought us the first night game in 1935, innovative changes in baseball continue to illuminate exciting new ways for legions of next-generation fans to enjoy the game.
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Tracey Savell Reavis is a freelance sportswriter who has worked for Sports Illustrated, the NBA and CBS Sports. She is currently writing a book on the career of David Beckham.
*MyLink functionality varies by model. Full functionality requires compatible Bluetooth and smartphone, and USB connectivity for some devices.