21 June 2011

They lathe bats, don't they?: Making Bats for Orioles

We here at Camden Depot enjoy looking at baseball in ways that we think are often overlooked.  Sometimes this includes interviews.  In the past we have interviewed a fellow evaluator of talent in A ball, a writer of Japanese baseball, the author of a book on baseball statistics, an agent that represented several Orioles players, a blogger of Cuban baseball, and a film maker who is putting together a documentary on baseball in the Dominican which featured Miguel Sano.  I typically do not go out of my way to grab interviews, but when something interesting falls into my lap . . . it makes sense to me.  

A month or so ago, I was talking to one of my readers about the utility of the way I was evaluating college hitters.  In the midst of that conversation, he mentioned that one of his ex-teammates on Purdue's baseball team had recently started up a baseball bat wood working operation, DS Wood Bats (twitter).  To make it more relevant to the Baltimore Orioles, this outfit supplies several players in the organization with bats.  I contacted one of the founders, Allan Donato, and will share his answers about how he started his business and bat making in general.

Jon Shepherd: What led you to becoming a professional bat maker?  What is the proper name for someone who makes bats?

Allan Donato: I grew up in Harrisburg, PA where I didn't necessarily focus on baseball primarily, but always had a huge love for the game.  I was an all-state baseball player in high school and ended up taking a scholarship to play collegiately at Purdue University. I played for a bit after college in the Frontier League (Independent) before being approached with the idea to begin this business by my business partner, Richie Schwartz.  Rich played collegiately at Lebanon Valley College and was working in politics at the time and had decided he wanted to continue to be in baseball.  He had a true passion for hitting and loved bats.  He had some woodworking experience and sold me on the fact that he could make bats.  We bought a lathe that week and the rest is history.  It took a great deal of research, trial and error, and effort to get this point.  We have come a long way. 

JS: Interesting.  By the way, what is the proper term for someone who makes bats?  I'd hate to get this wrong.

AD: I have no idea what the proper term would be for a people who make bats, but I truly believe it is an art.  Most people don't understand the craftsmanship that goes into producing a bat for someone.  When people come visit our shop and watch us they really appreciate it afterwards.

JS: I have noticed that several players in the Orioles organization use bats you make.  How have you been able to take a small business and rapidly make such gains in the market?

AD: It took a few things to really take our small business and make us grow this rapidly.  First, the product itself has been amazing.  We are extremely confident in the wood and the craftsmanship, and truly believe we make the best bats on the market.  Not only the product, but it takes being approved for use in the major and minor leagues and also the relationships we have developed.  Once we became approved, myself and our VP of Operations, Jared Smith, traveled down to spring training and went camp to camp to develop the relationships we have established today.  Finally, it also takes flat out luck.  
We got in touch with Nick Markakis through luck.  Billy Rowell, one of our clients on the Bowie Baysox, ordered bats a few days before Bowie was in Harrisburg to play the Senators.  When Richie delivered the bats, he brought a few extras and happened to run into Jeff Fiorentino who tried our bats and loved them.  Jeff raved about our product, ordered from us, and then offered to contact his close friend Nick for us.  Once we got bats to Nick, he was very happy with them also and has continued to work with us to this day.  So as you can see, it definitely takes a great deal of skill and hard work, but it takes some luck also.

JS: Which players in the Orioles organization use your bats? 

AD: We have bats in the hands of Nick Markakis, Jake Fox, Brandon Snyder, Robert Andino, Billy Rowell, Joe Mahoney, as well as a few others.  I also have several other minor league players who have reached out to me to try our product as they have seen it at several levels.
JS: What are the future plans for DS Wood Bats?
AD: Our plans for the future have changed quite a bit over the past year because of how quickly we have grown.  Right now I would say our plans for the future are to continue to build the clientele in the major and minor leagues through showing the great quality of our product and ability to give the client exactly what they are looking for.  I think in turn, we will expand our amateur market drastically by showing the drastic rise in popularity of our product in the pro market.  Again, we have grown so much so quickly, that our plans can change quickly, but ultimately we definitely want to make sure we entrench ourselves in the pro market.
In part II (which will be posted on Thursday), Allan and I discuss focus more on how bats are made.  This will include some information on what players ask for when ordering a bat and even a little bit on issues with bats breaking into splinters.

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