Craft Culture: MaxBat

Wooden baseball bats for the major leagues & amateurs alike

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Brooten, Minnesota’s, MaxBat makes wooden baseball bats for amateurs and pros alike // Photos by Lucas Sjostrom, edited by Aaron Davidson

Brooten, Minnesota—population 742—sits 120 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. Pass the Brooten city sign and there’s a gas station, some galvanized sheds with a few windows, a couple brick garages, a tiny lumberyard, and then an endless stretch of flat, green fields. As they say: blink and you’ll miss it. MaxBat, bat-maker of choice for many minor and major league baseball players, operates from one of those sheds. 

The fact that MaxBat makes its home in Brooten is more coincidence than strategy. The start-up- turned- full-time business is a spin-off of Glacial Wood Products, one of the largest professional wood-turning companies in the United States. Glacial Wood Products has been in Brooten since 1991 and is known for its high-quality, precise custom and stock products. When Glacial Wood outgrew its original shed, the owners decided to find a business to acquire and fill the space rather than put it up for sale.

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Photo by Lucas Sjostrom, edited by Aaron Davidson

That company was MaxBat, which Jim Anderson started in his basement in 2001 and named after his son. Jim was a local hobbyist who worked for The Pioneer Press. After making some three-dozen bats on his own, Jim solicited Glacial Wood Products for help. In 2003, Paul Johnson, MaxBat’s current vice president and director of operations, started helping Jim as a side project. Paul had worked for Glacial Wood Products since the company began, and his experience with woodworking and passion for baseball made him a natural fit for the bat business.

Before swapping Jim’s basement for the Glacial Wood Products shed, MaxBat was producing a few hundred bats a year, selling them to major leaguers like Jimmy Rollins and former Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. By 2007, they were up to 20,000 bats a year and had hired six people to keep up with demand. Today, there are 10 full-time employees and a busy week means producing 300 bats a day. In 2014, MaxBat split from Glacial Wood Products and became an independent company. Jim still owns a portion of the company and acts as its sales director.

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Photo by Lucas Sjostrom, edited by Aaron Davidson

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Photo by Lucas Sjostrom, edited by Aaron Davidson

As Paul took us on a tour of the facility, he cited three main reasons for MaxBat’s exponential growth: a quality product, consistency in the process, and excellent customer service. An impressive 90 percent of the company’s marketing comes from word of mouth recommendations from players, many of which are featured on the MaxBat website. Randal Grichuk (St. Louis Cardinals), Chris Owings (Arizona Diamondbacks), Chris Marrero (Pawtucket Red Sox): they all share when and why they began using MaxBat bats—and why they’re now the only bats they’ll use.

MaxBat’s main business comes from making stock bats for minor league teams and high school teams on the East and West Coasts, where players are required to use wood bats.

Some of these amateur players can go through as many as 20 bats in a season; major leaguers, on the other hand, know to aim for the sweet spot of the barrel and generally only use two to 10 bats per season.

While MaxBat pays the bills with its amateur and minor-league sales, the company’s biggest claims to fame are the custom-made bats they carefully craft for more than 400 major league players, all of whom are listed on the website’s “Why Swing a MaxBat” page. Some of the players have been customers since high school. And just like with anything, they’ve developed a devotion to the product.

Next page: The process

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