In The News

Indoor/outdoor batting cages and more coming to south Buncombe

Emily Patrick, 3:29 p.m. EDT May 28, 2016

Squint, and the backyard of D-BAT looks familiar, suburban: a lawnmower resting on well-kept grass.

But look closer, and the push-powered device at D-BAT is actually a turf mower, made for fluffing and aligning thousands of square feet of artificial grass.

The Hendersonville Road sports facility that opens June 11 promises to be more than recreational batting cages, according to manager Rusty Bell. With nine total "tunnels," as the batting areas are called, D-BAT will offer training for any athlete that wants to swing a bat or catch a ball, including coaching, clinics, camps and cage rentals.

"Our passion is to take kids and take them to the next level," Bell said. "(But) our overall goal is to help build character through the game of softball and baseball."

To those unfamiliar with the sports, the 20,000-square-foot facility with comfortable waiting areas for parents, a party room and an expansive equipment shop might seem overblown for a childhood pastime. But baseball and softball are a big deal for many families, Bell explained. Sure, they're fun, but sports scholarships are a pathway to college and, sometimes, the major leagues.

"There's a huge niche market, but there's a market for sports," he said. "Parents are spending thousands of dollars."

In addition to the school sports teams, Buncombe County has private teams in which hundreds of kids are enrolled.

About 100 children play on Asheville Braves teams, and about 500 are involved with Western North Carolina Youth Sports Organization, according to those groups' websites. South Buncombe Youth Sports organizes dozens of teams, and with about 10-12 players per team; it also comprises hundreds of children.

But D-BAT hopes its reach won't stop at youth athletes, Bell said.

"We stop when the player stops," he said. "Even if they're playing on the company softball team."

Bell said he's a true believer in the transformative power of sports. For 20 years, he worked at the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office and watched kids who could have been great athletes drift in and out of the criminal justice system. He thinks D-BAT can support those people.

"I can help my community more from here, although I love the sheriff's office," he said. "Baseball can be an expensive sport to play, and we don't want that to be the reason kids don't get an opportunity."

Although it's a national franchise, D-BAT doesn't have a scholarship system in place. Bell said the Asheville location could change that with corporate sponsorships for student athletes.

Although Bell is an avid baseball fan with two children on South Buncombe Youth Sports teams, he's partnered with high-achieving college athletes to fill the coaching roles.

James Thomas, a first baseman and renowned clutch hitter, played for Georgia Institute of Technology, and Courtney Knight was part of an all-SEC team while playing softball for the University of Georgia.

Thomas said his coaching areas will include training athletes for college sports, boosting players' confidence and planning off-season training to keep players in shape. But he'll also use less conventional strategies to improve students. He practices yoga and wants to help athletes with the mental aspects of the game.

"I'm just trying to help the kid have more confidence in what he's doing," he said.

D-BAT offers several ways to train. For the traditional batting cage experience — complete with tokens — pay $5 and hit 75 balls. That's the basic deal.

D-BAT, a baseball and softball training facility, has both indoor and outdoor turf-covered space to provide, camps, clinics and lessons to athletes. For more extensive use of the facilities, memberships cost either $38 or $58 per month during the early days of D-BAT. Bell said those prices will probably change after the facility gets more established.

The memberships include discounts on summer camps, products and services and greater opportunity to use the batting cages.

The training center features specific technologies designed for baseball players, such as the FungoMan, a programmable pitching machine that knows the difference between a ground ball to the shortstop and a fly ball to the outfield.

Bell said a HitTrax machine will come online this fall. Since every baseball stadium has a distinct field, it allows players to hit balls at the simulated stadium of their choice. It's a combination between a video game and a batting cage, Bell explained.

D-BAT isn't the only such facility in the area. Diamond Mine in Candler and House of Fastpitch in Fletcher offer training opportunities, and Fun Depot and Tropical Gardens Mini Golf have batting cages. But Bell said he hopes to offer something distinct, both in the level of the training and the variety of options.

He has plans for corporate events, birthday parties, wiffle ball games, and date nights where parents can drop off their kids for the evening.

"If it's outside and it needs grass, we've got it," Bell said.

D-BAT Star Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw wins 2012 Roberto Clemente Award

By Matt Snyder | Senior Blogger


Clayton Kershaw, winner of the 2012 Roberto Clemente Award, pictured alongside Bud Selig and Vera Clemente. (US Presswire)

DETROIT -- Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw has won the 2012 MLB Roberto Clemente Award, it was revealed Sunday evening in Comerica Park during a press conference. MLB commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, Roberto's widow made the official announcement.

“It is an incredible honor to receive this award,” said Kershaw. “Just being associated with someone like Roberto Clemente is truly humbling and I am extremely grateful.”

The Roberto Clemente Award recognizes the player "who best represents the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, including sportsmanship and community involvement." The award is named after Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash in 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

We know about Kershaw's on-field track record, which is that he won the 2011 NL Cy Young Award and again led the majors in ERA (2.53) this season. He also sported the best WHIP in the NL and struck out 229 hitters in 227 2/3 innings.

As far as off-the-field activities, here is how Kershaw secured the award, via MLB press release:

Clayton Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, founded Kershaw's Challenge, a charitable organization that encourages people to make a difference by giving back to at-risk children and communities in need. The charity has provided assistance to a variety of organizations, including to its cornerstone charity, “Arise Africa,” which is helping the Kershaws build and sustain an orphanage for children in Lusaka, Zambia called “Hope's Home.” In addition to providing a safe haven for orphans, Kershaw's Challenge also seeks to create an emergency fund for the children, many of whom suffer from diseases and infections related to HIV and AIDS. Each year, Kershaw and his wife travel to the orphanage to visit with the children and bring awareness to this issue. He has also co-written a book with Ellen, released in January 2012, entitled, “Arise: Live Out Your Faith and Dreams on Whatever Field You Find Yourself,” which is about their life together and trips to Africa. Money raised from the book's proceeds goes directly to Kershaw's Challenge for Hope's Home. In addition to Hope's Home, Kershaw's Challenge has also supported the Peacock Foundation in Los Angeles, which provides animal-assisted interventions and activities for at-risk youth by partnering with mental health practitioners, public service agencies, and community organizations. Kershaw's Challenge is also involved with Mercy Street in his hometown of Dallas, Texas, which provides mentoring, sports and recreation, vocational and educational opportunities to young people in at-risk communities. Kershaw has participated in numerous Dodgers' community initiatives such as the offseason Community Caravan, a Habitat for Humanity Build, the distribution of back packs and school supplies to 1,000 underserved children and the annual Dodgers Dream Foundation Youth Baseball Camp.

“I am happy to congratulate Clayton Kershaw on being named the recipient of this year's Roberto Clemente Award,” said Vera Clemente. “The work that this young man has accomplished to help youth around the world is wonderful, and we are proud to welcome him among the many players who have carried on Roberto's legacy.”

The first winner of the award in 1971 was Willie Mays -- at the time it was called the Commissioner's Award. In 1973, the award renamed to honor Clemente. Fifteen current Hall of Famers have won the award and a few more -- Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Craig Biggio, to name three -- are headed that way. David Ortiz won the award last season.

Anything but the Ting: The Wooden Bat League by David Thren Region 3 Editor

By sportingtimes


We all know what the phrase, “three strikes and you’re out” means. How about “cover all my bases”? How about “the crack of the bat”? Of course we know those phrases, but while we all can easily identify with those never-dull phrases, one of them has changed in modern times. While you still strike out after your allotted number of strikes, and you’d better be certain to cover the bases, you don’t always hear the crack of the bat anymore. Sometimes it’s more of a “ting” of the bat due to metal bat usage. I’m a purist, and I still smile inwardly every time I hear the bat create that nostalgic and recognizable sound as it cracks the ball toward the waiting ball players in the field. George Liebert decided that he liked that sound too much to dismiss it from the game, as well. That’s why he and his family have gone all in on keeping a small, yet desired, portion of baseball intact – the wooden bat. Just take a minute and ask George about the topic. Now, I want to warn you before you read the next paragraph, George embraces old-fashioned, pure baseball – you’ll hear that come to the surface when he describes the genesis of the Wooden Bat league. “The wood bat league was started in 2009 as a concept of putting all players on equal grounds, and trying to get the kids to understand their true potential as players. No more check swing home runs.” I hear the persuasion being dialed up there, but as it just so happens, he doesn’t need to persuade me.

George sees the “…new high dollar composites, and high dollar aluminum bats out there today” as a problem. That problem is unrealistic play and results. This catapult-type projection can actually detract from a youngster’s understanding and development as a player. If he hits the fence all the time in the lower levels of the game, then how does he learn the fundamentals of the game that will eventually become his ticket to higher levels of competition? George states quickly, “Don’t get me wrong I love to watch any (and all) baseball, but the wood bat league is designed to take these kids back in time. I do believe that the wood bat Classic (BWBC) does take the players back to a different time; I think that is why we keep growing. I’ll ask everyone out there what sounds better… a ting or a crack.” I know how I feel about that – a metal bat creates the “golf-swing-on-steroids” sound, which is definitely a foreign, non-baseball sound.

What was his inspiration for the league? I think we can all come really close in a guessing game, but I thought we should let him define his inspiration for himself. “I was wanting to see the youth baseball players get a better baseball experience as hitters, players, and stewards of the game. The wood bat takes baseball back to its true form of pitching and defense. If a young player would hit it on the sweet spot – boom, a great hit! Conversely, if the player misses [the sweet spot on the bat] – a broken bat [would be the result]. There’s nothing better than a young player breaking their first wood bat it makes them feel like a big leaguer, such as Alex Rodriguez, Joey Votto, Starlin Castro, Mike Trout, or a Bryce Harper. I think the parents like it because it also takes them back to a different place and time - especially when they here that crack as a ball hits flush onto the D-BAT.”

George is very diligent and careful to make mention of those outsiders that saw his vision, and determined to be a part of it. D-BAT is a major bat-making corporation that decided to help. When Liebert couldn’t get some of the larger bat-makers to step onto the scene, D-BAT did so. Take a look the next time Ian Kinsler steps to the plate for the Texas Rangers; he’s carrying D-Bat lumber to the plate!

What D-BAT did was offer the Wood Bat League the opportunity to order customized bats on small-scale – something other companies weren’t willing to do. These bats are tailored to the individual child; the color of the bat matches his team color, the length of the bat is what the child ordered, and weight also is customized to what the child needs.

Another big-time supporter came in the person of Doug Rettig of American Outfitters. He also recognized the need of the league when he also determined to provide uniforms on a smaller scale operation. Another nod should go to Jared Bratcher of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau. He made certain that the supply of baseballs never became an issue.

Something that is modern about this league is the fact that both genders get the opportunity to play, and that’s something that should have come about long before now. That’s a change that actually goes back to the days of WW2 when there was a professional women’s baseball league.

The league’s success has been astounding so far. Liebert says, “After the 1st season, we had such a great response that we decided to try a second season. We went from 4 teams to 6, then the following season from 6 to 8.” This season is no different, “Then this season we went from 8 to 16. I can’t believe it; 16 teams, all coming from one idea…to just let kids be kids and play a great game.”

The appeal of the league has partially come because of Liebert’s business strategy, if you will. “We always take the wood bat league to a different location every year as we want to help out the local leagues. We let them keep all concession for the games. We have played at Philpot, Thruston, Masonville, and this year at Yellow Creek Park.

Another reason for the success of the league is due to family involvement. “Tracy Liebert, my wife, does all the paper work and keeps me focused, while I’m doing everything else. Tracy is a great worker, and without her ability to get it done this could not be possible. She helps me make my dreams of protecting youth baseball come true.” Tracy’s “paperwork” job is more astonishing than you’d imagine. She organizes everything that revolves around player registration, player insurance, any email and/or text that gets sent back and forth from the teams to the Wooden Bat League office, makes certain that the customized bat orders are correct, and finally orders all the jerseys for players. I would bet that this is not her full-time job, either…this gets added to that job.

One other family member has uniquely decided to involve himself in this league. George’s son, Kirk, decided to test the league out for himself by playing in it. Kirk plays the middle of the field – catcher, middle infield positions of 2B or SS, and center field. Like all young men looking to perform at a high degree of proficiency, he would like to imitate the playing styles of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, or Robinson Cano. He has his sights set on high school ball for now, but certainly preps himself for going further than that, as well. I asked him, “What’s the easiest part of baseball for you?” Hitting is the easiest, while his answer to the hardest part of baseball should’ve been obvious – “Waiting to hit.”

The rewards for playing go beyond just another trophy that collects dust in a window sill. “With registration each player gets their own custom D-BAT and Jersey. At the end of the season we give each player something special, not another trophy, but something cool like a trophy bat or baseball cards.”

Each year the champion has been determined through tournament-style play. “We have a seeded tournament and two divisions of play - an American league and a National league. Once the American league winner is determined, and the National league winner is determined we play a world series; a one-game-takes-all.”

George and company are not involved in sports through the summer. Their new sports complex on the south side of town is a state-of-the-art facility that fulfills just about anybody’s sports cravings year round. George says, “The Next Level Sports Facility is our newest adventure. This is a new place in town at 105 Carlton Drive, in Owensboro, KY. This facility allows kids, adults, work groups, church groups, or anyone else can come inside to play basketball, volleyball, softball, or baseball. We even host indoor tournaments - even archery…anything to keep kids off the streets and staying active.”

Did you hear that, George said, “Anyting we can do.” There’s someting a little fishy about that last statement…someting annoying, but I can’t put my finger on it. Oh, I know what it is – the sound of “ting” at the end of my words. That “ting” sound is a little bit annoying – it is in baseball, too. I want to hear the crack of the bat, not the “ting”…anything, but the “ting”.

Lakeland wins first FSL crown since '92

Flying Tigers break through in eighth in Finals' deciding game


Lakeland celebrates after recording its third shutout in seven playoff games. (Matt Little)

The last time Lakeland won the Florida State League championship, Tyler Collins was 2 years old.

It's safe to say he -- and the rest of his Flying Tigers teammates -- will have more vivid memories of this title than the last.

Collins delivered a two-out RBI single to cap a two-run eighth inning Wednesday as Lakeland blanked Jupiter, 2-0, in the decisive fifth game of the FSL Championship Series.

The insurance run, which followed seven three-hit innings by Warwick Saupold, helped Detroit's Class A Advanced affiliate capture its first crown since 1992.

"I have a headache, and that's a good thing, I think," said Collins, the Tigers' No. 16 prospect. "I couldn't be happier. We're so proud and honored to be playing with each other. We're on a natural high.

"We had the Champagne shower and we were throwing beer around. Everyone is having a great time. I've been on the losing end before, and being on the winning end feels much better."

Each of the five games in the Finals were decided by two or fewer runs. Both teams collected 39 hits, with the Flying Tigers outscoring the Hammerheads, 20-18.

The series came down to one inning and one daring decision by veteran Lakeland manager Dave Huppert.

Hernan Perez greeted reliever Rett Varner with a leadoff single in the eighth. Michael Rockett dropped down a sacrifice to move Perez into scoring position and Marcus Lemon worked a walk.

Jupiter brought Michael Brady out of the bullpen to face Dixon Machado, and Huppert called for a double steal. On a 2-1 pitch, Perez took off for third base, with Lemon trailing behind him. Catcher Jake Realmuto's throw went into left field, allowing Perez to score the game's first run.

"When Perez got on, we knew something good was going to happen," Collins said. "He knows how to play the game, he's baseball savvy. When the ball went down the line, we were ecstatic, but he had the bag swiped, regardless of the throw.

"Huppert is as good as they get. You trust him and buy into what he says."

Machado popped out, but Collins followed with a single through the hole to chase Lemon home from second base with a valuable insurance run.

"It was the first pitch. It was a fastball up in the zone," said Collins, a 2011 sixth-round Draft pick. "They had been pounding me away the whole series, so that was what I was looking for."

Jupiter brought the potential tying run to the plate in the ninth after Noah Perio doubled with two outs, but Realmuto tapped softly back to the mound for the final out of the season.

Considering how the series played out, it came as little surprise the championship was decided in the final innings of the final game.

Jupiter held on to win the opener, 6-5, after Lakeland scored five times over the final three frames. The Flying Tigers tied the series with a 15-inning road victory in Game 2.

The Hammerheads got a combined three-hitter in Game 3 to move within a win of the title, but Lakeland drew even again on Tuesday with a 5-3 triumph.

Once the final out was recorded Wednesday, it marked the first time the Flying Tigers led the series.

"I can't thank the team enough. It's a great team and a great organization," Collins said. "We all love each other and we all understand how each other plays. We love the game of baseball and treat it right. When you have that love and passion, it's hard to lose.

"By the time I get to Spring Training, that's when it will sink in. Probably when I get that ring."

The last time Lakeland won the championship two decades ago, it was known simply as the Tigers. The team went a perfect 6-0 in the postseason, sweeping the Baseball City Royals in the Finals.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

Bryan Holaday MLB Debut

Bryan Holaday - MLB Debut

Cards call up Hill to replace Carpenter

Steven Hill - St. Louis Cardinals Steven Hill - St. Louis Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals added their seventh player to the disabled list on Wednesday, with Matt Carpenter shelved due to a right oblique strain. And with that, another player has been called upon to fill the gap.

Catcher Steven Hill had his contract purchased from Triple-A Memphis, and arrived in time for Wednesday's series finale against the Padres at Busch Stadium.

"Any time you can get back up here, it's amazing," said Hill, who traveled from Tucson to St. Louis on Wednesday to be in uniform in time for the game. "I really didn't expect it at all. It was a big surprise. I'm pretty happy to be here."

Hill, who entered Wednesday's 6-3 victory over the Padres as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and went 0-for-1, has been added to both the 40-man and 25-man roster, making both full. Hill is hitting .257 with four homers in 19 games for Memphis.

"[Steven's] got a good power bat," said Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams, who's spent time with Hill in Memphis earlier this season. "He knows the strike zone pretty well, and I think he's going to come up here looking to hit. He's good defensively too, whatever position. He played a lot of positions down there in Memphis, so whatever the team needs here, he'll be the guy for it."

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Hill had been called up mainly because of the way he had been swinging the bat. But Hill is also an asset defensively because of his versatility. Hill could see time at first, behind the plate and in the outfield, Matheny said.

Matheny also said catcher Tony Cruz could get more playing time in a utility role, and Daniel Descalso could play first, as well. The manager also hasn't ruled out the possibility of moving catcher Yadier Molina to first base for a day or two to give him some rest.

By Jenifer Langosch and Mike Still /

Mather gets Cubs outfielders on the board

Joe Mather hit the first home run by a Cubs outfielder this season on Sunday Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Joe Mather hit the first home run by a Cubs outfielder this season on Sunday.

Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus and Tony Campana couldn’t do it, so Joe Mather took care of recording the first home run from a Chicago Cubs starting outfielder this season.

The Cubs were the last big league team without a home run from an outfielder until Mather went deep in the fourth inning Sunday. It was just the third time Mather started in the outfield this season.

"Is that right?" Mather said afterward. "I had no idea. That’s kind of a crazy fact that I would have never guessed."

Asked if he can now pound his chest when he walks by the starting outfielders, Mather wouldn’t go there.

"No way," said Mather, who hit his home run with his sister, girlfriend and some nephews in the stands. "I have too much respect for those guys, especially [Soriano]. He’s going to take off here any second."

Home runs have been hard to come by for the Cubs regardless of position. Yes, the Cubs have played one series in spacious Marlins Park and many of their home games have come with the wind blowing in, but it wasn’t going to be a big long-ball team even under ideal conditions.

The Cubs entered play last in home runs in all of baseball with seven, and Bryan LaHair had four of those. They were the only club not in double digits.

Manager Dale Sveum chuckled when asked about finally getting a home run from an outfielder.

"What it is it today, Game 20, 21?" Sveum said. "I don’t know what the record is but we were probably closing in on it, in the modern era anyway."

Doug Padilla - Chicago Cubs beat reporter

Tyler Collins talks about D-Bat

"In High School I had always aspired to make the elite select baseball teams. I often played against DBAT and continually got beaten by them. I finally got the chance to play for one of their teams and was grateful for the opportunity. Over the next few years, I developed a personal relationship with Cade and the DBAT team. They were not only great coaches, but also great people that cared a lot about the players. I kept in touch with them throughout my college career. When I got Drafted, he was the first one to call me with a big congratulation. It made my decision easy on what bats I wanted to swing because DBAT produces the hardest ash bats I’ve ever seen. I had teammates asking me to hook them up with bats immediately. Before the 2012 Spring Training camp started, I signed with DBAT. I will trust nobody else with bats other than DBAT. I get Big league quality wood and I get them fast after I order them. Thanks Cade and the DBAT team, keep up the great work!"

Tyler Collins
2011 Tigers 6th Round Draft Pick

Batting around: Once declared dead, wooden bat has come full circle

12:48 PM CDT on Monday, August 9, 2004

By GARY JACOBSON / The Dallas Morning News

The bat man of Dallas guides his big pickup truck into the fast lane and slides a Guns N' Roses DVD into the on-board player.

He's returning from his manufacturing plant in Mount Pleasant. The cellphone is on and he's open for business, wooden bat business. William, in Florida, wants information on baseball bats he is testing against a competitor's. A summer team manager in Virginia wants prices and delivery times. Agent Billy Martin Jr. wants a deal for a client.


Tom Fox / DMN
Cade Griffis, the bat man and president of D-Bat Inc., expects to ship 25,000 bats from his three-year-old East Texas factory this year, more than double a year ago.

That's a long way from the woodless future foreseen by Sports Illustrated in 1989, less than 20 years after aluminum baseball bats first appeared and took over the amateur game. Because of economics, the magazine predicted, the low minor leagues would begin using aluminum by the early 1990s and the majors would convert to metal by the turn of the century.Instead, the millennium sees wood as entrenched as ever in the pros and gaining popularity among amateurs.

It wasn't long ago that some experts were declaring the wooden baseball bat all but dead. Bad call. Wood is coming back.

Cade Griffis, the bat man and president of D-Bat Inc., expects to ship 25,000 bats from his three-year-old East Texas factory this year, more than double a year ago.

He's not alone. Dave Cook of Hoosier Bat in Indiana says he will make 50,000 bats this year, up from 42,000 a year ago. Doug Wheeler, who has made furniture parts for 15 years and bats for three years in New York state, expects his bat business, Superior Bat, to soon rival his furniture business in sales volume.

And Mike Bushnell in Minnesota says sales at his three-year-old wooden bat dealership, Prowoodbats, could reach $130,000 this year, quadruple a year ago.

"Within the next 10 years, you'll see pretty much everybody going back to wood, even the high schools," he says.

Bushnell probably got a little carried away. Aluminum isn't going to disappear any time soon.

But you can't blame him for getting excited. He was being interviewed by phone while selling bats at a Georgia wooden bat tournament. He sold 120 bats that day and had to order more, with express delivery, to get them before the tournament ended.

New summer leagues, such as the Texas Collegiate League, which D-Bat supplies, are forming around the country. Some American Legion leagues and community college conferences are using wood. As are adult leagues, such as the Dallas Amateur Baseball Association, and select leagues for younger players. Even some high school teams in Massachusetts have switched to wood.

"I didn't realize how large the market was until I started making bats," Wheeler said.

Why the return to wood?

Safety is an issue. Rule changes a few years ago made aluminum bats perform more like wood, but many say a well-hit ball still comes off an aluminum bat with too much velocity. Pitchers can't react.

Barry Bonds' assault on home run records also helped popularize maple bats as an alternative to ash, spawning new demand and a new generation of bat makers.

Wood revival

But bigger factors in wood's revival, Griffis says, are two groups looking for an edge. Major league scouts believe they can evaluate prospects better if they see them hitting with wood bats. And players want to become better hitters.

Because it takes more skill to hit with a smaller sweet spot on the bat, swinging wood makes a player a better hitter when he returns to swinging metal. It also might help him avoid that dreaded scouting tag: aluminum hitter.


Tom Fox / DMN
Hundreds of patterns used for cutting bats hang from the workshop wall of D-Bat, Inc.

Griffis says he was convinced to start making bats when 12- and 13-year-olds starting coming into the retail shop at his Dallas Baseball Academy of Texas in Addison wanting wood. "You could see it was a big market," he said.

Make no mistake. The big companies - Louisville Slugger, Easton and Rawlings - are still the main players. Louisville Slugger expects to sell 1.2 million wooden bats this year.

But there is opportunity for smaller competitors.

Quality and customer service drive business, say the owners of D-Bat, Hoosier, Superior and smaller manufacturers.

Wheeler, who makes only maple bats, says manufacturers have no trouble getting the raw material they need. And they don't reserve the best wood and bat models for the pros.

"I'll sell major league lumber to any kid," says Hoosier's Cook, who uses only ash.

Through one of D-Bat's dealers, any player can get the same quality maple bat the company makes for Rafael Palmeiro. Cost: about $70, with the player's name etched on the barrel.

"The high school kids, the college kids, they love their name on the bat," Griffis said. D-Bat also makes ash bats, which cost from $39 to $75.

With aluminum bats selling for $250 and more, the cost difference for wood bats, which break, and metal bats, which usually don't, is not as large as many think.

"I tell kids that for what they've got in aluminum in their trunks they could be swinging wood," says Cook, who sells a "high-minor league" bat for $23. "If they break 18 wood bats in a season, I tell them to go play soccer." All agree, better hitters break fewer bats.

A baseball background

Griffis, 30, comes to the bat business with a baseball background. He played at Dallas Baptist University and in the Kansas City Royals' minor league system before bad knees helped him decide to stop playing.

With his brother, Kyle, and financial partner Craig Penfold, Griffis started the baseball academy in 1998, focusing on camps, clinics, private lessons, cage rentals and uniform sales.

In 2001, Griffis, Penfold and Jack MacKay Jr. started the bat company separate from the baseball academy though borrowing the acronym.

The partners have since had a falling out. MacKay left D-Bat last year. The two sides sued each other. David James, an attorney for MacKay, and Penfold, the chief executive of D-Bat and an attorney, both say they are hopeful a settlement can be reached.

Initially, D-Bat strongly courted professional players, who often swing more than one kind of bat. That was a mistake, Griffis says. There is ego involved in making bats for major leaguers, but not much money.

"In fact, you're lucky if you break even," Griffis says.

Worried about spectator injuries from broken bats, Major League Baseball mandated new liability insurance requirements for its bat makers for 2003. D-Bat chose not to pay between $50,000 and $60,000 to become certified. (Major leaguers could continue to use a bat they used in 2002, even if it wasn't from an approved maker.)

"It was the smartest thing we ever did," Griffis said. "It gave us time to focus on our sales force and our retail network."

The company now has more than 350 dealers, among them Bushnell in Minnesota. D-Bat also makes private label bats for other companies, including Baseball Express, a large catalog firm.

Griffis said many smaller bat makers, who had no pipeline to amateur players, went out of business because of the new rules.

Insurance requirements eased this year. Griffis says D-Bat paid about $15,000 to become approved for professional use. A spokesman for Major League Baseball said there are 27 approved bat makers this year, compared with 14 last year and a peak of 48 in 2002.

Some approved companies are quite small, and their business is a labor of love as much as commerce.

Dave Valentini's Mash Bats in Canada supplies Toronto's Vernon Wells, who is from Arlington. Valentini says he will hand paint the logos on every one of the 1,500 bats he makes this year.

Just inside the entrance of the D-Bat factory is a large showroom lined with bats.

Front and center are D-Bats made for Edgar Martinez, Ben Grieve, Ruben Sierra, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Brady Anderson and Jim Thome.

"Edgar Martinez only swings a 31.5-ounce bat," Griffis said. "If you send him 31.8, he won't take it."

Griffis also tells of a brush with bat-maker immortality. Palmeiro hit career homer No. 499 with a D-Bat, then cracked it and grabbed an Old Hickory bat to hit No. 500.

"Now, that bat is in the Hall of Fame," Griffis said, shaking his head.

D-Bat supplies about 1,600 bats to pro players, most to minor leaguers. Among them: Coppell's Jason Stokes, with the Class AA Carolina Mudcats, and Plano East's Wes Bankston, with the Class A Charleston Riverdogs.

"Wes is the most high maintenance minor leaguer I've ever seen," Griffis says.

Then he explained that to make each of Bankston's six tracers, or pattern bats for his custom models, D-Bat had to slice up about a half-dozen other good bats, glue the pieces together in the right combination of barrel styles, handles and knobs, and use them as new patterns on the lathe.

"I told him, 'Wes, you're killing me,' " Griffis said.

That's why it's hard to make money on the pros.


Factory size: About 10,000 square feet

Located: Mount Pleasant, Texas

Began operation: October 2001

Employees: Five full-time, one part-time at the factory. Three others handle ordering and paperwork in a Plano office.

Capacity: 50,000 bats a year