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Boy left deaf in one ear after line drive; family sues bat maker  

Jake Schutter lost hearing one ear after he was hit by ball.

Jake Schutter lost hearing in one ear after he was hit by a ball.

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Updated: April 19, 2011 5:10AM

It was just another Little League game.

The pitcher had just thrown two strikes. But when the next pitch was hurled, the batter smashed it and sent a line drive straight into the pitcher.

For 11-year-old Jake Schutter of Mokena, the moment forever changed his life.

Standing on the pitcher’s mound, the ball crashed into the left side of his head.

He dropped to the ground and began to vomit.

He later learned he would be permanently deaf in one ear. And his family is still unsure of the full extent of cognitive damage the incident caused, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday.

Jake’s family blames not the batter, but the bat.

It was an Easton BT265, and most signficantly, it was metal.

In their lawsuit targeting Easton, his family argues that the wildly popular metal bats are designed to send balls off the bat at such great velocity, young players don’t have a chance to react.

Easton would not comment on the lawsuit.

Aluminum bats are the bats of choice for most youth baseball players. While they can easily cost $300 each, some coaches say they’re more economical than wooden bats that can splinter and need repeated replacement.

The so-called “trampoline effect” of a metal bat that sends the ball sailing and makes them so popular is the very reason the family’s lawyer, Antonio M. Romanucci, says they’re dangerous.

“They advertise these bats as hitting balls through cement walls,” says Romanucci, himself a longtime opponent of metal bats. Romanucci unsuccessfully pushed the Chicago City Council in 2009 to outlaw the use of metal bats. “They have tremendous exit speed. These bats are being put in the hands of some kids who are strong.”

Because kids vary in size so much in their developing years, it puts smaller athletes in harm’s way, Romanucci argues.

He says New York City and other states have banned them and wants Illinois to do the same. The family plans a news conference today to discuss the issue, which has long been controversial in Illinois and across the country. Jake played for the Mokena Blaze and was injured in a game in May.

Longtime baseball coach Steve Libman, who coaches the Glenview Blaze, an elite baseball organization, said he’s seen manufacturers work to dampen that trampoline effect over the years.

He says he’s not sure wooden bats are much safer when compared to metal bats.

“When a good batter hits a ball and hits it off the sweet spot, you’re going to get the same kind of injury to the pitcher,” Libman said.

Practically speaking, he says, wooden bats are too heavy for young kids to swing and the balls don’t go anywhere.

“It takes a lot of excitement and scoring out of the game and I’m not sure you can tie the metal bats to safety,” he said.

The Illinois High School Association and NCAA have approved metal bats, he said.

“If you think about the amount of pitches that are thrown in the United States, in the Dominican, overseas, in every age group and you see the injuries — your chances of getting hit by lightning are greater.”

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