Growing up in the State of Hockey, the inhabitants of my neighborhood were unusually nutty about baseball. We held Wiffleball games in at least three different yards, had drafts and league championships. We got together to play the game we loved on numerous occasions.
When I was in elementary school my parents put a large addition on our house. Included was a rec room with an 11-foot ceiling and cement floors. While it was dark and snowy outside in the winter, I was inside, hitting off of a tee and throwing against the wall.
A few years later, my neighbor, Rick, had an idea. He and his son love baseball like my family does. So Rick decided to put up a batting cage. He found a space in his yard where he could make the cage 45 feet long-the perfect length for his little league son.
As Rick's son got older, the 45 foot cage became too small, so he began scheming. Rick wasn't able to extend the cage because it already backed up to the edge of the property line. So what did he and his wife do? The most logical thing for a family who loves kids and baseball-they bought the house next door to extend the property line, and with it, the batting cage.
I spent hours and hours in that cage, taking swings until my hands hurt. Before school, after school, late at night—"Dad, can we hit?" He always responded, "Of course!" The 'we' hitting was always 'me' hitting and my dad throwing, but he never cared, he just loved to play. Through this time together we built a relationship based around the game we loved most. Any time of day you could find us there, a kid with major league dreams and a dad who would do anything to help make those dreams come true.
Fast forward to early June 2011, I had just completed my redshirt junior year at the University of Minnesota and was hoping to be selected in the MLB draft. My dad thought it would be a cool idea to check out a Minnesota bat company called MaxBat. The company has its factory in Brooten, Minn., population 743. I had swung the bats before, but hadn't settled on a piece of wood I liked, so I agreed to make the trip.
At the factory we were lucky enough to meet Jim Anderson, the founder/co-owner of MaxBat, and hear his story. As he walked us through their warehouse of billets and showed us how the bats are cut, stained and laser engraved, he told us about how the concept of MaxBat started based around his relationship with his then newborn son, Max. Jim, being an amateur baseball player, had always been interested in making bats and after losing his job, he decided to apply for an MLB bat certification. His goal, thinking he would be swiftly denied, was to keep his denial letter and tell his son, "I tried." Unexpectedly, a few weeks later he was approved to make certified bats and MaxBat was born.
When my dad and I got home, I emailed Jim, telling him about the relationship I have with my dad and how his story convinced me I would be swinging MaxBats if given the opportunity to play professionally.
A year and a half of pro ball later and I am still swinging the same sticks. Every time I grab my bat out of the rack and head up to the on deck circle, I take a look at the logo and I am taken back . . .
To that factory in Brooten, bats named after the founder's son.
To my neighbor's backyard, property line redrawn so his son and many others could enjoy the game of baseball.
And to that cage, my dad standing behind the L-screen, gripping another fastball, his son awaiting its arrival . . .
And I smile.
You can interact with A.J. on Twitter @apettersen1