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By Stephanie Brooks (Twitter: @stephbrooks_)
 

It’s 1 p.m. on a sunny Friday afternoon in June, and Arlene Anderson is in the middle of a maple forest in Berwick, ON, handpicking logs and inspecting for the right cut of wood

But not just any wood. This piece of lumber, no more than 2.75 inches in diameter and 42 inches in length when finished, will go on to hit baseballs far into bleachers around the globe, scoring homeruns, and breaking world records.

Anderson is president of SAM BAT, an Ottawa‑based baseball bat manufacturer and retailer that boasts superstar names like Manny Ramirez and Jose Bautista as its customers.

She ventures out to Country Lane Fine Wood Products — a half-hour drive from the nation’s capital — frequently to oversee the first stages of production.

“We buy our own logs and kiln-dry them to very strict specifications,” she explains. “Then we have the logs cut for making them into baseball bats instead of furniture,”

Anderson says they buy top-quality, veneered-grade lumber to start with — one component that helps make a quality bat. Hard maple, not soft, is also a company preference. While soft is lighter, it’s 20-30 per cent less strong.

From there, the wood is kiln-dried and turned into billets. It then goes to another facility in the nearby community of Carleton Place to be carved into bats.

There’s no doubt SAM BAT has made it to the big leagues.

It sells to about 100 Major League Baseball (MLB) players, 30 teams, and to a number of minor league players each year. International markets account for 85 per cent of its customer base, with clients in the US, Korea, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Mexico, and ‘the land down under,’ where it’s the official baseball bat of Australia Baseball.

“We manufacture it all out of Ottawa and the region, and sell it all over the world,” says Anderson. “Even though we’re a small company, we have tremendous knowledge of shipping and getting our product out there.”

And certainly, the product routinely hits expectations out of the park.

Barry Bonds broke the record for number of MLB homeruns using a SAM BAT, and franchise players like Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Braun call up SAM BAT to have their customized bats designed and produced.

“Rickie Weeks, Justin Upton, Chris Young, Travis Hafner — it’s an amazing list of clients we have,” says Anderson.

But the company hasn’t always played under the bright lights of success.

Sam Holman founded the company out of his garage in 1997 as a result of a bar conversation with a scout for the Colorado Rockies, who mentioned a lot of ash bats were being broken on the diamond.

Already a woodworker, Holman researched the possibility of instead using maple for bats and created a system for devising the bat patented cupping. His friend, legendary Toronto Blue Jay Joe Carter, decided to test it out, and hit the ball deep over the left field wall with one of Holman’s first creations.

From that moment, Holman created a whole new industry. He was the first person to introduce maple into MLB, and today, the majority of bats are now made of the same wood.

“He transformed a 100-year-old business from being traditionally ash bats to maple,” Anderson says.

She and her husband, Jim, originally chartered accountants, bought into SAM BAT five years ago when Holman was thinking of selling it.

Although Anderson had a lot of knowledge about wood manufacturing, she says prior to five years ago, the closest she’d gotten to baseball was watching Angels in the Outfield.

“Part of the reason I was so interested in starting at the company was because the names that Sam sold to were ones I, as a non-hardcore baseball fan, knew,” she explains. “I thought, ‘he’s created something really special,’ and we wanted to continue it and to grow it, which we’ve done.”

It was this spirit of innovation that propelled Holman’s vision to where it is today. And it is this same vision that keeps the brand moving forward.

“Right now, we’re doing some research into some of our residual by-products,” explains Anderson. “Our team of fabulous staff are working on new things all the time.”

She says they’re now looking at testing torrefied wood — a relatively new process involving the removal of moisture from wood so it changes the maple’s colour.

And although these new products may make their way to cities around the world, Anderson knows they will always have home-field advantage.

“It really is a Canadian success story. Selling it off to a different place would make it difficult to replicate the mission: to create the best baseball bat in the world.”

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