What does the iconic sport of baseball and trees have in common? Before the advent of aluminum, there was only one choice of material for a bat – the heartwood of the American White Ash tree (Fraxinus americana). The strength and springiness of the wood when crafted into a bat are the characteristics favored by many batters. The manufacture of White Ash bats comprise nearly half of all the bat production at the Louisville Slugger company. Unfortunately, many of the great trees of the United States, like the American Chestnut, Sugar Maple, American Elm, and now the White Ash are succumbing to devastating pests and diseases. Just as other plants have become extinct we are now looking at entire tree species being wiped from the landscape. This is especially true for the “batter’s tree.”
The range for the White Ash extends from Texas to Ontario, east to the Atlantic Ocean, but it has been estimated that more than 50 million of this tree species has been killed by the damaging effect in the burrowing nature of the Emerald Ash Borer beetle. Scientists, including the Louisville Slugger company are working in concert to slow the beetle’s dispersion by campaigning homeowners and campers to use local or heat-treated firewood. This partnership will allow forest managers and scientists time to prepare for infestations by slowing the spread of the Ash Borer. They are quickly looking for ways to breed trees with immunity toward certain diseases, introducing predators to attack insects, and working with National Forests across the United States in reforesting projects. It will take more than a few fans and professional baseball players to save the White Ash. Our nation needs to “step up to the base,” and be prepared for the change up Mother Nature pitched. Baseball is an iconic sport full of nostalgia and nothing is more thrilling than to hear the crack of a baseball as it makes contact with a (White Ash) wood bat!