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Published: Friday, 5/26/2006

Agriculture chief makes pitch to halt ash borer's spread

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Fred Dailey, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, delivers a ceremonial pitch at Fifth Third Field. Fred Dailey, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, delivers a ceremonial pitch at Fifth Third Field.
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North America's nastiest tree beetle has struck a nerve with Major League Baseball bat suppliers.

Hillerich & Bradsby Co., maker of the famous Louisville Slugger bat used by 70 percent of big leaguers, is nervous about the emerald ash borer's eastward movement along the Lake Erie shoreline.

The Louisville-based giant gets wood for its ash bats from trees in the Adirondack region of upstate Pennsylvania and New York. So does the much-smaller Phoenix Bat Co. in suburban Columbus, another bat-supplier for the major leagues.

Last night, Fred Dailey, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, threw out a ceremonial pitch at Fifth Third Field on behalf of Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week.

His immediate goal was to remind attendees of the Toledo Mud Hens game what they can do to help curtail movement of the tiny Asian beetle, such as leaving firewood in quarantined parts of northwest Ohio as this year's camping season kicks into gear during the Memorial Day weekend.

In an interview with The Blade, Mr. Dailey said ash trees provide more than shade: They're used to make everything from bats to furniture to wood flooring, contributing billions to the nation's economy.

Ash is vital for the Crook-Miller Co., a 125-year-old tool handle manufacturer in Hicksville, Ohio. It is the village's oldest employer.

"The bottom line is it creates jobs," Mr. Dailey said.

The state agriculture director said he was throwing out a ceremonial pitch at last night's game to help save a Major League Baseball tradition.

Most modern-era bats at that level are ash or maple. Aluminum bats are illegal in the majors.

Hillerich & Bradsby wants Ohio to succeed in snuffing out the emerald ash borer threat.

If it doesn't, that could be the end of ash bats, said Brian Boltz, general manager of Larimer and Norton Inc., a subsidiary of the bat company that produces its feedstock from ash harvested in the Adirondacks.

Ten billion ash trees are east of the Rocky Moutains, including 3.8 billion in Ohio. But the cream of the crop are in the Adirondacks because of climate and soil conditions, Mr. Boltz said.

"It just makes the strongest ash bat we've found," he said.

If the Adirondack ash gets infested, then "maple would probably become the main type of wood for baseball bats. I doubt major leaguers would take inferior ash over maple," Mr. Boltz said.

Charles Trudeau, Phoenix Bat president, agreed.

"For the most part, bat companies get their wood from the same general geographic area," he said. "At a minimum, we'd be searching for another type of wood."

Both said they fear the day they might become overly dependent on a single species, like maple.

"What makes ash a great combination for baseball bats is its weight and strength," Mr. Trudeau said.

Govs. Bob Taft of Ohio and Jennifer Granhom of Michigan have declared this week Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week, while agencies in both states have vowed to beef up patrols for illegal firewood movement through this Memorial Day weekend. Violators face potential fines of thousands of dollars, depending where they're stopped, how much firewood they're hauling, and who's issuing the citation.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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