The Oldies and Their Goodies:
Old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man – James Thurber … And suddenly it happened to me. I remember the exact moment: Picture it – College Station, Texas, 2007…
I was at the annual Budweiser Festival softball tournament heading back into the sports complex for our second game. I’m thinking about the game we just won, the team we’re going to play next, the way the bracket was setting up for us … And as I walked toward the field with my loaded bat pack over my shoulder I passed an umpire heading out to the parking lot. He looked at me, waved, and said “How’s it going, Pops?”
My immediate reaction was to argue that call. But it was true. I wasn’t a kid anymore.
My second reaction was that I was not about to give up playing softball. I couldn’t see getting older as reason enough to stop playing ball and spending weekends with my extended softball family. And now, a decade later, you can still find me playing softball in USSSA Masters 35+, GSA 40+, and even SSUSA 50+ events. I’m certainly not alone: Senior Softball is currently the fastest growing category of slowpitch softball as players, like many of us who have been playing tournament ball their entire adult lives, are reaching the “advanced” ages of 40, 50 and beyond. And the bat manufacturing companies have taken notice.
This year there are more models of BPF 1.21 “Senior” softball bats being produced by more sporting goods manufacturers than ever before. And like the USSSA-sanctioned bats these companies have been making for years, they all perform pretty close to the performance limit. The science of making bats has advanced to the point that there is no “best bat” anymore; there is only the best bat for you. The trick to getting the most performance you can from your bat of choice is in choosing the bat you use best… as any older player will tell you.
Dudley Lightning Legend Series
There had been 1.21 BPF softball bats in the past, but the Senior softball bat Renaissance that we are going through now pretty much began with the Dudley Lightning Legend series of bats. Dudley jumped back into the bat game for the first time in 15 years with a vengeance when it revealed its seniors-only line of sticks two years ago – the Lightning Legend Balanced, Lightning Legend End Load and Lightning Legend Advanced Players Model. Despite having absolutely no momentum in the bat industry, it took mere months for Dudley to become the talk of the senior softball world. Before long, the Legends could be found at ever senior tournament across the country.
“By focusing on softball, Dudley is Softball Serious and whether it is the ZN softball or the Dudley Lightning Legend 2.0, we concentrate on both performance and durability,” said Tim Lord of Dudley/Spalding Diamond Sports. “This combination is what separates Dudley from the competition.”
There are a couple of more obvious things that separate the Dudley bats from the others. First, all three models are one-piece bats – practically unheard of in senior softball. Second, all three models have Dudley exclusive Grip-Spin Technology, a proprietary design that allows the barrel of the bat to “grip” the ball on contact and add distance. These features have actually been a part of all two-and-a-half generations of the Lightning Legend, but that doesn’t mean Dudley is standing still on its current success.
“Yes, we always strive to make even little changes from year-to-year to improve either performance or durability,” said Lord.
“One example that we can talk about is the Grip-Spin technology. In the 2.0 Series we have placed this just on the hitting area of the barrel where it can have the most impact on spin.”
They also addressed the issue that plagues all 1.21 BPF bats – durability.
“This is one area that Dudley has separated from the competition,” he continued. “It is Dudley’s proprietary pre-preg composite design that maximizes both performance AND durability.”
But even if you are just a simple softball player who doesn’t know anything about composite technology or bat design, there is a noticeable difference in the Legend 2.0 – the use of color. Where last year’s bats were black and black, black and white, and black and white (with a maroon tint), this year’s bats are seafoam green, royal blue and tangerine orange. So this year you won’t have to take a double look at the bat you picked up to make sure it is the right one. It will be obvious at all times.
“The goal was to make sure that players could quickly tell the difference between the Dudley Lightning Legend 1.0 and the 2.0 series,” explained Lord.
The three bats share technologies but are quite different and will appeal to different types of hitters. But, as Lord points out, they are not designed to appeal necessarily to “specific” types of hitters.
“It’s not always easy to tell you what ‘type’ of hitter each bat is designed for because every player is different. However, the 13-inch barrels are for players who want the longest barrel/biggest sweetspot; some players prefer the increased bat speed of the balanced version, and some the added power of the end load. The shorter 12-inch barrel is often for the power hitter who prefers a more end loaded bat.
The balanced load was the first Dudley senior bat and remains the most popular. It uses Dudley’s Fusion Technology Composite and a proprietary HyCon Softball Core that makes it flexible and durable and provides the same kind of performance in cold or hot weather. It has a 13-inch barrel that is completely covered in Grip-Spin Technology; the tackified innovation engineered into the barrel allows the bat surface to “grip” the ball on a cut swing and increase its spin which can cause it to rise higher, stay in the air longer, and travel farther. Fusion Composite Handle Design is engineered to maximize handle stiffness and control vibration. The Dudley Lighting Bold End Cap helps with rotating your bat to get the maximum life out of the barrel. It has tackified bat grip for comfort and control.
We hit a 26-ounce model (actual weight 25.7) and there wasn’t a person who swung it who didn’t like it. There was no break-in period needed and no time wasted trying to find the sweet spot. Everybody hit this one well – from 40-year-olds with 90 mph swing speeds to 50-year-olds with 74 mph swing speeds. Looking over the review we did last year on the 1.0 version we found many of the same things to be true with the 2.0 version: the handle is stiff, the barrel is forgiving, and the sweet spot is large and easy to find. The Grip-Spin barrel appears to work, sending balls soaring deep into the outfield over and over; we found that when you don’t cut the ball with the swing but hit is dead square instead the ball will knuckle violently which is very hard to defend. The sound is solid, the feel is soft and the ball really jumps off the bat. There really is nothing negative to say about the feel or performance of the Balanced Lightning Legend.
The end load is the same size and shape as the balanced but with an extra ounce out on the end. It uses Dudley’s Fusion Technology Composite and a proprietary HyCon Softball Core that makes it flexible and durable and provides the same kind of performance in cold or hot weather. It has a 13-inch barrel that is completely covered in Grip-Spin Technology; the tackified innovation engineered into the barrel allows the bat surface to “grip” the ball on a cut swing and increase its spin which can cause it to rise higher, stay in the air longer, and travel farther. Fusion Composite Handle Design is engineered to maximize handle stiffness and control vibration. The Dudley Lighting Bold End Cap helps with rotating your bat to get the maximum life out of the barrel. It has tackified bat grip for comfort and control.
We hit a 28-ounce model (actual weight 27.8) and did not feel the bat was too heavy nor the end load too severe. The group was split down the middle between those who preferred the end load and those who preferred the balanced, but there wasn’t anybody who didn’t like the end load version. It swings like a power-hitter’s bat and is great for getting distance. Of course, there is slightly less control than with the balanced version, but the performance is such that there is no trouble hitting the ball all around the park. The Lightning Legend is simply a great bat for doubles and home runs.
Advanced Player model
The Advanced Player model is Dudley’s “specialty” model, designed for the experienced hitter who makes consistent contact using a much smaller portion of the barrel than the average tournament player. It uses Dudley’s Fusion Technology Composite and a proprietary HyCon Softball Core that makes it flexible and durable and provides the same kind of performance in cold or hot weather. It has a 12-inch, end-loaded barrel that is completely covered in Grip-Spin Technology; the tackified innovation engineered into the barrel allows the bat surface to “grip” the ball on a cut swing and increase its spin which can cause it to rise higher, stay in the air longer, and travel farther. Fusion Composite Handle Design is engineered to maximize handle stiffness and control vibration. The Dudley Lighting Bold End Cap helps with rotating your bat to get the maximum life out of the barrel. It has tackified bat grip for comfort and control.
We hit a 27-ounce model (actual weight 26.7) and actually found little difference between the two end-loads. Perhaps it’s because so much of the 12-inch barrel is usable hitting surface that it does not seem so radically different than the 13-inch barrel. Also, the end-load feels similar; while the shorter barrel generally makes the end-load feel more severe, the fact we hit a 27-ounce short barrel and 28-ounce long barrel end load made them feel about the same. The stronger hitters in the group really enjoyed hitting tape-measure shots with this bat … which makes sense as this model is for the Advanced Player.
Miken Freak Platinum Series
Miken’s Ultra II, designed back in 2004, was deemed too hot for open tournament play and got quickly pulled from store shelves, replaced by the bat that was to become Miken’s most popular model ever – the Freak. The Ultra II found a new life, eventually becoming the first real senior bat on the market. It enjoyed the notoriety of being banned because of its performance and became the “must-have” bat among the over-40 crowd. The Ultra line continued to grow and last year included three offerings: a balanced load, an end load, and a Mike “Big Cat” Macenko signature models. But while 2016 Ultras were as popular as ever, history has a way repeating itself …
For 2017, the Ultra II has been replaced (again) by the Freak.
The new Freak Platinum Series of bats brings back the Mike “Big Cat” Macenko model as well as the original balanced load model, and introduces the new Jason Kendrick Maxload model. Kendrick, a 40-time world and national champion, is Miken’s Marketing and Promotions Manager and still a force in the 40+ and 50+ divisions, but he had no idea the company was going to put his name on its newest senior bat.
“Actually, I was surprised by Lisa Bahnub, the Director of Marketing and Promotions, on a sales trip to our corporate offices in St. Louis. She made the decision to put my name on the Maxload version of our new 2017 Miken Senior Softball bat,” said Kendrick. “Even though I’ve been blessed to have had my name on numerous USSSA bat models in the past, this new senior softball bat was a cool surprise. With my current age and my transition from playing in the conference to playing 40+ and 50+ tournaments, it was fortunate timing for me personally. I’m very grateful that Miken Sports has given me this great opportunity.”
The Kendrick gives Miken’s end loaded model a new identity, but Jason will understand if it doesn’t become the company’s most popular bat. That honor currently goes to another legendary hitter’s signature model, the Big Cat.
“Last year’s Mike Macenko “Big Cat” was our most popular senior softball bat model,” acknowledged Kendrick. “First things first … the name Mike Macenko will catch your attention. Mike is a legend and one of the greatest softball players of all-time. His legacy and offensive numbers transcend generations. It helps when you have a true all-time legend working with our engineers to design a hot-out-of-the-wrapper senior bat.
“The “Big Cat” load is the equivalent of our USSSA SuperMax load, with a full one ounce end load. The 2017 Miken Big Cat senior softball bat has received great reviews and has hit sales expectations since we launched it on January 23rd. This year will be another successful year for the “Big Cat” bat, with great feel, an amazing sweet spot, a 14-inch barrel, long-distance performance and higher exit ball speeds. The awesome neon orange color and cool graphics make the Big Cat a bat that you will notice and will want to hit.”
A change of brand would indicate that this year’s Freak Platinum line is not just a dressed-up version of last year’s bats. And while a look at the bat’s “ingredients” – 100 Comp Technology, Carbon Flex Shell, Triple Matrix Core, and Flex 2 Power Composite handle – might lead you to question that there’s anything new, the truth is there are improvements designed up and down the bat.
“Our engineers are constantly working and testing new designs to push the envelope to perform better while riding that fine line between distance and durability,” said Kendrick “Without sharing any trade secrets, the new 2017 bats are different and they are better. Composite fiber angles are different this year, adding more durability and more trampoline effect. The new bats are designed to be hot out of the wrapper and the eye test has proven that to be the case.”
This biggest complaint from players about the Ultra II had nothing to do with performance, rather the bats had a lifespan shorter than most hitters were happy with. The Freaks are designed to be a bit more durable.
“It’s a simple physics problem … you can’t make the bats hotter and make them indestructible at the same time,” pointed out Kendrick. “Senior bats come with no warranty for a reason – because they are hotter and thinner than other bats. For me personally, I always try to be smart with my bats … both senior softball and non-senior softball bats. We use a one-piece ball in batting practice and basically have zero breakage during BP; during the games, it all depends on the ball and temperature. Miken has continued to work in the direction of more durability, without sacrificing performance, feel and distance. It’s a fine line that we continue to work towards.”
Freak Platinum Balanced
The Freak Platinum Balanced model is designed for the senior player that likes a lighter, balanced feel. The weighting allows for a more controlled swing for placing the ball wherever on the field a hitter wants to go. The balanced version creates faster swing speeds among most types of hitters and with its 14-inch barrel and massive sweet-spot can create more room for error (mishits). The neon green Platinum Balanced features 100 Comp premium aerospace grade fiber, a Carbon X Shell for distance and durability, Triple Matrix Core technology which makes the barrel walls thinner without sacrificing strength, and an F2P composite handle matching the handle flex to the barrel load for optimal bat speed.
We hit the 27-ounce model (actual weight 26.7) and were pretty excited to do so as most of the group spent their prime tournament years swinging the Freak. Expectations were high, but they were nothing the Freak Platinum couldn’t handle. The Balanced model felt lighter than its posted weight. The 14-inch barrel (a staple of the original Freak) is currently the longest in senior softball and is pretty live along the entire length of it. Miss-hits are rare. Pop is good-to-great: home run hitters have no trouble putting the ball out of the park with the long-barreled balanced weighted design and non-home run hitters were finding occasional power mixed in with the line drives. Very few complaints – the thick, padded grip tape will probably be removed immediately after this hitting session in favor of a thinner wrap … that could actually make the bat a half-ounce lighter.
Freak Platinum Kendrick Maxload
The Maxload version is designed for the senior player that likes a slightly end-loaded feel; the half-ounce end load design presents the hitter with the best of both worlds, an end-loaded feel with the ability to still control the bat in both home run and base-hitting situations. The 14-inch barrel is unusual for an end-loaded model, but is familiar to hitters who have used the Freak in the past. The bright blue Platinum Kendrick Maxload features 100 Comp premium aerospace grade fiber, a Carbon X Shell for distance and durability, Triple Matrix Core technology which makes the barrel walls thinner without sacrificing strength, and an F2P composite handle matching the handle flex to the barrel load for optimal bat speed.
We hit the 26-ounce model (actual weight 26.0) and it is quite literally the bat for every type of hitter: it is end-loaded enough for power hitters to appreciate the weight and feel, but not so severe that smaller guys can’t swing it. Usually a middle ground situation is a compromise, settling for something less than you wanted for the greater good, But we didn’t get that feeling with the Kendrick. It comes pretty close being all things for all hitters; sure, there are hitters who prefer a more exaggerated end load and hitters who don’t want any end load at all – but with the Maxload design we didn’t have anyone who couldn’t get more-than-satisfactory results from this model. If I had one at-bat with the game on the line and these three bats to choose from, I admit I would make the same choice Jason himself would make. “Well I don’t think there’s one answer to the ‘which of these bats would you choose with one at-bat with the game on the line’ because each individual hitter is going to have his favorite and pick the one that is going to work best for him,” said Kendrick. “But personally, I’d be using the one that has was designed for me …” I agree.
Freak Platinum Big Cat
The Big Cat load version is designed for the senior player that likes a heavier end-loaded feel with a full one-ounce end-load that can create incredible swing speeds. The Big Cat version helps increase swing speeds and has that added end-loaded feel that can produce added distance and power whenever the player is able to get the heavier barrel through the hitting zone. The 14-inch barrel is unheard of for a severely end-loaded model, but is familiar to hitters who have used the Freak in the past. The neon orange Platinum Big Cat Supermax features 100 Comp premium aerospace grade fiber, a Carbon X Shell for distance and durability, Triple Matrix Core technology which makes the barrel walls thinner without sacrificing strength, and an F2P composite handle matching the handle flex to the barrel load for optimal bat speed and added distance for the bigger and stronger senior player that is comfortable with the extra end-loaded feel.
We hit the 28-ounce model (actual weight 27.8) and found it a little heavy – as a 28-ounce full end load would be. But it’s not that hard to swing; it’s heavy to hold, but once the swing is started the bat comes through the hitting zone quickly and easily. The performance is predictable – big, powerful hitters get amazing distance while smaller batters hit the ball well enough but are sacrificing some control. It feels like the other Miken models in that it has no sting and good feel at contact. But balls hit well with the Big Cat simply go farther than balls hit well with the other Miken models. It makes sense that the man who hit more home runs in a single tournament season than anyone else ever has or ever will (officially 844) would put his name on a bat that simply launches senior softballs (.44/375). I would not hesitate to recommend the Big Cat to any hitter, but if you are not a 6’4”, 230 lbs power hitter, go a bit lighter than you normally would.
Demarini Larry Carter Limited Edition
Larry Carter is fairly unique among the great power hitters in softball. The former Major World Series HR champion and USSSA Hall of Famer has been swinging DeMarini throughout his 25-year career. So it makes sense that the company’s top-of-the-line senior softball bat would bear Carter’s name.
The Larry “LC” Carter Limited Edition Signature Series model (SNM-16) features all of DeMarini’s newest technologies like an S.ONE Composite barrel, tried and true technologies like Half + Half, and unique touches like mid-load weighting.
“We do use many combinations when building our line of bats,” said Mike Cornell of Demarini Sports. “Keeping up with our mantra – Insane Dedication to Performance – we are always looking at different options in handle and barrel materials to make the perfect bat for a wide variety of slow pitch hitters. Our engineers and R&D staff are the best in business and we will never stop in that pursuit. As far as that goes, the LC has definitely been a step in the right direction. Using the 4.ONE Composite handle and the S.ONE Stacked Composite barrel the LC model has received quite a buzz at the fields for its performance and feel right out of the bag.”
The barrel is made of the same material that had previously be used exclusively in DeMarini Stadium Power Series bats and is designed for maximum stiffness and explosive performance. The 13-inch hitting surface is appealing to most types of hitters – not too short for contact hitters and not too long for power hitters. The Stacked design features multiple walls of material that flex independently and in concert with each other depending on the strength of the swinger. The stiff handle is impossibly light, leaving nearly all the bat’s weight in the barrel. It has a Big D end cap and RCK graduated knob designed to fit into the hitter’s off-the-end grip. Perhaps the most surprising feature of the LC Limited Edition is its mid-load weighting.
“LC and Bat Production Manager Jerry Garnett – also a top-level senior player – were involved in the development of this bat. They found a great blend of power and control in the mid-load model,” said Cornell. “LC prefers a heavy bat with more weight at the end and by using a composite handle it gives this bat an end-load feel without being overwhelming.”
The 28-oz model we hit (actual weight 28.8) felt like an end-load. Holding it static elicited more than one comment about how we used to swing 34/38’s back when we first got into softball. But it is not difficult to swing; in fact, it gets around so fast most hitters were pulling the ball farther than they were meaning to until they got a half-dozen or so swings under their belts, but the sound is not jarring nor discordant enough to be off-putting. It sounds unlike most other composite bats, making more of a whomp than a click or crack. And the ball does fly. Like any DeMarini bat going back to the original Ultimate Distance Doublewall in 1996, the LC is designed to hit the ball far. And in keeping with company founder Ray DeMarini’s original vision, it is designed to help the physically smaller player compete with the bigger, stronger, more powerful guys. We had players with swing speeds from a low of 74 mph to a high of 96 mph hit the LC and while everyone got home run distance with it, it seemed to us that those with slower hands were seeing larger increases in distance than the guys with faster hands when compared to what each hitter was used to with their personal bats.
The LC has a royal blue barrel, white handle and red grip. The graphics are white and gold and include the big man’s signature on the barrel. A little purple partridge appears on the taper as Larry’s tribute to his late father, Joe Carter Sr.
Louisville Slugger Ron Parnell Hyper Z
The original Louisville Slugger Hyper Z Senior bat was designed to be a pure power hitter’s bat. Everything about its make-up, from the three-piece construction to the short, textured barrel to the stiff handle and extreme end weighting is meant to hit the ball deep. And in case you had any doubts about the company’s intentions with this bat, they went and put Hall of Famer Ron Parnell’s name on the barrel.
“Ron Parnell has been with Louisville Slugger for a majority of his slow-pitch playing career going all the way back to his Ritch’s / Superior days,” said Dennis Turner of Louisville Slugger, the company whose Ritch’s / Superior teams dominated the Major division for most of the 1990s. “Now that Ron and his team are playing at the highest level of Senior softball, it only made sense to place his name on the bat which he helped design and test.”
Now in its third generation, the 2017 Hyper Z is becoming the bat Louisville Slugger has always meant it to be. It came out of technologies tested and perfected in the Z series of USSSA bats, but boasts a few features unique to this particular model.
The Hyper Z is senior softball’s only three-piece bat. Patented TRU3 technology uses a three-piece Explosive Power Transfer connector to bind the end-loaded barrel to the stiff handle providing torque for distance while reducing vibration for unmatched feel on contact. The 12-inch, Friction Blast Finish barrel and tapered-at-the-knob handle – both Louisville Slugger exclusives – have been a trademark of this bat from the beginning, but new this year is the SRC composite material in the barrel.
“This is our third year for the Hyper Z and each year we have made small adjustments to the bat making it better than the year before,” explained Turner. “We have been receiving great reviews on this year’s bat, and we are very happy that players are starting to gravitate and switch over to the Hyper Z.
“We did change the composite material this year to SRC – short for Spring Recoil Composite – and this new composite allows the barrel to break in faster to provide the player with instant performance and bat speed.”
While the composite is different, the Friction Blast Finish is back and remains arguably the bat’s single most defining feature. Starting below the LS logo at the end of the bat and running all the way down the taper, the barrel is covered in grit similar to an extra coarse sandpaper. The Friction Blast Finish is meant to add spin to the ball helping it rotate faster and travel farther.
“Our engineering team has developed the perfect design for performance without compromising durability,’ said Turner. “Some Senior bats are very good out of the wrapper, but tend to break or breakdown rather quickly. Our Hyper Z Senior bat is very good out of the wrapper and will withstand the constant impacts of the bat/ball collision.”
The Hyper Z is the only three-piece bat in senior softball with a 100% Spring Recoil Composite barrel and stiff composite handle fastened together with TRU3 technology. The 12-inch end-loaded barrel has a Friction Blast Finish and the handle tapers as it approaches the knob to aid with the traditional over-the-knob batting grip.
We hit the 27-ounce model (actual weight 26.8) and honestly had no expectations going in as most of the hitters had never used a Hyper Z before. A few things were noticed right away: the multi-piece bat performs and sounds like a stiff one-piece, but has the quiet, gentle feel of a multi-piece. There is no sting and, in fact, the better the contact the less you feel anything at impact; the barrel is short (12”) but the sweet spot is not small and the end load makes the area between the center and end of the barrel the prime hitting surface. The bat seemed pretty hot right out of the wrapper and the early swings were finding distance similar to the distances being registered 200 swings later. The Friction Blast Finish was well received by the hitters but we noticed as many wicked knuckle balls as we did tightly spinning home runs. For being a bat that has maximum distance on its mind, the lighter hitters in our group were in no way alienated – in fact the Hyper Z was a favorite of a couple of the non-power hitters in the group.
“I would say that the Hyper Z benefits all types of Senior players,” said Turner. “Whether you have a strong load with your swing or a nice smooth, controlled swing, the Hyper Z is going to perform no matter what type of player you are.”