By Rob Kiser
PLAIN CITY — It was like a match made in heaven when Columbus businessman Seth Cramer and Piqua native John Hinsch came together around Thanksgiving of 2015 to become co-owners of Phoenix Bats in Plain City.
But, as always, there is the story before the story.
Kramer had been brought to Phoenix Bats 10-years prior because of his marketing savvy.
“It was a two-man operation,” Cramer said about the company former by Charles Trudeau — who began making bats after he began playing vintage baseball. “They brought me in to see if I thought they could make a go of it or should just shut down,” Cramer said. “I was just coming off a start-up that failed, so I was probably a little softer with my position (of wanting to make it a go).”
So, where does Hinsch come in?
During his career as a banker, the former star pitcher for the Piqua baseball team under coach Jim Hardman, who went on to pitch for Indiana University — had stops at many different cities and communities and helped with many high school programs as a volunteer coach.
As fate would have it, he was helping out with the New Albany high school team when he came up with an idea.
“There are so many kids who lose interest between their freshman and junior years,” Hinsch said. “They realize they are not going to get in many games as a senior. I wanted to do something for those kids who kept playing.”
So, he came up with idea of getting them “Trophy Bats” to honor them for their senior season and careers.
“I really didn’t know where to find them,” Hinsch said. “When I did a search, the first name that came up was Phoenix Bats. Then, I looked and saw it was located in Plain City, which is only a 15 or 20 minute drive.”
That was when he first made contact with Cramer and he was impressed from the start.
“He would come in an pick up the bats he ordered,” Cramer said. “And we would sit and talk for 15 or 20 minutes about bats.”
Something that had always had Hinsch’s attention.
Hinsch has always had a love of the game and he was lucky enough to be located in Cincinnati from 1973-77 where the best team to take the field since the 1927 Yankees happen to play.
Hinsch is also a long-time collector of bats.
So, when the opportunity presented itself to join Kramer — who was already part owner — at Phoenix Bats, Hinsch couldn’t ignore it.
But, he was also careful, making sure to do what he described as “due diligence”.
And from the start, he has been more impressed with everything at Phoenix Bats.
“All these guys — they have brains and gumption,” Hinsch said. “They come up with some amazing ideas. The great thing about Seth (Cramer) is he will always tell you the truth. It might not be what you want to hear, but he is always honest.”
And Cramer was happy to have Hinsch take advantage of the opportunity.
“Not only is John (Hinsch) a big fan of baseball and bats, he is a businessman,” Cramer said. “It is important to have somebody who understands that side of it.”
As for the pro bats, Phoenix Bats are one of 30 Pro-Approved bat manufacturers.
One of the bats Miguel Carbrera used to win the Triple Crown was a Phoenix Bat and they currently have several MLB players using their bats as well as numerous minor leaguers.
To help make that happen, Brad Taylor, the Phoenix Bats bat designer, spends a lot of time with players showing them the advantage of Phoenix bats and the personal touch he can provide.
“He has kind of what you would call the glamorous job,” Cramer said.
Another example of his Cramer’s thinking is to have Taylor learn Spanish.
“About 40 percent of the players speak Spanish,” Cramer said. “So, we felt it was important that Brad (Taylor) be able to speak Spanish. Just to be able to communicate with those players. We are always looking to gain any advantage we can get.”
So, what does it mean to be pro-approved.
Because of problems with a number of maple bats breaking several years ago, Major League Baseball addressed the situation with some very strict rules on bats.
“There can’t be more than 3 degree difference in the slope of the grain on the bat,” Cramer said. “And there can’t be more than a Drop 3 (for example, a 35-inch bat must weight at least 32 ounces). Those were all good things to make the game safer.”
There also has to be an ink spot on all the bats and the engraving must identify whose bat it is and where it came from.
“What Brad (Taylor) does, is go out and personalize the bat for them,” Cramer said. “If they want a little bigger bat — or a little bigger handle, we can do that.”
And while pro bats are a part of the business — they are only a small part.
Cramer admits he was concerned when they cut back on the explosiveness of aluminum bats several years ago.
“It was a little bit of panic,” he said. “Because if they made aluminum bats more like wood bats, who would want a wood bat. But actually, it has been the opposite effect. Because, aluminum hasn’t been able to duplicate the performance of a wood bat, it has actually increased our business.”
Between college summer leagues, high school wooden bat tournaments — and there is even an eight-year old wood bat league in Dublin.
“I think coaches understand the advantages from hitting with a wood bat,” Cramer said.
To help with the selection process from prospective buyers and users of wood bats, the website (phoenixbats.com) now offers a bat selector — and the website makes it possible for them to sell bats all over the United States and beyond.
“One of the things I am really excited about is the bat selector on our website,” Cramer said. “It is even better if we can get you in here and get your hands on a bat to fit you. But, by answering five simple questions, you will have a pretty good idea of what bat you are looking for.”
And the company isn’t limited to bats.
They are always looking for ways to use the leftover wood.
Their products include trophy bats, vintage bats, trophy tees, tire thumpers and night sticks — with the trophy tees being the idea of sales manger Rick Antinori.
“We are always looking to add something,” Cramer said. “I remember when a sales manager (Rick Antinori) suggested trophy tees — I said that is the dumbest idea I have ever heard. Then, when I saw Brad’s presentation of what they looked like — I realized I was going to be eating a lot of crow over that one.”
While, it hasn’t been easy, Cramer can smile about what the company has accomplished over the last 10 years.
“We aren’t where we want to be yet,” he said. “But, we have tripled our production over the last 10 years — that is pretty good.”
Another key employee is Director of Operations Joel Armbruster, the longest tenured employee of the company.
“You have to have a number two guy who can take over if necessary,” Hinsch said. “And that is Joel (Armbruster). He does a great job and is an important part of the team.”
Hinsch says he has complete trust in everything Cramer and employees do.
“I don’t spend a lot of time there,” he said. “I drive over maybe once a week. These guys who work here are amazing. I think this going to be our best year since I have been here.”
And why Phoenix Bats future looks even more promising — with the match made in heaven.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.
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