When the Chicago Cubs’ Addison Russell hit a two-run home run March 7 in a spring training game, it was a good moment for a new Homewood business.
Homewood Bat’s grand opening will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 16. The company began producing baseball bats early in January after founder Todd Pals and Dan Gibson, vice president of sales, got the shop set up at 17845 Bretz Drive.
Their first project was producing sample bats that they hoped to get into the hands of pro ballplayers.
Pals made three trips to Arizona during Major League Baseball’s spring training to meet with players and offer bats for them to try. He said the trips “exceeded expectations” in generating interest in the new brand of bats. A number of players have put in orders.
For the past three months, he and the Homewood Bats staff have been putting the finishing touches on the shop. In addition to Pals and Gibson, Homewood Bat staff includes Craig Olthoff, production manager, and Carly Hogan, laser engraver.
“The set-up has been everything I thought it would be plus a little bit more,” Pals said. “We didn’t have any major setbacks, but what we did have were things that you just don’t know in advance.”
Setting up the extensive dust collection system required some adjustments that weren’t anticipated, for example.
One of those finishing “touches” was actually a key component: a computerized lathe imported from Italy, which arrived in mid-February.
“The (lathe) programming is quite extensive, so to program a model takes a lot of work,” Pals said. “Once you have it right, it remembers cuts the same forever.”
It dominates the shop area, and it’s the workhorse of production, able to churn out 10 bats — cut and sanded — in about 15 minutes.
“We did everything we could to make sure we could keep up with big orders,” he said. “It takes longer to select a piece of wood” than to create a new bat.
While the machinery is fast and accurate, wood selection requiress care and judgment, and that’s where it pays to take some time, according to Pals.
All the cylindrical billets in the shop are grade A wood, he said, but even so, the staff grades each piece further to find the best of the best for top bats.
The most important characteristic of a good billet is the direction of the grain.
Pals explained that if the wood grain runs true in the direction of the bat, the energy generated when it strikes a ball runs toward the ends. If the grain is angled much, the energy will follow the angle and cause cracks or breaks.
For maple, which has a grain that’s difficult to see, the staff uses an ink spot test to make the direction of the grain clearly visible.
The shop still has the copying lathe it started with, plus a finishing room and engraving equipment.
Homewood Bat uses three wood species: ash, yellow birch and maple. Bats are finished in natural color, black or half black/half natural.
Engraving can be simple, like the addition of a name in basic typefaces, to complex, like etching a signature or company logo.
Pals said the company prepared to produce both working bats used by players from youth baseball to the professional level and keepsake bats with special engravings.
With the shop fully functional by early March, the staff turned its attention to finishing the retail side of the operation.
The front half of the store will have baseball games playing on two televisions, sample bats to swing and an exhibit area just inside the front door for baseball history displays. The first items on display are some old-time fielder’s mitts.
The counter separating the retail space from the office will be metal with a top made of the three types of wood used in the company’s bats.
The wall rack, which can hold up to 150 bats, was made with excess pieces of wood from the production process.
“We’re going to make it so this front part feels kind of cool,” Pals said. Even unfinished, the store has apparently got the right feel. “We’ve had high school students come in, and they don’t want to leave.”
The store also has a batting cage that is used for testing bats. It adds to the store’s baseball ambience, but it’s not available for the public to rent. Pals said he was concerned too much activity in the cage might conflict with business in the rest of the room.
Homewood baseball bats could be in the hands of pros soon as trustees award incentive to new (H-F Chronicle, Oct. 28, 2015)