Federal Way company trying to cut into the bat business with its "Axe" bat
Some Mariners are trying out the new bat made by Baden Sports that has a handle with no knob and is contoured just like those found on axes.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Mariners' first Cactus League game, vs. Giants @ Peoria, Ariz., 12:05 p.m.
PEORIA, Ariz. — The great slugger Ted Williams once wrote in a book he authored about hitting that swinging a bat is just like wielding an ax.
That philosophy was echoed for years by legendary Angels and Dodgers scout Kenny Myers. Often hailed as possibly the greatest baseball teacher ever, Myers used to have hitters stand on one knee and hit underhand tosses with an ax handle to perfect their swing.
And now, a Federal Way company is offering players the chance to practice what those two men preached. Baden Sports has developed a so-called "Axe" maple bat, where the handle has no knob and instead is contoured just like those found on axes Williams used to chop wood each winter to stay in shape.
"It's like anything, being a traditional baseball guy, it took a bit of an adjustment," said former Mariners outfielder Jay Buhner, hired by Baden Sports to help promote the new bat. "As soon as it went in my hand, it felt awesome. I felt immediate comfort."
Buhner is helping Baden Sports, a family-run company already quite prominent in the sports ball manufacturing business, break into the bat market this spring by getting "Axe" into the hands of Mariners major- and minor-leaguers. The company has already received provisional approval from Major League Baseball for players to try the bats out in spring training, as some Mariners have already done.
If any players decide they want to use the bats, the Mariners would have to tell MLB and the "provisional" tag would then be lifted in favor of full approval for "Axe" to be used in regular-season games.
Those touting the bats say the ax-handle grip is more natural and helps hitters keep their swing level without rolling their wrists. One possible side benefit, they say, is a reduction in hand fatigue and hamate bone injuries.
Another selling point, one that went over big with MLB, is that the ax-handle forces hitters to hold the bat in a way that it hits a ball with its face grain. Extensive testing by MLB over the years has found that having balls connect with the face grain — away from the label — substantially reduces the amount of broken bats.
The foray into the bat business is a marked departure for Baden Sports, run since 1976 by the Schindler family with a prominent international presence in manufacturing balls for basketball, baseball, football, soccer and other sports. But bats are an entirely different game and one that Baden Sports president Michael Schindler, who took over the company from his late father a few years back, says is even more competitive than the ball-manufacturing side.
"If you take all the bats on the market today, the one thing that strikes you is they all look exactly the same," Schindler said. "So, if you're getting into the bat business, without something unique, what's the point?"
The "Axe" bat idea originated on the East Coast, when an avid baseball fan carved an ax-handled shaped bat and went looking for a sporting-goods manufacturer to develop the idea further. Through word of mouth, Baden Sports became aware of the design, agreed with its premise and has spent the past year doing research and development and field-testing of the bats.
"If it was just a gimmick, I don't think we ever would have touched it," Schindler said. "But when I played baseball and softball, I used to choke up on the bat because I couldn't stand the knob. And when you pick up this one, it just feels so comfortable in your hand."
Mariners infielder Jack Hannahan agreed after trying one out in two rounds of batting practice the other day.
"It's a big-time different feeling, but it's a great concept," he said. "It feels weird, obviously, because there's no knob to it, so the first couple of swings it feels like it's going to fly out of your hands."
Hannahan added the bat has "good wood, it's nice, hard wood" and that he plans to test it out in Cactus League games.
First baseman Ryan Garko tested the bat Sunday and also plans to try one out in an exhibition contest.
"It just feels like it's contoured to your bottom hand," Garko said. "It's a little more comfortable in your bottom hand. That grip it gives you kind of fits right into your fingers."
Buhner and a company sales manager, Rusty Trudeau, who camped out in Peoria with a table of bats for players to try, say they won't be for everyone. Some hitters, they add, like to roll the bat in their hands as they await a pitch — which could leave the ax handle improperly aligned and awkward feeling.
For now, they're only having the Mariners and Padres — who share the same training complex — try the bats out and expect to get mostly younger players and minor-leaguers interested. One minor-leaguer who had a hamate-bone injury, they added, was one of the first to sign up to test the bats.
"Once players try them out," Buhner said, "they're going to wonder why it took so long for somebody to come up with this. Probably because they didn't have the technology to design this type of shape back then. But they do now, and I wish I'd had it when I played."
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
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