Before I became involved in Birdman Bats, I was a monster. From the minor leagues all the way up to the show, I most certainlydid nottreat my bats the way I’d like to be treated. Not that I wasn’t creative, however: I’d break bats on home plate after striking out, tomahawk them into dugout doors after popping out with the base loaded, and wing them into the outfield grass, like a damn Olympic hammer throw, following a subpar round of batting practice. I’m not proud to admit it, but more than one occasion, you could find me bashing my bat into the concrete wall next to the batting cage until all that was left were a thousand little wooden splinters.
Bats were not personal to me; they weren’t human. I had visited a handful of factories during my career (I won’t name any names), but those experiences reinforced how I already felt. It was machines > man; when I watched the production process at these facilities, it felt more like an assembly line than anything else. It was entirely impersonal, making me feel somewhat vindicated in my behavior. Hey, would you care for a Ford Pinto the same way you would, say, a Porsche?
In 2016, I invested in and started working with Birdman Bats. That winter, after my own season had finished, I returned to northern California, where I got my first glimpse into our bat making process; it was entirely different and unique to my previous experiences. I watched as our boys took a raw billet of wood and transformed it not only into functional baseball bat but also a piece of “functional art” - they were gorgeous.
Aside from the product itself, I was struck by how “human” the operation felt: Other from the initial cut on the lathe (as well as the laser engraver and “cupping” machine), the bats were crafted and coaxed entirely by hand. I watched the boys sand, stain, and paint the unfinished pieces of wood that they had turned earlier. They even fancied shipping boxes out of recycled cardboard and put the damn stickers on by hand (no small feat, as I would later find out when they put me to work!)
And like baseball chatter in the dugout, there was “Birdman” talk throughout the birthing cycle of the bats. Audible over the din of production sounds and the ever-present music in background, I’d hear things like, “Dude, this bat is so ridiculously nice!”/“Whoever is getting this one might just want to put it in a case and hang it on the wall! You can’t hit balls with this - it’s like a piece of art!”/“Guys, this bat is making me want to start playing again! I’m convinced it’s the key to hitting!”/“I feel like you wouldn’t even have to swing this bat to get hits.” And on and on and one it went...
It was all so obvious: They were freaking PROUD of their work! How huge is that?! The clients weren’t just getting a bat; they were getting a piece of whoever made it. I’m still not going to name any names, but that reality stood in stark contrast to my previous interactions with other companies.
That first day watching the guys work changed me: How could I reconcile tomahawking my bat into the dugout door after experiencing whatreallygoes into turning a bat? It took me the better part of a decade, but I finally got it; all it took was an afternoon at the Birdman compound!