If you’re a longtime reader of my blog, you might recall when I had the opportunity back in 2012 to tour the Sam Bat factory just outside of Ottawa, Canada. It was undoubtedly one of the coolest experiences I’ve had since starting The Ballpark Guide, and that particular blog post ranks second in terms of traffic of the 225+ posts I’ve written.
So, when I had another opportunity to tour the factory and check out the company’s brand-new facilities, I jumped all over it like a hanging curve ball.
Sam Bat is a bat company headquartered in the small town of Carleton Place in Eastern Ontario, Canada, and the company is currently celebrating its 20th year in business. You might already know Sam Bat’s story — if not, it’s a company that completely revolutionized professional baseball by introducing maple bats. Prior to Sam Bat’s maple bats being used in the big leagues, bats were all made of ash. Now, more than 75 percent of bats used in the pros are made of maple due to this wood’s hardness and durability. You can read more about the company here.
Barry Bonds swung a Sam Bat during his record-breaking 73 home run season. More recently, Miguel Cabrera used this company’s bats during his 2012 Triple Crown season, and still uses them. A long list of players, including Ryan Braun, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Melky Cabrera, are current Sam Bat users. Even Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista used a Sam Bat during his 54 home run season in 2010.
On the afternoon of April 28, I met up with Kevin Rathwell, who handles the company’s Canadian sales. We met in the company’s head office, which I’d visited last time, and soon headed over to the new showroom building that wasn’t in use during my last visit. The lobby of the new building was baseball heaven, and it was hard not to want to just stand with my mouth open and stare at everything. I recognized a few of the display pieces from my last visit, including the framed Bonds piece on the wall, but there were a ton of other interesting things, like a Miguel Cabrera bat laying on the counter, a Jose Canseco signed bat, and more:
Although we’d be checking out the factory soon enough, Kevin wanted to show me a short video on how the bats are made. It’s a standard tour stop, and an easy way to get an overview of the creation process. The video room not only has a bunch of photos of bats in various stages of being built, but also one of Sam’s old lathes:
After the video, Kevin had another cool thing for me to see — the use of Sam Bat products in MLB 15 The Show for PlayStation. Sam Bat is one of just a handful of bat manufacturers licensed for use in this video game. Kevin loaded a game between the Tigers and Brewers and, sure enough, there was Cabrera with the gold bat logo clearly visible on his lumber:
Next, we stepped into a large showroom where, to my surprise, there were a few dozen bats made by different manufacturers hanging overhead:
Perhaps sensing my upcoming question, Kevin quickly explained why competitors’ bats were on display at Sam Bat. When a player is interested in having a custom bat made for him by Sam Bat, he will sometimes send the company one of his current bats — there’s no copyrighting bat shape, which means that Sam Bat (or any company, really) can then make a custom bat for the player with the same shape and to the same specs as another company’s bat. In the above photo, there are bats from a number of past and current MLB stars, including Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Ryan Zimmerman, Jason Heyward, Troy Tulowitzki and B.J. Upton.
Below the hanging bats, Kevin pointed out a display that showed all of the bat colors that are approved by Major League Baseball. It wasn’t something that I’d previously thought about, but players obviously don’t step up to the plate with wacky-colored bats. That’s because, as you might expect, MLB meticulously defines which colors are appropriate, as you’ll see on the lower half of this photo:
Another awesome sight in the showroom was the use of Fathead wall decals featuring the Sam Bat brand. As it turns out, the Sam Bat logo is visible in a number of Fatheads, including Cabrera …
… and slugger Giancarlo Stanton:
Now, Stanton isn’t a regular Sam Bat user, but he swung one in the 2016 All-Star Game Home Run Derby, crushing 61 total bombs and the 10 longest home runs of the night to win the event. Interestingly, the bat that Stanton was swinging wasn’t made for him. It belonged to teammate Marcell Ozuna. Mired in a pre-break slump, Stanton tried out one of Ozuna’s bats and did well with it. So well, in fact, that Sam Bat hurriedly made some bats for Stanton, but he continued to rely on Ozuna’s lumber. And, when the derby came around, it was a Ozuna’s Sam Bat in Stanton’s hands.
Here’s another quick anecdote that I found interesting: Ozuna himself began using Sam Bat’s products after then-Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds recommended the company. Facing a slump of his own in May, Ozuna tried out one of Bonds’ bats and began to hit with it. He liked the bat so much that he got Sam Bat to make some custom bats for him, and cruised to his first all-star berth.
I loved hearing stories like these. As a baseball fan, you watch the game on TV carefully, but these sorts of stories show that you really don’t have a complete idea of what’s going on, so it was awesome to get some behind-the-scenes details.
But don’t get me wrong — my visit to Sam Bat wasn’t just about learning. I also had a chance to act goofy, as evidenced here:
As you might guess, this is me holding an enormous novelty bat. Sam Bat doesn’t produce bats of this size; rather, an employee whose family member came across the bat took it into the shop, where it was painted up and adorned with the company’s logo. It’s a cool piece, but you’d need arms bigger than mine to swing it. Just for good measure, here’s another shot that shows you just how big this bat is:
Our next stop on the tour was the other side of the showroom, which featured a number of interesting products for sale. Obviously, you’d expect to see all sorts of bat- and baseball-related items, but there were maple candlesticks, baseball holders and even Sam Bat-branded maple syrup:
Next, it was time to visit the factory itself, which I knew would be exciting. During my last tour, it was fascinating to watch bats being made by hand in front of me, and I knew I’d be in for more of the same. Perhaps the coolest thing about the manufacturing process at Sam Bat is just how hands-on it is. People are making the bats one by one and putting them through a series of important steps. By the time a bat is packaged up and shipped out, it’s been handled by eight or nine different employees. I toured the Louisville Slugger factory back in 2013, and while it was cool in its own right, the high degree of automation from such a large company doesn’t give you that hands-on feel that was obvious at Sam Bat.
When we walked into the factory, this rack is the first thing I noticed:
Lots of partially finished bats awaiting completion, right? Well, yes and no. This is a pile of bats that have been rejected for reasons such as knots. They won’t be finished and sold for use, but many will be finished and painted to be used as trophy bats — in other words, display pieces that aren’t swung in games.
Next, I checked out an enormous rack of maple blanks, which are also known as billets:
These are the rounded pieces of maple (essentially enormous dowels) that will be turned into bats. They’re weighed carefully to three decimal points and then the number is written by hand. So, if you see the blank in the middle with “5132” written on it, that number means that it’s 5.132 pounds. When an employee is building a bat, he obviously needs to have an end product of an exact weight — especially if it’s a bat being built for a professional. This means that he’ll need to choose his blank carefully, as a certain amount of wood (and weight) comes off as the bat is turned and sanded.
Once the blank is selected, it’s not simply inserted into a machine and turned into a bat within seconds. Whereas some companies use fancy equipment that stores specific bat shapes, Sam Bat uses more of a hands-on approach. The blank is placed in the lathe, while a sample bat is placed in a separate part of the lathe. The bottom bat is then traced by the lathe, which meticulously recreates its shape on the blank. This means, of course, that each player who uses or has used the company’s bats has a sample bat that is needed each time more bats are made. There’s an enormous rack of samples that covers much of an entire wall, and each player’s name is written on the sample barrel in Sharpie. Take a look at this photo of Kipnis’ samples:
This means that one of these sample bats is put into the tracing part of the lathe each time new bats are made for the Cleveland Indians all-star second baseman. Super cool.
Here are some of Melky Cabrera’s samples — and a mysterious sample labeled with “Melky” and “Bautista,” perhaps from when the two players were teammates in Toronto:
So, what does this setup on the lathe look like? You’ll be happy to know that I have pictures. As Kevin was showing me the samples, Al Maione came in to make some bats. He’s the company’s director of pro production, which means that he oversees bats made for big leaguers. Last time I visited, Al was making some bats for Andre Ethier. This time, he’d just received an order from Kipnis and was about to get started on turning some bats that would soon be on their way to the Progressive Field clubhouse. Take a look at the following shot:
Kipnis’ sample bat is at the bottom of the image, after being set in place to be traced. The blank, meanwhile, is above. As Al turned on the machine, the sample was traced, as you can see here …
… and the blank was turned into a bat to match the sample:
It’s obviously a highly precise process, which is why Kevin and Al were amused to show me a bat that had been recently sent to Sam Bat with a note attached from a 12-time all-star and nine-time Silver Slugger:
In what might be argued as another case of Manny being Manny, Ramirez had apparently taken a sharp implement and shaved down the handle of one of his Sam Bats, as you can see here, and was requesting that the company make him some bats with this handle profile:
The only problem is that because the work was done by hand, the handle was now wildly uneven. It might be hard to see in the above photo, but there’s a decent-sized indentation made in one section of the wood that isn’t repeated elsewhere — and you can imagine that Sam Bat isn’t too keen on producing a bat with such a glaring issue.
After checking out where the bats are sanded and buffed, we moved to the paint room. To me, it’s absolutely fascinating that a company that produces bats for major leaguers actually paints them by hand, but that’s exactly what happens here. After multiple coats of paint are applied, the bats are dried. Then, the barrel is laser etched (last time I visited, the wording was stamped on) and the bat sticker is put in place. Here’s a shot that shows a bunch of bats waiting to be shipped out:
There’s an interesting cross section of bats in the above photo. Those on the right side of the photo, including the stubby one, were ordered for an upcoming wedding to give as gifts to the groomsmen. The bat in the front middle is for Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Domingo Santana, while those to the left side of the image are for Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Jose Osuna. The bats on the left side with the black handles and light-colored barrels are for Miami’s Ozuna. If you look carefully, you’ll see some pink barrels in the background — those are special bats for Mother’s Day.
On our way out of the factory, we passed a series of racks where boxed bats were awaiting shipment. The name on this box caught my eye:
Because the box had yet to be sealed, Kevin actually let me pull out one of the bats and, seconds later, I was standing with a brand new bat that would soon be in the hands of Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado:
It’s not every day that you get to hold a bat that will eventually (and perhaps has already by now) been swung by a potential future hall of famer, right?
I also got the chance to hold a bat that was about to be shipped out to Josh Naylor:
He was a first-round pick of the Marlins in the 2015 draft and was traded to San Diego in the Andrew Cashner deal. He’s a Canadian, so he’s someone I’ve followed over the years. Less than two weeks after I checked out his bats, Naylor tweeted this:
Although I could’ve hung out and played with Machado’s and Naylor’s bats for a while, there were other bats to hold. The final stop on our tour was the batting cage area, which is a new addition since my last visit. The angle of this photo makes the area look pretty standard …
… but this one, which shows the backdrop of thousands of bats and blanks, definitely makes this spot unique:
As you might expect, there was a chance to use some Sam Bat products in the cages. There were several five-gallon pails full of bats, and I had the choice of which lumber I wanted to try. Kevin snapped this shot of me looking very excited on my way to the cage:
It’s been a long time since I hit in a batting cage — likely 15 years or more — so I didn’t know what to expect. The machine was set to an average velocity, but because it was closer than the usual 60 feet, 6 inches away, it took me a little time to get my timing right. I opted to let the first pitch go to assess the speed, swung and missed on the second, fouled off the third and connected solidly on the fourth. All told, I hit for 10 to 15 minutes and had a blast. Plenty of embarrassing swings and misses, but lots of square contact that made me feel good. Here’s a shot of me preparing for a pitch …
… and one of me beginning my swing:
When you watch professionals take BP, they only take a handful of swings in a session — 10, maybe — before rotating out for a short break while a teammate hits. I didn’t have anyone else hitting with me, and a span of 10 to 15 minutes swinging maybe every 15 seconds is exhausting. I couldn’t resist snapping this shot of how sweaty I was after I stepped out of the cage, which was moderately embarrassing when we returned to the office to say hello to company president Arlene Anderson and I was wiping my face like I was in the Sahara:
Kevin ended up spending more than 90 minutes with me, and I can’t say how much I appreciate the entire experience. My thanks to Kevin, Arlene and Sam Bat for making this happen.
On July 17, 2010, I made Rochester’s Frontier Field the first ballpark I visited since coming up with the idea for my website, The Ballpark Guide. This past Thursday, almost exactly two years later, I made a nine-hour round trip to visit Frontier Field again. This time, I was joined by my photographer friend Ryan, who visited Centennial Field in Burlington, VT, with me last summer. So, the photos you’ll see below are a mix of his photos and mine.
It’s my goal to eventually visit every MLB and MiLB park, which means repeat visits aren’t normally on the agenda. But ever since that first visit two years ago, I’ve looked forward to returning to Rochester. The ballpark is absolutely incredible, the food is amazing and the team has been extremely helpful and kind to me since the start. If those aren’t good reasons to go back, I don’t know what is.
Ryan and I met at 5:30 a.m., set the GPS for Rochester and drove for several hours. Although I’m always excited on every baseball road trip, I get even more pumped up when approaching the park, and as we drove through Rochester, we could see signs for Frontier Field. Eventually, we were able to see the ballpark’s red sign in the distance:
We had extra reason to be excited for this trip, because the Rochester Red Wings were giving us media passes and a pre-game tour before the park’s gates opened. A special shout-out to the team’s director of marketing Matt Cipro and account executive Derek Swanson, who were immensely helpful leading up to (and during) our visit. I’ve had a number of tours of different parks in the past, and they’re great because they give me a deeper understanding and appreciation for the park and all its features.
This game was unique in that the Red Wings weren’t playing. As you may know, Frontier Field is also being used by the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees this summer, as their home field, PNC Field, is under a major renovation.
Instead of parking in the main lot, we were able to drive straight into the VIP lot, because Matt had put my name on the VIP list. We parked here:
And then, Ryan got a photo of me wearing the new T-shirt I made up for this visit:
The VIP lot is also where the players park, and it’s always fun to check out some of the nice cars, including this Jaguar:
We parked about 9:25 a.m., and with our tour with Derek scheduled for 10 a.m., we had a bit of time to wander around the outside of the park and take some photos. We checked out the view from the main lot across the street:
The empty pavilion in front of the main gates:
And a Red Wings sticker on a light post in the parking lot:
I normally travel alone, so documenting everything can be a lot of work. Luckily, as I was taking some shots of the side of Frontier Field …
… I glanced over to my right to see Ryan capturing the visiting Charlotte Knights:
The team had just pulled up in a coach and was heading toward the door that would take them down to the clubhouse:
After the players disappeared, we continued walking down Morrie Silver Way, parallel with the bricked side of Frontier Field. I love this park’s old-school feel, and I looked up to capture this shot that I really like:
(I think it looks neat in black and white.)
When we reached Plymouth Avenue North, we could turn and look through the outfield gates to see inside the ballpark:
There’s something really cool about seeing an almost-empty park but knowing it’ll be hopping in a short period of time. We continued along the outside of the fence behind the outfield fence …
… while I kept a watchful eye out for any baseballs that might’ve been hiding in the grass from the previous day’s game or batting practice. (Fortunately, I didn’t find any. And when I say “fortunately,” it’s because I’d have faced a moral dilemma about climbing the fence. Just kidding. Sort of.)
Then, we turned back and passed by the outfield gate again …
… and made our way back down Morrie Silver Way toward the front of the park:
The pavilion in front of the gates was still quiet, and since it was a couple minutes before 10, we went into the park’s office to meet Matt and Derek. Soon, they arrived and Matt gave us our passes. Instead of a traditional media pass, we were given premium-level tickets to allow us to sit anywhere, as well as photo passes that would get us anywhere we wanted to be.
Derek led us out into the cross-aisle behind home plate, where we began our tour. There’s a wide cross-aisle that wraps around Frontier Field, and a huge opening directly behind home plate. It’s a perfect area for trying to catch a foul ball, as evidenced by this sign:
The tour quickly went down to the field:
No matter how many times I get the fortune of standing on a professional baseball field, it never gets old! From there, we went up the tunnel behind home plate…
… through the hallways around the clubhouses and training rooms and rode an elevator up to the suite level:
The entire time, Derek was telling us cool stories about Frontier Field, its history, its operations and pretty much everything you’d ever need to know. You could tell he loved his job and enjoyed taking people on tours.
We made a quick stop in the press box:
And then went to check out some of the suites. Although the suite common area, shown above, is enclosed, you access the suites via a walkway that you can see in the eighth photo of this post. As we walked along the suite level, I noticed the Rolls-Royce suite, so I couldn’t resist commenting on it:
Without hesitation, Derek pulled out a key, opened the door and led us in. We went out to the box seats on the suite’s balcony, and I took this panorama:
The next suite we entered was the biggest in the park, and roughly three times the size of most of the other suites:
From this suite, we could see some of the Charlotte players warming up down the first base line:
And I also took a panorama to show the beautiful skyline beyond the outfield fence:
Derek explained that unlike a lot of MiLB parks, Frontier Field’s outfield isn’t overly cluttered with billboards. It’s mostly left open, which affords fans a great view of the cityscape. See the tan building behind the right field foul pole? There’s a cool story surrounding it. The Red Wings were affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles between 1961 and 2002, and when Frontier Field was built in 1996, it was built with the same field specs as Camden Yards, to give players a Camden Yards feel before they made it to Baltimore. The ballpark was placed so that the tan building could represent the B&O Warehouse, which is one of Camden Yards’ signature sights. Cool, huh?
Our tour took us all along the suite level, and in addition to seeing the indoor suites, we also checked out the open-air suites at each end. After going as far as we could on the third base side, we changed direction and went all the way to the Hardball Cafe, which is down the first base line. It’s a giant, open-air suite for groups of 100:
While there, a bottle of Red Wings wine caught our eye:
By now, Derek had spent probably 45 minutes with us, but still wanted to show us more. We went down to field level and out to the group picnic area behind the right field fence, where groups can eat here:
And then stand above the right field bullpen and watch the game or move to the seating bowl. We also saw the park’s most unique suite, the Power Alley Grille, which is enclosed in glass and situated in right-center:
And the most comfy seat in the house, just to the left field side of the outfield suite:
We then passed under the batter’s eye, which has a neon advertisement that is turned off during play and on between innings, which I think is really smart:
I can’t resist showing these unlit and lit shots taken once the game began:
And under the 25×35 video board in left field, which is the largest screen in the county:
(See the Empire State Yankees logo on the screen?)
In all, Derek spent about 75 minutes with us and gave us more information than I could’ve imagined. It was amazing of him to spend so much time with us, especially as the start of the game drew close. Thanks again, Derek!
Because we’d covered everywhere in the park during our tour, we decided to check out a few more sights and then grab some food in time for the first pitch. We made a brief stop at the team shop, where I enjoyed looking at the game-used bats, including this one used by Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart:
An area recognizing former Red Wing Cal Ripken, Jr.:
And this shot, which shows some of the engraved bricks that make up much of the open area down the third base line:
You’ll notice the Red Osier concession stand in the background. Last time I visited Frontier Field, I had an excellent bowl of gourmet mac and cheese, but many fans weren’t shy about telling me that I missed the park’s best item — a prime rib sandwich at Red Osier. I love beef, so I got an original Red Osier sandwich, added a bit of horseradish and documented the evidence before devouring it:
It was absolutely delicious. The meat seemed like actual prime rib, rather than brown-dyed mystery meat. I could’ve eaten three or four of these things. It was that good, and I definitely recommend it. Remember that top 10 list of the best things I’ve eaten at ballparks? Let’s just say I’m going to have to revise it in off-season to include this sandwich.
While I washed my prime rib down with one of my ballpark favorites, a cup of freshly squeezed lemonade …
… Ryan mowed through a Buffalo wing chicken steak sandwich, which he said was delicious but spicy:
We watched the first four innings from the first base side. There’s not a bad seat at Frontier Field, but I love sitting on the first base side, as you get a perfect view of the historic Kodak building towering above the field:
While here, I took shots of my ticket and pass, as I always do:
The game was entertaining; 15 strikeouts in total, and two Yankees gunned down at home. On one of them, the runner was out by so much that when Ryan snapped this picture of the catcher waiting with the ball …
… the runner wasn’t even in the frame yet! But a second later, he was:
In the third, after a close play at home, Knights manager Joel Skinner took exception to the call and emphatically protested his case. It was one of those “I’m going to stay out here and complain until you throw me out” arguments, and that’s exactly what home plate umpire Chris Ward did, as you can see in this three-shot sequence that Ryan captured:
One of the notable players to see was former Chicago Cub Kosuke Fukudome, who signed a Minor League deal with the Yankees less than a week earlier, and was suited up for Empire State. After he walked early in the game, Ryan snapped his photo …
… and Fukudome appeared to wave at Ryan. It was hilarious and odd.
I wanted to grab something else to eat before we switched seats to the third base side, and I settled on a white hot dog, just because I was curious:
Had I been blindfolded, I wouldn’t have known the difference between this dog and a regular one, although it’s not something I’d likely try again. I don’t know if it was just this one or all white dogs in general, but this one had a spongy consistency that I wasn’t crazy about.
We spent the rest of the game on the third base side, and were able to capture some cool player shots, including Empire State catcher (and occasional Yankee) Francisco Cervelli:
Charlotte starter Matt Zaleski, who got the loss:
Corban Joseph, who I noticed was using a Sam Bat:
(I mention his bat because I toured the Sam Bat factory a month or so ago, which you can read all about it here.)
And Ramiro Pena:
The weather throughout the entire day was perfect. It was overcast and in the mid-to-high 70s from the time we arrived to the time we left:
One hilarious thing the gameday staff did late in the game was show solo fans on the video board while Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” played. It was funny enough that I laughed right out loud at some of the images:
The Yankees won 2-0 …
… and we wandered around for a few minutes after the conclusion of the game, stopping to check out the Red Wings Hall of Fame wall, which is extensive:
I’m definitely glad to have made a return visit to Frontier Field, and while I don’t know when I’ll get back again, I’ll definitely enjoy it when I do. Thanks to Matt and Derek for going out of their way to make our visit so memorable.
I’m planning a road trip for about a month from now, and I’ll post details about it soon — probably sometime next week, once the details are ironed out. As always, please visit The Ballpark Guide to not only read comprehensive ballpark guides, but also to support my travels. Thanks!
What do I have in common with Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun and Jose Bautista? Admittedly, not much. But on the morning of June 13, I was lucky enough to tour the Sam Bat baseball bat factory and showroom and see how bats for many of the game’s top sluggers are made. I’ve had the fortune of seeing a ton of cool sights since starting The Ballpark Guide, and this one ranks very high.
Just to bring you up to speed if you’re not familiar with this company, Sam Bat is a bat company based in Canada that was founded in early 1997. The company is most notable for producing the first Major League Baseball-approved maple bat and building the bat of choice for Bonds when he hit his 73rd home run in 2001 and when he chased down — and broke — Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record in 2007. If you want to read more about the company’s history, check out this link on the Sam Bat website.
Sam Bat is one of the top five bat manufacturers in professional baseball in terms of volume and in my opinion, produces some really sharp-looking bats. In 2011, the company produced bats for more than 100 MLB players and many more in Minor League Baseball, as well as the pro leagues in Australia and Mexico. (For the record, Pujols and Bautista don’t use Sam Bats currently, but Pujols did during his awe-inspiring rookie season and it was a Sam Bat in the hands of Bautista during his 54-home run season in 2010.)
Sam Bat is based in a small town called Carleton Place, just outside of Ottawa, Ontario, and I’ve been hoping for a tour for some time. That time finally came on June 13, and I met with company president Arlene Anderson for what would be a nearly two-hour tour and discussion. The company moved locations this past winter and since then, has been setting up its office while churning out bats every day.
It was exciting, for starters, just to be in an environment in which baseball is the focus. I started my tour in the office, where I met Arlene and talked baseball bats and baseball for a while. When you walk into the office, everything around you is baseball-centric, from the plaque on the wall that greets you soon after arrival …
… to the bats on display virtually everywhere you turn:
There were mounted clippings from the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, including this front page featuring Sam Bat founder Sam Holman with Barry Bonds:
And one with Arlene on the front cover soon after she took over the company:
There were lots of other cool things to see, including this figurine of Pujols. The photo isn’t great because of my reflection in it, but if you look carefully, you’ll see that Pujols’ bat is a Sam Bat:
The office also included products that aren’t even sold yet, and Arlene gave me the OK to take photos. So, it’s pretty safe to say you’re seeing these upcoming products for the first time right here. How about some Sam Bat eyeblack?
Or New Era snap-back caps with the Sam Bat logo?
After checking out the office, we went down to the factory part of the building. I’m not going to even try to explain how baseball bats are made; there are better resources online for that. But what I will do is share some behind-the-scenes photos that I think you’ll enjoy. The thing that struck me most about the factory is how the bats are truly made by hand. We’ve all see video clips of bat factories in which virtually the entire process is automated. That’s not even close to what goes on behind the doors at Sam Bat.
When the maple blanks come to the factory, they’re weighed, marked in two ways and stacked here:
One end of the blank is labeled with the number of the lot and after the blank is weighed, the weight is marked on the other end — up to three decimal places. The numbers you’ll see below actually mean, for example, 5.690 pounds or 5.694 pounds, etc.:
The blank goes through an amazing process en route to becoming a bat. It’s cut on a lathe …
(The bat you see above was actually being made specifically for Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, who signed an $85 million contract extension a day earlier. How cool is that?)
After the bat is cut to its rough shape, it’s inspected carefully to ensure the wood doesn’t contain any blemishes or knots. If it does, the bat won’t be used. See the photo below of partially finished bats?
Well, many of these won’t be completed because their wood has a knot that can negatively affect the bat’s integrity. The knot doesn’t have to be big, either. See these tiny marks?
They’re enough to send this bat to the discard pile. If the bat passes these inspection tests, though, it’s sanded by hand …
… and weighed carefully throughout the sanding process on scales like this one:
(MLBers are very specific about their bats, as you might imagine. When they like a specific model, they want subsequent bats to have the same length, weight, handle, barrel and knob. That’s part of the reason weighing several times throughout production is important.)
You know the cup that’s cut into the barrel end of many bats? That’s done with this specialized drill bit:
The bat is then run through this machine which smooths the wood. High-quality bats are smooth like a baby’s skin, and it’s this machine that plays a huge role in that trait:
When each bat is ready to be painted, it’s painted by hand. For real. I watched a man hold a bat in one hand and paint the barrel with a paintbrush with the other. Awesome! The painted bats are then hung to dry:
(The bats hanging above are already finished, and just on display in this manner to show the hanging/drying process.)
Then, the distinctive bat logo is added to the middle of the bat, a Made in Canada sticker is placed on the knob and the bats are stacked here where they’ll await their finishing touches:
As you probably know, many players have their names stamped on the barrels of their bats. The bats laid out on this table had just been stamped:
On the day I visited, many of the bats that had just been stamped were for St Louis Cardinals prospect Pete Kozma, who was a 2007 first-round draft pick of the Cards and played 16 games for the club last season. He’s currently playing at the AAA level:
As is the case with the other steps in the Sam Bat-making process, the name stamps are done by hand with great care. Someone literally presses a stamp onto an ink pad and then presses the stamp onto the barrel of the bat. This room was my favorite place in the factory. See the shelf below? All these plastic bins were full of name stamps:
Over the years, Sam Bat has produced bats for a veritable who’s who of baseball. In addition to Bonds, Pujols, Braun and Bautista, other guys who’ve swung Sam Bats in the Big Leagues include Miguel Cabrera, Troy Tulowitzki, Prince Fielder, Matt Holliday, Rickie Weeks, Manny Ramirez, Carlos Gonzalez, Jason Bay and hundreds more. In fact, Sam Bat has a great gallery of many of their top players on their Facebook page. Check out the gallery and note the bat logo on each player’s bat.
On the table above where all the name stamps are stored, a few hundred were lying out, so I couldn’t resist taking a bunch of photos. Click on this photo to enlarge it so you can read all the names:
Here’s a close-up of one row that includes Tulowitzki, Victor Martinez and even pitcher Ted Lilly:
And check out this shot; I see Ethier, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Santana, Justin Upton and notable Minor Leaguers Cutter Dykstra and Domonic Brown:
Ramirez, Nick Swisher and Travis Hafner:
Want to look at another photo? I know I do. Here are Soriano, Austin Jackson, Andy Laroche Carlos Guillen and Chris Young:
Some people who order bats (not necessarily MLBers, as the league has lots of guidelines about what’s stamped on bats) get custom slogans, including Who Dares Wins:
And Drop A Bomb:
One the bats are finished, they’re packaged up …
… and placed on a shelf until a shipment is ready to go out. This shelf was pretty bare on the day I visited because a huge order had just been shipped out:
The third destination on our tour was the showroom, which is still being set up. Even though it’s not completely done, it’s the type of place in which any baseball fan would just love to hang out. Of course, there are bats everywhere:
(See the cool bat racks? They’re made from each end of a bat.)
And more bats:
Check out this close-up shot of a barrel. It says RB8, which stands for Ryan Braun and eight, his jersey number:
Braun, who was the National League’s MVP in 2011, is arguably the most notable current Sam Bat user and the poster for his bat is one of the first things you notice upon entering the showroom:
I couldn’t resist checking out one of his bats. The bat I’m holding in the image below is the RB8:
Here’s a Bonds-signed lithograph commemorating his 500th home run:
And see this Under Armour ad featuring Soriano? Check out the logo on the bat he’s holding:
The entire tour was outstanding, and it was awesome to learn so much from Arlene. It’s not often that I find someone in Canada who’s as baseball obsessed as I am, but Arlene definitely knows the sport and had some great stories to tell, from texting back and forth about bats with Jose Canseco to getting phone calls and hearing, “This is Alfonso Soriano. I need more bats” on the other end of the line. (Arlene said that most players’ agents make bat inquiries, but Soriano has occasionally taken the matter into his own hands.)
Upon the completion of our tour, Arlene gave me a Sam Bat mini bat:
One of the long-sleeve T-shirts that the company gave out to players at Spring Training this year:
And an actual bat! Arlene took a photo of me with my new bat in the showroom:
This bat is the B1 model, which stands for Bonds 1. In other words, it’s the first prototype produced for Bonds. The bat is beautiful and I think you’ll agree that it’s a work of art:
Check out the hand-written notes in the cup at the end of the barrel. These numbers mean the bat is 33.5 inches long, 34.5 ounces (really, really heavy) and then there’s the date it was produced and the model number:
At the other end, there’s a Made in Canada sticker:
Here are the markings on the barrel:
And a close-up shot of the bat logo:
The handle end of the bat is stained in cherry stain, I believe, and it allows the grain to show through:
Sincere thanks to Arlene for taking time out of her busy day to show me around. The visit was absolutely outstanding. For more information on Sam Bat, check out the company’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed. The website gives you the ability to order a ton of cool stuff, from game-ready bats to trophy bats, which are a little heavier but are otherwise identical to bats meant for use. Sam Bat also sells a line of Little League bats, and those cool New Era caps will be on sale soon. To get in touch with the company, email firstname.lastname@example.org.