New Castle baseball coach Brad King stood in the third base coaching box and signaled for his batter Trey Ball to swing away 10 days ago in their game against Marion.
As the left-handed Ball, an imposing figure at the plate at 6-foot-6 and 180 pounds, dug in, the Marion third baseman glanced at King and said, "Hey, is that a wood bat he's using?"
The ping sound from aluminum bats smashing balls heard on high school fields takes a brief break whenever the New Castle senior steps to the plate. Ball leaves the metal in the dugout in favor of one of his 34-inch, 31-ounce Louisville Slugger wood bats.
King said opponents probably breathe a sigh of relief when Ball walks up with a wood bat in his hands. After all, the ball travels better when hit by aluminum. One cut from Ball puts them back on their toes, though.
"Once they see him swing it, they realize, hey, it's still a tough out," King said.
Brian Dudley said he has seen a few players swing a wood bat in his 30 years as coach at Wapahani, but never a player of Ball's talent.
A University of Texas commit and projected first-round pick in next month's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Ball played in all-star showcase tournaments last summer that required him to swing a wood bat. He so preferred hitting with wood that when he returned, he approached King about letting him use a wood bat this season.
"I love the sound of wood and being able to use it, so I went for it," Ball said. "I really don't care how far I hit the ball. I mean I still hit home runs with a wood bat, just as much I'd say as aluminum, so that aspect doesn't really have an effect on me."
Ball tops the Trojans in home runs with five through his first 18 games. He hit five dingers in 29 games last season.
The Trojans have practiced with wood bats throughout King's tenure, so he already knew before the season Ball was capable of hitting his share of moon shots with wood, too.
King noted only one at-bat this season when Ball missed on a home run that he might have hit out with aluminum. Ball blasted a shot into the teeth of the wind a month ago at Wapahani, and the right fielder managed to leap up at the fence and bring the ball back in for an out.
Ball supplies his own bats. He cracked the Louisville Slugger model he started the season with and is now on his second one.
"It didn't break off. It didn't splinter," King said. "But he cracked one, and I want to say the next time up, he used this black one he's using now, and he hit a home run with it. I said, 'Well, you should've been using that one the whole time.' "
Ball swinging a wood bat this spring will perhaps benefit him financially this summer. Major League Baseball scouts have flocked to New Castle practices and games this season to watch him both pitch and hit.
"I made sure when (scouts) came to my house, they knew that I was using wood this year. They all seemed surprised by it, but they all liked the idea."
The New Castle senior throws in the mid-90s, and given that he is 6-6 and left-handed, he admits he is probably a more intriguing pitching prospect. Some Major League Baseball organizations reportedly prefer him as an outfielder, though. He has the speed to chase down fly balls, and as he has proven last summer and this spring he has enough power to hit tape-measure shots with a wood bat.
"I honestly would go either way," Ball said. "It wouldn't have any effect on me, because I love doing both."