When Chicago White Sox leadoff hitter Adam Eaton steps into the batters box on a nightly basis, he’s doing so with a few extra pairs of Central Ohio eyes on him.
Yes, Eaton is a budding star in Major League Baseball. He’s from Springfield and attended Miami University in Oxford, so he definitely has the Ohio ties. But it’s the piece of wood that he carries to the plate, a custom bat made from The Phoenix Bat Company, that is drawing the attention of local eyes.
Those watching Eaton a little closer than most around here are Phoenix Bats company founder Charley Trudeau and co-owner and general manager Seth Cramer, the pair are leading the charge as the Plain City business carves out it’s place in the wooden bat market.
“There are probably a dozen or so major leaguers who are using our bats,” Cramer said. “So yes we do keep an eye on how they’re doing.”
When you realize just how tough the wooden bat market is to crack, you can clearly understand why those at Phoenix Bats are paying such close attention to guys like Eaton. Phoenix Bats produces roughly 15,000 bats a year, high-quality pieces coming off a state-of-the-art Italian-built machine which is actually better than the one used to make bats at market giant Louisville Slugger.
“It is the most advanced bat-making machine in the world,” Cramer said. “It happened that our first investor, just wanted the biggest, baddest machine out there. We got that machine and still to this day (11 years later) it’s the most advanced bat-making machine on the market. There’s only one other bat company in the world that has a similar machine. Our little friends down in Kentucky have the next level down of this machine. Ours will automatically cut the bat and sand the bat in just two minutes.
“Theirs will only do the cut and then have another machine or a person do the sanding and they only use it on big league bats, but we use our machine on every one of our bats.”
The Phoenix Bat Company started when Trudeau was working years ago restoring old homes. During that same time he began playing 19th century baseball for the Ohio Historical Society. As a hobby he made vintage baseball bats that would have been typical of the 1860s out of his wood shop at his home. The love that grew from this hobby ultimately became the successful business it is today.
Image is everything
Phoenix Bats has continued to gain popularity in the pro baseball ranks in recent years thanks to a change in the company’s logo. The logo of a bird rising from the ashes has been replaced by the letter “P” that is engulfed in a flame design. This simple change in look has been a hit with the younger crowd.
“For many years we’ve made really good bats from an amazing machine,” Cramer said. “I came here almost eight years ago, it wasn’t until we had pro guys using our bats and they weren’t re-ordering that we found out it was all about the logo. Our logo used to be a bird, a Phoenix rising from ashes, and when we changed the logo and our marketing it made a major difference.
“With younger guys it’s about looking cool as much as it is about the quality of the bat. That turned it around for us, but even with that, at the pro level, these guys are getting bats thrown at them all of the time. We’re making some good headway though, we’ve got a lot of real good young guys coming up using our bats.”
Fighting for access
Even with its access to the pro ballplayers, getting in the door of MLB clubhouses is virtually impossible.
“We are a sponsor for the Columbus Clippers so we see guys down there. The weird part about our space is that even though we are a pro approved bat company and can sell to anyone in the bigs or minors. We still cannot see players in the bigs during the season, we are not allowed in the ball park or the clubhouse. The only one that is is Louisville Slugger. They are the official bat of MLB.
“It’s a weird space, we go through the same process and pay the same fees to be pro approved but we cannot say we’re MLB approved, we can say we’re pro approved, because we’re not the official bat maker of MLB.”
What Phoenix is doing is producing high-quality wooden bats that are available to major leaguers as well as little leaguers. The company has taken advantage of an increased interest nationwide in wood bats, which has coincided with restrictions that have been placed on aluminum bat manufacturers to make their products safer.
Phoenix Bats produces premium rock maple, yellow birch and Northern white ash baseball, softball, youth, practice and vintage game bats as well as bats for presentation for special recognition. Most of the wood the company uses comes from trees in the Northeast.
But the company is helping its neighbors out the best it can. Wood scraps and pallets from the facility are sent to Arched Casings, a custom molding manufacturer located in Plain City, which uses the wood in their wood-fired machinery. The 80-100 pound bags of sawdust sucked up by a state of the art air purifying system in the Phoenix facility goes to local stables for horse bedding.
“We’re keeping it in the community,” Cramer said.
Recent partnerships with craft beer companies in South Carolina and Colorado, have allowed Phoenix Bats to venture into some different areas. Fort Collins Brewery in Colorado is using maple bats from Phoenix Bats in its Hometown Helles lager. Literally inserting the pieces of wood into the fermenting lager to improve the maturation and taste of the beer.
“We’re getting involved in some other things, which has been a lot of fun,” Cramer said.
Chris Miles can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.