Friday, July 15, 2016

Why Not Axe The Traditional Bat?

About a week ago, I wrote a piece about baseball embracing a new piece of technology. As hitters have gone up to the plate for the last hundred or so years using a relatively similar form of lumber, the baseball bat has become dated technology. As local journalists around the Twin Cities reported on Kurt Suzuki's adaptation to a new way of hitting, I was interested to learn more.

The previous piece highlighted the bat in which those aforementioned journalists (Cold Omaha and Pioneer Press) dissected Kurt Suzuki's use of. After writing in a broader sense last week about acceptance of the Axe Bat in Major League Baseball, I wanted to know more. Having already talked with Hugh Tompkin's of Baden Sports, I wanted to see first hand what it was that was different about the tool Dustin Pedroia, Kurt Suzuki, and now Mookie Betts were brandishing.

With the M271 Pro Hard Maple Axe Bat in my possession, it was time to go hands on. Obviously I don't have anywhere near the level of baseball skill that professionals using the new product do. I last played competitive baseball as a Freshman in college before heading into 400 meter sprints in track and field. That said, I have played baseball at a relatively high level for the majority of my life, and most importantly, have used more than my fair share of different bats.

Initially taking the Axe Bat to the cage, I wanted to get a feel for what my eyes could already see. The most advantageous piece to the Axe Bat is the handle. Regardless of having a lack of ball tracking ability in a batting cage, feeling the swing, responsiveness of the handle, and difference of the bat as a whole was more than doable. It was in the cage that Tompkins quote to me in my initial story, "We set out to build a better mouse trap," rang true.

The Axe Bat's handle is modeled simply after an axe. With the swinging motion utilized to chop down a tree, the axe handle has less desire to free rotate through your grip. Designed to sit comfortable within the contours of your hand, through the swing plane and into my follow through, the Axe Bat seemed to sit still. It was a smooth cut time in and time out, while allowing my grip to have a place that suggested "home" on the bat.

Having accomplished the initial feel for the new stick in the cage, I took to another test on an actual diamond. Facing batting practice pitching, I'm not sure that I was expecting significantly different results, and that's probably for the best. The Axe Bat isn't a case of a slow pitch or BBCOR bat in which a different level of "pop" is achieved due to the technology. Instead, I was hoping that the same level of results as witness by any other wood bat would be produced. As stated above, what Baden Sports did with the Axe Bat was far from reinventing the wheel; they just made the wheel better.

Going through multiple rounds of batting practice, I couldn't help but think bat to my discussion with Tompkins and Baden PR guy Matt Peterson. In describing the bat making process, both touched on the ability to create a completely customized bat. With their pro players, the hitting zone, sweet spot, and barrel are all calculated based upon swing planes and each player's path to the ball. Because the Axe Bat is cut on a CNC machine, the grain of the wood can then be tailored to make the hitting zone on the bat the most optimum place for the batter to make contact with a pitch.

Surely my bat doesn't have this level of exact specifications tailored to it, but in swinging it repeatedly, it became apparent how beneficial achieving that could be. With the contact point on my Axe Bat remaining relatively similar due to my consistent grip, a small set of tweaks would no doubt heighten the level of personalization that's already achievable simply by keeping a consistent grip.

Now having used the Axe Bat for what's amounted to right around a week and a half, I've been able to put some significant cuts on it. The bat itself has held up to the same degree as any other top of the line wood bat should be expected to, but it's been the one minor difference that keeps resonating with me. The grip, and challenge of the status quo, suggests that this should be the way in which every professional hitter is attacking the game.

At some point, the round knob of a baseball bat became outdated. The technology is over a century old, and until now, no one challenged for a way to do it any better. Since the emergence of Baden Sports' Axe Bat, it's seemingly a disadvantage to continue utilizing something that has been surpassed in relevance. For whatever reason, comfort, consistency, or otherwise, it will take a while for the growth of the Axe Bat to catch fire. Thus far Baden Sports has gone with a completely organic model, and up until the signing of Mookie Betts, they had no endorsers. It's by design though, and that's because the bat speaks for itself.

Sooner or later, more and more big leaguers will have to start wondering why they continue to use round knobbed baseball bats. As they level to the point of answering, "Because we always have," a shift should then take place. The Axe Bat has done more than just create a better mouse trap, it's reinvented the standard at the plate for the game of baseball.

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