WASHINGTON - Shatter rates of wood baseball bats has already dropped more than 50 percent as a result of research conducted by the U.S. Forest Service and funded by Major League Baseball (MLB).

The announcement was made as baseball heads into the 2013 All Star Break.

"This innovative research by the U.S. Forest Service will make baseball games safer for players and fans across the nation," Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary, said in a statement. "The U.S. Forest Products Laboratory has once again demonstrated that we can improve uses for wood products across our nation in practical ways – making advancements that can improve quality of life and grow our economy."

Research by MLB and the USDA into the high numbers of broken and shattered bat incidents, and their increasing severity, began in 2008. In addition to fans being hit with the wood projectiles, players on the field were also affected. Among those was the impalement in 2010 of then Chicago Cubs player Tyler Colvin. 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.

Led by USDA project coordinator David Kretschmann, the Forest Products Lab in Madison, WI, focused on slope of grain, bat geometry and species used in order to reduce multiple-piece failure (MPF) rates. 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.

In addition, the research showed "low-density maple bats were found to not only crack but shatter into multiple pieces more often than ash bats or higher-density maple bats." The Forest Products Lab worked with TECO, a third-party wood inspection service.

"Since 2008, the U.S. Forest Service has worked with Major League Baseball to help make America's pastime safer," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "I'm proud that our collective 'wood grain trust' has made recommendations resulting in a significant drop in shattered bats, making the game safer for players as well as for fans."

The Forest Service said it will continue monitoring for broken bats, "working to further reduce the use of low-density maple bats and the overall number of multiple-piece failures."

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