Thursday, July 12, 2007

Can Global Warming Hurt...Baseball? [J. Mark English]

It seems like everything is being blamed on climate change these days. Whales are losing weight because of increased water temperatures. (Why won't climate change help me lose weight?) Rising temperatures may be pushing frogs close to extinction. A typical summer heat wave in the middle of July is all because of global warming. Cyclical weather patterns that produce typical storms are all because of carbon dioxide being pumped into the air. Our breathing alone is adding to global pollution. Methane from cows are also helping to wipe out whales and frogs. Somebody getting a divorce could probably blame the swarming heat. (I hope y'all are picking up on some not so subtle sarcasm...)

So why should baseball be exempt? How, you might ask, is baseball being doomed by global warming? The New York Times conveniently has the answer. And the answer is in the bats that the players use. This is from Monica Davey of the Times:

Careers at stake with each swing, baseball players leave little to sport when it comes to their bats. They weigh them. They count their grains. They talk to them.

But in towns like this one, in the heart of the mountain forests that supply the nation’
s finest baseball bats, the future of the ash tree is in doubt because of a killer beetle and a warming climate, and with it, the complicated relationship of the baseball player to his bat

“No more ash?” said Juan Uribe, a Chicago White Sox shortstop, whose batting coach says he speaks to his ash bats every day. Uribe is so finicky about his bats, teammates say, that he stores them separately in the team’s dugout and complains bitterly if anyone else touches them.

At a baseball bat factory tucked into the lush tree country here in northwestern
Pennsylvania, the operators have drawn up a three-to-five-year emergency plan if the white ash tree, which has been used for decades to make the bat of choice, is compromised.

In Michigan, the authorities have begun collecting the seeds of ash trees for storage in case the species is wiped out, a possibility some experts now consider inevitable.

As early as this summer, federal officials hope to set loose Asian wasps never seen in this country with the purpose of attacking the emerald ash borer, an Asian beetle accused of killing 25 million ash trees in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Maryland since it was spotted in the United States five years ago.

In late June, officials found signs of the ash borer’s arrival in Pennsylvania, setting off a new alarm for the makers of baseball bats, most of which come from this rocky, cool range on the New York border.

Along with the ash borer beetle, a warming of the local climate could also affect the ash used for bats, some scientists say. As temperatures rise, the ash wood that now makes an ideally dense but flexible bat might turn softer because of a longer growing season. Eventually, some scientists predict, the ash tree could vanish from the region.

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