Batter Up!

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky -- Yes, I'm in Kentucky. Or more correctly, I was in Kentucky this morning.

Why was I there? Well, I booked a week of vacation from work because I thought I was going to be able to go somewhere (Denver, as it turns out) to watch the Cubs in the playoffs. You all know how that turned out. But by the time the Cubs were eliminated, it was too late for me to re-schedule my vacation time from work, so I decided to take a little car trip, through parts of the country I've never seen before, and also visit some friends in Atlanta (the same friends I stayed with during the Cub series in June).

So on the way to Atlanta, I stopped this morning in Louisville to see the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. The first thing you see is the replica of a Babe Ruth bat outside the front door; it's not as cheesy as you'd think, it's actually pretty cool-looking. It weighs 68,000 pounds, and is a giant-scale exact replica of the style bat the Babe used.

Inside, there's a museum of bats, going back to the earliest days of the Hillerich Company in 1884; they've made bats for all sorts of minor and major league players for over 100 years. In addition to a timeline showing how bats have changed over the years, there's a display which you can use to simulate how fast a 90 MPH fastball comes from a pitcher's hand. You choose a video of an active pitcher (I chose Greg Maddux, and had to watch him "throw" wearing a Braves uniform, and yes, I know he doesn't throw 90 anymore), and on the video he goes through his motion, and a ball flies out from somewhere behind the screen right at you (you're standing behind another screen). The narration tells you that you have two-tenths of a second to figure out what sort of pitch it is. Which makes it even more amazing, as Ted Williams once said, that baseball is a profession where "you can succeed three times out of ten and be considered great".

After you walk through the museum there's a thirty-minute tour through the actual factory. They have displays of the old hand lathes that they used to use to make bats by hand; everything is now done by machine, from honing the bats to cutting off the little wood "handles" that result from the lathing process (they have a box from which you can take a souvenir "handle"), to sanding them and painting them. The tour guide, of course promoting sales at the gift shop throughout, also talks about various minor and major leaguers who have had bats made -- and showed us the cabinet in which they keep the metal plates that have the signatures of every single major leaguer that has ever signed a contract with them, 8500 plates in all.

He also got a little dig in at Barry Bonds. After showing us the maple bats that Bonds prefers, and mentioning that Bonds' breaking of the single-season HR record in 2001 using a maple bat started the current craze among major leaguers to use maple bats instead of ash (almost half now use maple, which is more brittle than ash, which is why you see more broken bats than ever these days), he said, "So is it the maple... or is it something else??" Interesting little editorial comment.

Despite admonisments to "DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!" you really do feel close up to the work, as you are within a few feet of men actually making major and minor league bats, and this was one of the best factory/museum tours I've ever been on. You get a free souvenir mini-bat at the end of the tour, and if you are so inclined you can buy personalized bats (for anywhere from $15 to $80, depending on the size and type of personalization you want), ordering before the tour and picking it up when the tour's done.

And I found a parking place on the street in downtown Louisville less than a block away, and parked for about $1.50 in change. You can't beat that.

So if you're in the general area, or traveling through, I'd highly recommend this tour -- price was $9, less for kids and seniors, and well worth your time (total time spent: about 90 minutes) and the price.

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