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INVENTOR HOPES TO HIT HOMER WITH ALL-WOOD 3-PIECE BAT

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The baseball strike may have dampened fans' spirits, but the game continues to inspire inventors.

Several dozen baseball-related patents have been issued since the beginning of the year, including one to David Cook, a former scout for the New York Yankees. Cook just received his second patent involving a new kind of bat made of three pieces of wood.Professional players, according to the rules of Major League Baseball, must play with all-wood bats made of a single piece of wood. But many high school and college players use aluminum bats, which are more durable and make it easier to smack a ball out of the park.

"When I scouted, kids who had been hitting with aluminum bats couldn't make the transition to wood," said Cook, who is now the owner of Hoosier Bat Co. based in Valparaiso, Ind.

"If you don't know how to use a wood bat when you get signed in the major or minor leagues, the chances of your making it are one in a hundred."

So Cook designed a wood bat that has some of the virtues of an aluminum bat but is easier to hit with than an ordinary wood bat.

Most wood bats these days are made from a single piece of ash. Cook's bat has an ash handle, a hickory barrel and a maple tip. The jagged edges of the pieces, which fit together like wood-working "finger" joints, are glued to one another.

Hickory, the heaviest of the woods, gives the batter a heftier sweet spot than an all-ash bat, Cook said. "Back in the old days, guys like Babe Ruth used to swing with all-hickory bats, but today they're considered too heavy," he said.

The hickory is also much more durable than ash, Cook said. "The grain in the barrel of an all-ash bat will peel and fall apart," he said. "But the species of hickory we use doesn't do that. These bats last 15 times longer than a normal wood bat."

The maple at the tip, the lightest wood in the bat, makes it easier to swing, he added.

Cook's latest patent is for a molded carbon fitting that covers the ash handle and, according to Cook, makes the bat virtually unbreakable.

Cook said Major League baseball would never allow use of a bat with a carbon-covered handle, which he says he invented for college and high school players. But he has petitioned the majors to permit the use of his three-piece bat in professional games and said he hoped for a decision in the next month or two.

"It would save baseball teams enormous amounts of money because they would use a lot less bats," said Cook, who estimates that professional teams consume about 200,000 bats a year.

Cook, who received patent 5,409,214, said his company was producing and selling the all-wood three-piece bats. McLellan-Cook Sports Inc., also in Valparaiso, will begin production of the bat with a carbon covered handle in June.