By Nick Gerhardt
Shopping locally these days has even expanded to bat making in Minnesota.
A quick scan of the state reveals several bat companies in Minnesota: Delano Bats, MaxBat Inc., Annex Baseball, Lambrecht’s Bats, Pillbox Bat Company and Meridian Bat Company.
Pillbox Bat Company features speciality bats that include nostalgia logos and is based out of Winona. Annex Baseball is based out of Minneapolis while MaxBat started in Brooten and Delano, well, you get the idea.
MaxBat, which Jim Anderson started in 2001, has made an impact in the market at the major league level. Former Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe, infielder Alexi Casilla, Nick Markakis, Jonny Gomes, Jayson Werth, Wil Myers and Jason Kubel have used MaxBats in the past.
Anderson, a former amateur ball player started small, making bats as a hobby but eventually partnered with Glacial Wood and Paul Johnson to produce his bats. As word got out about the quality of MaxBats, Anderson and Johnson became one of the bigger players in MLB, not far behind the behemoths of Louisville Slugger, Rawlings and Easton.
The small guys are making their mark through customization and catering to specifics needs of clients.
It didn’t used to be that way. Back in 1993, MLB approved five bat companies. That number rose to 32 in 2016.
Getting into the majors still isn’t easy but it can get done with a few steps. First, a bat maker has to have at least one player interested in using its bats. Bat makers who want to enter the big leagues must submit details of their manufacturing process, including how they cut bats and what they use to cut the bats. They also have to pay a fee, insurance, and be able to afford that insurance.
Marcus Zahn played amateur baseball for Maple Lake and retired in 2012. He sought to find a way to stay around the game without playing and found bat making as his outlet. In many ways bat making has become another craft profession.
“It’s a huge challenge when your going against huge players,” Zahn said. “Just in the last month I’ve had two or three customers refer to bat making like craft brewing.”
And like craft brewing, Zahn has fallen in love with the process of creating a bat.
“I just like every step of the process,” Zahn said. “I like cutting bats, I like finishing bats, I like handing them out to customers. It’s always fun to see them take a look at the product.”
Zahn’s an owner-operator of Meridian Bat Company so each bat gets a personal touch from him. He invested in a CNC machine and educated himself on maple properties to build his maple split bats as best as he can. He also got trained on how to run a lathe. He uses maple splits because it’s straighter and stronger, he said.
Bats are stored in a climate-controlled facility and his software is specific to ten-thousandths of an inch.
His former amateur ball teammates helped him along the way with his shop and he’s established sales representatives around the country.
Much of the wood for bats has traditionally come from Pennsylvania and the northeast United States. Some wood has started to come from Ukraine as well, Zahn said.
“If you’re going into bat making you have to love it,” he said.
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