I’ve been reading about the beginning of baseball season and thinking about my dad and my brother and my brother-in-law and their relationship and love of the game. All men, but baseball is not only for men as we know—remember “League of Their Own” and the amazing Mo’ne Davis, the teenage female baseball sensation a couple of years back. Anyway thinking of baseball season, my thoughts turn to mitts, balls, and of course bats and that draws me back to nature.
Bats, especially those used by professional players, are usually made of white ash Fraxinus americana, a wood known for its clean grain and strength—to get technical white ash is called “ring-porous,” which means that for every year of growth there are concentrations of large earlywood cells and then there is a transition to smaller latewood cells. So there are lower rings per inch, which makes for stronger bats. Here’s another fact—bat manufacturers put their logo on the flat-grain face of the baseball bat and baseball players know to hit with the logo up. That way the baseball, if it makes contact (as it did not when I played the game), hits the edge-grain of the white ash bat. This is analogized to hitting the edge of a deck of cards and doing that keeps the bat strong and intact.
Anyway all this might be moot because white ash is a threatened species of tree. Fraxinus americana is threatened by the insect you can see in my drawing—the emerald ash borer (EAB), Agrilus planipennis, sad to say a rather pretty insect that was first found in the US in Michigan in 2002 probably in a shipping crate arriving from its native Asia. Since 2002, the EAB has killed hundred of millions of ash trees in North America. It doesn’t kill the trees by eating the leaves although it does that; what is the killer is that its larvae feed on the inner bark of the tree. That disrupts the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. The Emerald Ash Borer website has lots of information about what to do to prevent further damage to the white ash trees, certainly not because of baseballs bats, but because these trees are a treasure; their fruit is a source of nutrients for small mammals, song birds, and ground birds. To help you recognize these beautiful trees, they have pinnately (feather-shaped) compound leaves that are green on top and whitish underneath, hence the name. So next time, you go to a baseball game and hear that crack of the speeding ball hitting the bat, think about white ash and what we can do to keep it alive and thriving.