Do you remember the excitement you felt at your first baseball game in a real stadium? Or your first Little League game, which (let’s face it) was probably equally exciting?
Just thinking about the upcoming baseball season brings the memories flooding back: The sound of the bat cracking against the ball, the feel of the sun on my head, and the scent of sunscreen mixed with the mouth-watering aroma of hot dogs. I am by no means an athletic prodigy, but the mysterious world of baseball has always had a special meaning for me, which is why discovering Sam Bat – The Original Maple Bat Corporation was such a thrill.
If you haven’t heard about Sam Bat, this hidden gem is a rare and fantastic find in Ontario’s Highlands. Tucked away in the heart of beautiful Carleton Place, it’s fitting that Sam Bat makes their maple bats in Lanark County, the Maple Syrup Capital of Ontario.
This small, unassuming bat-making operation is about far more than just bats, it’s a touching story of innovation, dedication, and success, beginning with the story of how Sam Holman hit a figurative home run when he got the idea to make a maple bat, and how it led to becoming one of the sought-after wooden bats in the Major Leagues. And nowhere is that story relayed better than during a tour of Sam Bat.
At Sam Bat you’re invited to step inside the world of Major League Baseball and be swept up into the passion that practically vibrates through the manufacturing facility. If you aren’t a baseball fan before your visit, you will be before you leave.
Sam Holman is the Bat Man
Sam Bat was started in 1987 by a man who’s tongue-in-cheek referred to as the Bat Man, Sam Holman, and was the very first maple bat manufacturer sanctioned by the Major Leagues. What was once an operation run out of Holman’s garage, today Sam Bat crafts maple bats for both average Joes and world-famous Major League players around the world, including big names like Barry Bonds, Miguel Cabrera and Giancarlo Stanton.
So what’s a visit to Sam Bat all about? One step through the door and you’ll be inundated with the sights and smells of the baseball world. Rows upon rows of wooden bats line the shelves while the woody scent of maple shavings tease your senses. Larger than life photos of famous baseball players line the walls, and you can almost imagine the noise of a cheering crowd echoing in a stadium.
At Sam Bat, your tour guide will likely be Kevin Rathwell, who has been working for Sam Bat long enough to know pretty much everything there is to know about baseball and making bats. A natural storyteller, Rathwell relays the stories of how Holman started Sam Bat, and how Barry Bonds earned an all-time run record in 2007 while swinging Sam Bat bats, or how Miguel Cabrera achieved the pinnacle of baseball achievements by hitting the most home runs, the most runners batted in, and having the highest batting average in 2012 – all while swinging a Sam Bat bat.
During my tour of Sam Bat, Rathwell explained how Holman hit the big leagues (literally!) when he had the idea to make a maple bat: Maple is a denser wood with a tighter grain and doesn’t flex as much as ash. Once the Major League world saw what a maple bat could do, maple bats became the wave of the future.
“Sam flipped the industry on its head when he started making maple bats, it changed the game,” Rathwell said as we strolled through the large, open-space manufacturing floor.
In the background, staff are busy, and equipment rumbles as bats are made from start to finish, passing through stage after stage of personalized attention before producing a bat that is worthy of every player, from little league to major league.
Bat Making 101
Rathwell explained that Sam Holman’s bat-making process starts when the maple wood is still on the tree, and ends with a finished product, ready to be swung. The location of the maple trees harvested for Sam Bat’s operation is a carefully guarded secret (I asked), but once the trees are carefully selected and harvested, sorters choose the wood that will make the best bats.
The trees are harvested and then cut into cylinders, weighed and measured, Vacuum-kiln dried, and left waiting for an order to be received. Once a bat is ready to be made, a Sam Bat employee selects the appropriately weighted and sized cylinder, and then the fun begins.
“There’s a lot of hands-on attention to detail,” Rathwell explained the process, “Before a bat leaves our facility it’s been handled by half-a-dozen staff, and every bat gets the same attention.”
This is not an exaggeration. Fascinated, I watched as a machine mechanically chiseled away at everything except the outline of a bat, before the bat is set on a lathe where it’s hand-sanded into near perfection, and weighed before moving to another sanding machine where it’s sanded again, and weighed again to ensure the bat is exactly the right weight and dimensions. In fact, there is very little automation in this process, and every stage is hands-on.
Sam Bat’s maple bats aren’t just for professionals, anyone can purchase a Sam Bat, made with the same care and attention to detail that goes into the bats swung by professional players around the world.
Baseball, baseball, and more baseball!
Can’t get enough baseball these days? Celebrate the baseball season in Ontario’s Highlands at the Sam Bat Invitational Wooden Bat Classic, held in 2019 on July 26 to 28 at baseball diamonds in Carleton Place, Beckwith and Almonte. Cap off your visit with a tour of the Sam Bat facility, and purchase your very own Sam Bat to take home with you!
Tours at Sam Bat are offered daily through the week (please contact them for pricing), although reservations in advance are appreciated. Afternoons between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. are preferred; weekend tours can be arranged by appointment only. Groups and teams are welcome with advance notice.