Wood, bats, baseball…and memories

The author’s preferred bat, probably from the early 70′s.

There’s a home-grown company in my region that pops up in the news now and then. They make baseball bats. Wooden bats, out of maple.

Maybe you prefer metal bats. Maybe (like me) you don’t even follow baseball.

But it’s easy to like a story about small and local getting good results.

And it’s easy to get a bit sentimental about maples. Such a darned nice tree!

Maple gives us astonishing beauty this time of year. Maple makes lovely floors and furniture. Maple burns hot and slow in the winter wood stove. Maple syrup heralds spring. The Maple leaf symbolizes Canada. It’s an easy species to like. But I think this is supposed to be about baseball.

As Wayne Scanlan explains in this Ottawa Citizen article, Sam Bat in Carleton Place made the bat used by Miguel Cabrera – baseball’s first Triple Crown hitter (in batting) since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemsk back in 1967.

To me “Triple Crown” means something on four legs that wins the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. But, of course, the term is important in baseball too, as explained in this Wikipedia entry.

Sam Bat was founded by Sam Holman, a career stage hand for National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario. Here’s a “backgrounder” about that from another local success story – Lee Valley Tools. More about the how and why of the company’s origins are also found on the Sam Bat website.

Jim and Arlene Anderson bought a majority stake in the company after Holman wanted to slow down a bit. The Andersons established the current base of operations in Carleton Place. Here’s a video by Scott Parker featuring Jim Anderson that goes with the Citizen article. (Sam Holman and Paul Balharrie are part-owners as well.) A few more details from the print article:

Like the game itself, the company has found a rhythm — it buys maple logs from a “trade secret” source, and the logs are cut and treated at a kiln in east Ottawa before being shipped across Highway 7 to Carleton Place for the final bat production. The plant is 7,500 square feet, with room to expand if needed. Sam Bat employs 12 people.

Good going, Sam Bat!

And here I will digress into memory lane territory.

My home state of Hawaii had (has) no major league baseball team. There was a triple-A team, the Hawaii Islanders, but they were based on the island of Oahu and I grew up on Maui.

Besides living on what used to be called an “outer island”, I also grew up in the sticks. Hardly anyone to play with besides my two older brothers. (Note: the preferred term is now “neighbor island”, to suggest equality between each one.)

I wanted to join Little League. But we’re talking the dark ages, back when girls could not do that sort of thing. Besides that, this was not an era when parents automatically chauffeured kids around. (What? Join a team? No, just go outside and play!)

So we three (plus any other kids we could find) used to play a game called “roll bat”.

Roll bat is perfect for too-few players. If you had a ton of kids, you could have a pitcher and a catcher. But that usually wasn’t possible in our games. No teams either. It’s everyone for themselves.

Minus a pitcher, the batter self-pitches to hit into the open space. Fielders go where they want, crowding in for weaker hitters (like me, at first) spreading wide for the big kids. Oh, it felt good when I could finally hit long ones and keep the fielders guessing.

Catch any fly and the batter is out. That fielder goes in to bat.

If a fielder collects a grounder he/she needs to try get as close to the batter as possible. The fielder is allotted a series of throws to re-gain that ground. Throw the ball into the air ahead of yourself and run like heck to catch it! If you miss, the ball goes back to the batter and play resumes.

When the allotted number of successful throw/catches are used up, the fielder could end up anywhere from 2-20 feet in front of the batter. The batter must lay the bat down on the ground and stand behind it. The fielder then throws or rolls the ball at the bat. (“Roll bat”, get it?)

If the ball hits the bat, the fielder gets to be batter. But if the ball bounces up and is caught by the batter, he/she remains at bat.

I adore roll bat! It’s very flexible and required a wide variety of skills. The balance of offense and defense was also pretty interesting. Sometimes we played it where the batter had to call out the number of throws before the bat. (Two. Five!!) Lots of room for fake outs and psych jobs. Or mercy.

Besides offering a real challenge, roll bat was also very funny. It’s hard to throw yourself closer. Some of the mis-judged attempts involve outrageous attempts, be they successes or failures. You had to study the difference between what you thought you needed/wanted and what was actually possible.

In Box readers, do any of you recognize this game? Did my big brothers make it up? If it exists beyond our little circle, what other names does it go by? Because I can’t find it under “roll bat”.

My favorite bat? It was some sort of Little League product with some signature branded in. (I did say that I didn’t follow major league baseball!)

It was definitely made of wood.

It swung like a dream.

You know what? I bet I still have it , somewhere in the garage.

(After a short hunt.) Yup. Found it! See photo, above. (Occasionally being a pack rat pays off.)

Well, look there! “Henry Aaron“.

Now that I am grown the signature even means something to me.

That bat’s a keeper.

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4 Comments on “Wood, bats, baseball…and memories”

  1. Paul says:

    The factory (with a museum) where they make these bats is a must see. It is easy to find just look for the giant bat in Louisville.

  2. Larry says:

    Nice article! As kids we played a somewhat similar version of short-handed baseball with rules devised to mitigate the lack of full teams. Of course, my personal favorite bats were Adirondacks, made in Dolgeville. Still made there now, I think.

  3. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    Maple. When I think baseball bats, I think ash.

  4. My first bat as a kid was an Ash Louisville Bat. Now I make my own professional quality bats myself like Sam. You can check them out at http://www.annexbaseball.com. We are growing rapidly due to our craftsmanship and how our Annex Bat preforms on the field. Lucy please send me a PM about publishing a press release about us.

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