In this undated photo provided by Tonya Koenker, Gunnar Sandberg, a Marin Catholic High School baseball player is shown. Sandberg remained in critical condition on Tuesday, March 23, 2010, after he was hit in the head by a line drive during a practice baseball game on Thursday, March 11, 2010. His injury has renewed concerns about the safety of metal baseball bats. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Tonya Koenker) ** NO SALES **

Marin teen hit in head by baseball clings to life

SAN FRANCISCO - As a Marin County high school baseball player clung to life after he was hit in the head by a line drive during a practice game, educators at his school questioned whether metal bats are more dangerous than wooden ones.

Gunnar Sandberg, 16, a student at Marin Catholic High School, remained in critical condition Tuesday at Marin General Hospital, said hospital spokeswoman Kathie Graham.

He was removed from a medically induced coma on Friday and underwent a brain scan Monday after doctors "didn't like what they saw," said school principal Chris Valdez.

"There has been some positive activity yesterday and today, which is keeping us hopeful," the Sandberg family said in a statement Tuesday. "We appreciate the outpouring of love and support from the community."

Sandberg was struck by a sharply hit baseball on March 11 while pitching during a practice game against Concord's De La Salle High School.

The hitter used a metal bat in which the weight is distributed more evenly than it is in wooden bats, so it's easier to swing faster.

Sandberg's injury has renewed concerns about the safety of metal baseball bats, which some coaches and parents believe make the ball travel faster and reduce a player's reaction time.

Valdez said Marin Catholic players will switch to wooden bats for the remainder of the season. And at a meeting Thursday, he plans to ask the Marin County Athletic League, which is made up of 10 schools, including Marin Catholic, to place a moratorium on the use of metal bats.

"We know clearly (metal bats) can cause some damage," Valdez said. "But we're not positive that they are worse than wooden bats."

Debbie Patch, whose son, Brandon, 18, died after he was struck by a ball off a metal bat during a 2003 game in Helena, Mont., applauded Marin Catholic's decision to use only wooden bats.

"Brandon would be alive today if that ball had been hit with a wooden bat," Patch said during a phone interview Tuesday. "It doesn't have the same velocity. He could have been injured, but I believe he still would have been alive."

The Patch family was awarded more than $800,000 last year by a jury that found the bat's maker, Louisville Slugger, had failed to adequately warn about the product's dangers. The case has been appealed, Patch said.

Because of the concern, metal bats are no longer used at high school games in North Dakota and New York City.

But the U.S. Consumer Safety Product Commission in 2002 found there wasn't enough data to conclude that non-wooden bats pose an "unreasonable risk of injury" and declined to institute a rule that all non-wood bats perform like wood bats.

Still, Mike May, a spokesman for the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, said the industry adopted standards in 2003 requiring that balls coming off metal bats are no faster than those coming off the best wooden bats.

May said there is no reason to switch from metal to wooden bats.

"When people see an injury from a baseball off a batted ball, they always go to the bat," May said. "There's other things to consider. Was Gunnar's vision partly impeded by light? Was he in the right position to field the ball. ... Was he looking?"

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