Carlos Gomez talks to his, even smells and kisses it. Ichiro Suzuki carries his in a shockproof, moisture-free black case. I don’t know what Alex Gordon does, but when he swings lumber, it’s a beautiful sight to see; a Tony Gwynn and George Brett kind of grace.
A batter stands 60 feet 6 inches away from a pitcher flinging bullets in excess of 100 mph. The batter has nothing but a piece of wood and whatever science, superstition, and skill is sandwiched in his heart, mind, and swing.
The baseball bat was synonymous with Louisville Slugger for more than 100 years, but those days are gone. The industry has been saturated by competitor companies. Gomez, Ichiro and Gordon all use different brands of bats.
But Louisville will always be remembered as the pioneer. Legend has it that John Bud Hillerich sat and watched the Louisville Eclipse star Pete Browning break his bat in 1884. Browning was in the middle of a slump.
Hillerich invited Browning to his makeshift Louisville lab and the two hand crafted a bat to Browning’s specifications. Browning banged out three hits the next day and the Louisville Slugger-made of Northern White Ash was born. It provided the lumber for Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and dozens of Hall of Fame bats enshrined behind glass cases in Cooperstown, New York.
Competition and innovation no doubt played a role in the Louisville Slugger losing its monopoly, but so did mother nature. The emerald ash borer insect was first detected in Michigan in 2002 and apparently is moving east into the Northern White Ash forests of Pennsylvania and New York.
That’s a few mountains and oceans away from Kasugai, Japan-the birthplace of maybe baseball’s greatest hitter. Ichiro played 11 seasons in the Japanese Professional League before signing with the Seattle Mariners. He always uses a MZP51 Pro Maple Black Mizuno bat manufactured in Japan. Ichiro swears by the superior quality and he’s not alone.
Casey McGehee played the 2013 season in Japan and insists Japanese bats are of better quality. McGehee hit 28 home runs and resurrected his career in Japan. He was signed by the Miami Marlins for the 2014 season and brought back Mizuno bats.
MaxBat is the lumber of Carlos Gomez. The company is headquartered in Brooten, Minnesota and uses a composite of rock maple, yellow birch and northern white ash. Gomez has a charming habit of kissing and talking to his bats.
Alex Gordon uses a traditional Louisville slugger.
I think the Brewer’s Jonathan Lucroy speaks on behalf of most major league hitters when he explains the reasoning for bat selection as “all about the feel.” Lucroy uses a B45 bat.
The B45 company is located in St. Catherines, Quebec; home of the Northern Quebec yellow birch. The bouleau jaune is the official provincial tree of Quebec and grows north of the 45th parallel. Hence the name B45.
The soft-spoken Lucroy has earned the nickname Nerd among Brewers players. The Brewer’s stand out catcher lets his bat do the talking. On Tuesday night, his B45 Quebec yellow birch spoke for the entire Brewer’s team. The Brewers were in Arizona to play game 2 of their series against the Diamondbacks.
It was only a matter of time before Arizona manger Kirk Gibson expressed his distaste for Ryan Braun on the actual diamond. The Arizona manager publicly questioned the validity of Braun and the Brewers defeating his Diamondbacks in the 2011 Divisional Playoffs and understandably so. Braun hit .500 in that series and his name is now synonymous with PED’s.
The opportunity presented itself Tuesday night and Gibson couldn’t resist. Brewers starter Kyle Lohse was uncharacteristically wild; plunking the first batter of the game-Didi Gregorius and to start the 6th inning, he beaned Chris Owings just below the neck.
In the top of the seventh and the Diamondbacks leading 4-3, Braun stepped to the plate to face Evan Marshall. There were runners on second and third with one out. Marshall threw behind Braun and on the next pitch nailed him in the back.
Marshall was ejected and walked off the field to a standing ovation including high fives from manager Kirk Gibson. The Brewers and Braun remained calm.
The bases were loaded. A perfect double play situation for the D-back with one small problem. Jonathan Lucroy and his B45 bouleau jaune yellow birch bat stepped to the plate.
Brad Zeigler was summoned from the bullpen and Lucroy greeted the side winder with his second home run of the game; a grand slam. Final Score; Brewer 7, Arizona 5. Maybe Kirk Gibson wished he would have exercised a little more self-control or at least some better timing.
The Brewers are 43-29.