Home runs were flying at Detroit's Comerica and other baseball parks around the nation this weekend. Thankfully though, the number of bats flying was kept to a minimum.

Though there were a few incidents of broken bats during the first “official” weekend of the 2012 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, the number at season's end should be drastically less than previous years thanks to research and the revamping of wood bats to make the game safer.

Last year it was announced that research by the USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Lab into the causes of baseball bat shattering resulted in a 50 percent reduction of “multiple-piece failure” (MPF) rates between over a three-year period, according to MLB. The research, headed by USDA engineer Dave Kretschmann, focused on slope of grain, bat geometry and species used.

Slope of grain refers to the straightness of the wood grain along the length of a bat — the straighter the grain, the less likelihood of breakage. Research also has led to changes in bat geometry, including the taper and handle thinness, and drying methods. (Click here to see a video of the testing.)

Research by MLB and the USDA into the high numbers of broken and shattered bat incidents, and their increasing severity, began in 2008. Among the more serious incidents of injury in recent years was the impalement in 2010 of then Chicago Cubs player Tyler Colvin (now with the Colorado Rockies). Colvin was running home from third off an RBI broken-bat double when a piece of the maple bat struck him in the chest, inches from his heart and jugular vein. A tube was placed in his chest to prevent a collapsed lung and Colvin was hospitalized.

In addition to research by MLB, independent studies are also underway. Among those is a study on the cryogenic treatment of maple bats by Greg Kendra, of Conifer, CO and James Cortez, of Brookfield, IL, who filed for a patent on the CK Process.

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