Frank Sweeney has been coaching American Legion baseball for 26 years at Springdale, but this is the first time he has ever coached in a Legion season where metal bats were banned as Pennsylvania instituted the rule this year in Legion baseball.
That is not to say Sweeney cannot coach a team that uses wooden bats.
Springdale is off to a 9-3 start with a 6-2 record in the Allegheny East League and it is swinging the wooden bats like it has been using them since Little League.
Springdale scored 17 runs in a recent game against Monroeville. Before that it scored 12 in a win against Plum.
"With a wooden bat you have to hit so it isn't going against the grain," Sweeney said. "If you hit that thing against the grain, the chances of it cracking are pretty good. If you hold it the right way, with the trademark up, chances are pretty good it is not going to break."
His players, 13 from Fox Chapel Area High School and two from Springdale High School, are listening. Through 12 games there have only been three broken bats, a number that pales in comparison to many other Legion teams in the area.
"As the season goes on and on, it is getting better," Sweeney said. "They know how to use it, they are hitting the ball better. [Monday night] we had two balls almost go over the fence -- they were the furthest balls we had this season. As it progresses on, they are getting better but not just our team, all the teams."
With the wooden bats, it is not just about the batters.
"The fielders are learning how to field better," Sweeney said. "They are adjusting to how the ball comes off the wooden bat. I am getting no complaints from my players."
Springdale went 17-6 overall last season with a 15-6 record in the Allegheny East Division. It lost to Penn Hills in the divisional playoffs. Penn Hills went on to the state tournament. Springdale lost a rematch against Penn Hills Monday night.
"You have Penn Hills, Shaler, Monroeville, Plum -- everyone is pretty good," Sweeney said. "Plum tied Penn Hills the other night, Monroeville beat Penn Hills, Shaler beat us, we beat Shaler. Anybody can beat anybody."
Springdale had to replace five starters from last season. Although the majority of the team is from the Fox Chapel school district, the overall ages of the players are mixed with players ranging from15 to 19 years old.
The top returning starters are Joe Palumbo and C.J. Smith. Smith, a Fox Chapel graduate, played at Bethany College this past school year. He is the ace of the Springdale staff. Smith is 4-1 so far this season and he plays third base when he is not pitching.
"He does everything," Sweeney said. "He has a good enough fastball, he can throw a changeup, a slider and he can even throw a curveball."
Palumbo is the starting shortstop for Springdale. He was a standout on the Fox Chapel team. In 19 games for the Foxes he batted .340 with 5 doubles, 3 triples and 17 RBIs. Palumbo recently graduated from Fox Chapel. Palumbo has been on a tear as of late, in a two-game span against Monroeville and Shaler last week he went 7 for 12 overall.
He was 5 for 5 in a 17-0 win against Monroeville and he was 2 for 4 in a 5-4 win against Shaler. Against Shaler he helped break a 4-4 seventh-inning tie when he led off the final inning with a triple and eventually came around to score the winning run. Palumbo starts at shortstop.
Springdale's next game is Sunday at Swissvale and it plays home Monday at Fox Chapel High School against Plum.
Springdale's Taylor Huber scores one of the nine runs in the first inning against Gateway in an American Legion baseball game.
First Published June 27, 2013 4:00 AM