San Francisco Custom Baseball Bats Become Popular in MLB

You know you’ve reached the big leagues when Yasiel Puig licks your bat.

“He used them in the World Series (2018) and got an RBI hit, and that was a breakthrough moment for us,” said Birdman Bats bat maker Cody Silveria of the former Dodgers All. -Star. “We felt like we had succeeded. And he was licking his bats all the time – he’s famous for licking bats, you can look him up. He’s a weird cat, but it helps with the brand.

For all golfers out there, Birdman Bats manufactures custom baseball bats in their Redwood City warehouse. It started as a hobby among a group of baseball enthusiasts and has since continued to pollinate the highest levels of the sport. Professional players who have swung Birdman Wood include Manny Ramirez, Ozzie Albies, Pablo Sandoval and Austin Slater.

“They came to spring 2020 training, before the pandemic, and gave me some samples. I tried them and really liked them,” says Slater, who joined the San Francisco Giants in 2017. the pattern they gave me and the way the ball came off the stick with their birch and matte finish. You could talk to a lot of baseball players, and if you’re successful with a bat, you tend to stick with it.

Birdman owes its origins to a youthful fascination with baseball. “I had made a few bats in high school – I grew up in Half Moon Bay – so I just made bats on a lathe for fun, like, glued three terrible pieces of wood together and chiseled them says Silveria. “I was always drawn to wood when I was a child. Even for my science fair project, I decided which type of wood absorbs the most water and why.

Silveria met one of the founders of Birdman Bats, Gary Malec, when they were both playing baseball for City College of San Francisco. Malec also made his own bats. “Gary was making them by hand back then,” Silveria says. “I was proud of the first couple of Birdmans he made. If you had a bad day and you knew you had to knock, you always grabbed that lucky piece of wood. They looked like logs with buttons on them, but they were still lucky, and they had a nice thunderous crackle when you hit them.

REDWOOD CITY, CA – FEBRUARY 18: Birdman Bats owner Gary Malec poses for a portrait on February 18, 2022 in Redwood City, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

At the time, Malec had just left law school. “I wanted to be a players’ agent. I thought it would be a really great gig,” he says. “But when I went to law school, it constantly showed that it wasn’t for me. It was so expensive. They held debt relief seminars at law school on how to deal with all the debt you incur while going to school. It was really weird for me – it was a big scare.

What did his parents think of their son abandoning his legal ambitions? “I went for a ride with my mom, and I told her, and I went for a ride with my dad and I told him. So I told them separately,” he said. “I was so scared. But honestly, they were a lot more supportive than I thought. They were like, ‘If it’s not for you, it’s not for you.’ »

Malec fell back on his passion for making stuff. “I’m very mechanical, so I’ve been building things since I was little. I built my first framed car, motor and all, when I was a sophomore in high school. It was a 1984 Jeep CJ7.

He had no carpentry background, but took up bat carving as a hobby. He gave them to coaches and members of the city’s college baseball team and joined a local alternative rock band with Lars Anderson, who played for the Red Sox from 2010 to 2012.

REDWOOD CITY, CA – FEBRUARY 18: Bats hang to dry at Birdman Bats on February 18, 2022 in Redwood City, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

“(Malec) wears a lot of hats and is a guy with pretty impressive abilities,” Anderson says. “I remember destroying my computer in Japan (while playing for the Kochi Fighting Dogs) by pouring water all over it, and sending it back to him, and he fixed it. There’s a lot of knowledge in this guy’s brain.

Malec tasked Anderson, now co-owner of Birdman Bats, with using his connections to get the bats into the hands of pro gamers. “Having been involved in the game for so long, it just opens a lot of doors,” Anderson said. “Baseball is a little insular, but once you’re there, it’s definitely family.”

He also made him do industrial research. “There are no books on how to do this,” Malec says. “And the other bat makers aren’t going to openly help you because you’re stealing their customers. It’s a tough industry.

Instead, he suggested that whenever Anderson saw a broken bat while playing minor league for the LA Dodgers, he should grab it: “Collect every model you can find, of every businesses. At the end of the season, he had this big horde for me.

The Birdman team studied these bats to refine their own model. Bat makers tend to get all their wood from the same mills. Birdman takes care in choosing the wood of choice and does not saw the wood. Instead, the company splits it with a hydraulic axe, which preserves the grain.

REDWOOD CITY, CA – FEBRUARY 18: The weight of each billet is seen before being cut at Birdman Bats on February 18, 2022, in Redwood City, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

“One of the important factors for the durability of bats is grain slope, and that’s the orientation of how the tree grew versus how the bat is produced from. wood,” says Patrick Drane, deputy director of the Center for Baseball Research at UMass Lowell.

“There are a lot of different processes used to cut the billets (unfinished blanks) and turn the sticks from those billets. But splitting the wood tends to help align the orientation of that grain slope with the length of the bat,” says Drane. (For people wondering, the center is running all sorts of baseball-related experiments involving high-powered air cannons that generate collisions between balls and bats, walls and helmets.) fun,” he says.)

The bats are then sanded. They don’t have serial numbers; instead, they get “birth” dates so you can track their lifespan. Malec has bats with dates from 2017 that he uses regularly and still perform well. A host of customizations are sometimes added, such as special color schemes, custom engravings, and the Birdman logo, which is based on a goofy drawing Malec’s younger brother made in art school.

REDWOOD CITY, CA – FEBRUARY 18: A custom-made bat, which has undergone a process called “hydro dip”, is pictured at Birdman Bats on February 18, 2022, in Redwood City, Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

“All of these companies are, like, someone’s last name slapped on a piece of wood. It doesn’t make me feel much,” Malec says. “Ours are supposed to make you feel like you were a kid. , with that youthful, fun energy.”

“You can see how they’re not mass-produced on a machine,” Anderson says. “It’s cool – kind of this functional, handmade piece of art.”

And in case Yasiel Puig and his wandering tongue arrive, rest assured that the bats are protected. “Bats are definitely not submersible in water,” Anderson says. “They are waterproof though, due to the coating they have on them.”

Neal T. Doss