Still turning lumber for major league baseball stars.
Quality over quantity works for this Ottawa manufacturer of maple bats.
A lot has changed since we looked in on the Original Maple Bat Corp. in 2003.
Founder Sam Holman catches us up by putting what’s happened at the maple baseball bat manufacturing plant in Ottawa modestly.
“Well, there’s a few more tons of sawdust,” quips Holman, about one of professional baseball’s favourite pieces of crafted lumber, the Sam Bat.
No need to be humble.
The former carpenter for the National Arts Centre has turned the Sam Bat into one of the most desired bats in the world, changing an industry norm in a game that typically holds true to tradition that says the wood of choice is ash. He now equips major leaguers with custom, handmade weapons of baseball glory, including home-run king Barry Bonds before he retired in 2007.
Closer to home, Toronto Blue Jays right-fielder Jose Bautista hit 50 home runs with a Sam Bat in 2010.
A 34-inch, 32-ounce MC1 also helped the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera win the Triple Crown this year, and become the first player in 45 seasons to lead major league baseball’s American League batting average, home run race and runs-batted-in – a feat not accomplished since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967.
It all started in 1996 when Holman fashioned his first bat cut from a maple railing ripped from the staircase in his house after a friend, and scout for the Colorado Rockies complained major leaguers needed something new.
“He told me there were just too many ash bats breaking,” says Holman. “They were looking for something more durable, something that lasted longer.”
That’s when Holman started sifting through files at the Canadian Patent Library, researching more than 200 US patents to uncover a solution. Ultimately, he fell upon some research about hardwood train bridges made from maple.
“There really weren’t any ways to make those ash bats stronger,” says Holman. “I figured I’d give the maple bat a shot.”
Holman shared that first bat with Toronto Blue Jay great and friend Joe Carter, who loved it.
“You’re onto something here,” he told Holman.
Fast forward to the end of the 2001 season when San Francisco Giant’s left-fielder Barry Bonds broke the major league’s home-run record, smashing 73 baseballs into the stands at ballparks around the US. Each of those bombs were deployed with a Sam Bat made in Holman’s 290 square-foot garage.
That’s when the company, like a baseball off Bonds’ bat, really took off.
Nowadays, the Original Maple Bat Corp., headquartered about 40 minutes outside of Ottawa in Carleton Place, Ont., supplies not only the major leagues but also produces a retail line of bats and New Era 9FIFTY-branded hats. The retail products are sold through an online store built into the company’s website.
And the Sam Bat is now the official bat of the six-team Australian Baseball League, a professional outfit in its third season.
Holman, 67, has taken a step back and handed the business end to husband-wife team Jim and Arlene Anderson, both chartered accountants who acquired the company’s majority stake in the spring of 2007. They’ve now got two facilities – one that houses the kiln that dries the prized maple, and the other where the bats are produced. The little company that could now employs 20 people.