The Emerald Ash Borer swings away at ash bats in Major League Baseball

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Imagine a baseball season without the iconic crack of an ash bat. This could be reality thanks to the emerald ash borer, a tiny beetle causing massive destruction to ash trees across North America.

For decades, ash reigned supreme in baseball bats. From legendary players like Babe Ruth to modern sluggers like Mark McGwire, ash was the go-to material for its feel and performance. Companies like Hillerich & Bradsby, maker of the Louisville Slugger, churned out hundreds of thousands of ash bats annually.

However, the emerald ash borer has changed the game. This invasive insect, about the size of a rice grain, attacks ash trees by laying eggs under the bark. The larvae then feed on the tree’s vital nutrients, ultimately killing it. Since its arrival in the US in 2002, the borer has spread rapidly, leaving a trail of dead and dying ash trees in its wake.

The impact on baseball has been swift. Finding quality ash lumber is becoming increasingly difficult. Companies like Hillerich & Bradsby have had to adapt, now producing mostly low-end ash bats for casual use. Major League Baseball players, once loyal to ash, have transitioned to maple bats, which offer advantages in terms of hardness and consistency.

The future of ash in baseball seems bleak. Even if scientists manage to control the emerald ash borer, it could take generations for ash trees to recover. While other wood types like birch are being explored, they haven’t quite captured the hearts (or ears) of players.

This shift marks the end of an era for baseball. The sound of the ash bat hitting the ball, a sound synonymous with the game for so long, may fade away. The future of baseball bats belongs to maple, for now, leaving ash bats as a relic of a bygone era.

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