The baseball on-deck circle, marked by pine tar and weighted donut circles, hasn't exactly pioneered a bastion of technical innovation over the last few decades. Varo Baseball founders watched the lightning-speed innovation in baseball equipment--from cleats to helmets and bats to protective gear--and decided it "would be cool if we brought some innovation to the on-deck circle."
Launched in 2014, Varo has created its own category in bat weight training that has now made its way across Major League Baseball and spawned three different bat training product lines and a growing following throughout all levels of sports.
Varo started with the Arc, a 12-ounce weight that distributes evenly over the sweet spot of the bat, getting the weight farther out on the bat. It then added Cor for a more traditional weight system, but one with rubber fins to cushion and protect the bat, allowing the weight to float. Varo introduced Rap this summer, a live-hitting sleeve that adds four ounces of weight to the bat for training, but the proprietary ballistic fabric can still offer 95 percent of the exit velocity while protecting the expensive bats of today and providing anti-vibration.
It all started in 2014 with the Arc as the California-based founders Erik Mattern and Steven Schinko started knocking on equipment managers' doors during Spring Training--loaded with free T-shirts and beer helped them get in the door--to deliver Varo product to anyone who would use it. "We told them we are brand new, but let your guys give it a shot and if they don't like it, throw it in the trash," Schinko says. "That first year our products were in the All-Star Game and players were holding it in the on-deck circle in the World Series (players from both the Giants and Royals used it)."
MLB players were posting on social media about Varo and Schinko says he knew they were onto something. "We were able to individualize this category where it used to be just donuts," he says. And so Varo grew from there and aims to continue its rise into bat training with additional products in the future.
The 12-ounce weight of the Arc works no matter the bat size, because as the barrel gets longer and heavier, the weight of the Arc gets pushed farther from the hands, feeling heavier as it goes. "Everybody is crazy about their bat," Schinko says about distributing weight properly, "and half an ounce shaved out changes the world for these guys."
The Cor, with its 20-ounce weight offers college players and professionals a heavier option. "We will see MLB guys using one product one game and then get a lighter feel the next game," he says. "It is not one has to be for certain players, as players will switch off."
With validation for the Arc coming from MLB players, Varo landed a partnership with the league in 2017, giving the Arc and Cor even more noticeability. Of course, the bright colors and custom designs have helped too.
Initially Schinko says they thought a few bright colors would go over well in youth leagues and the pros would stick to traditional aesthetics, but quickly they found that everyone wanted to get colorful. Mets players wanted it in team orange, other teams wanted to match the gold on their logo and the requests started pouring in. "We quickly realized what we thought was a youth phenomenon was driven from the top," Schinko says. "We do unique customization for the MLB teams."
With the new MLB partnership, the Varo products have team logos, postseason logos and plenty more. For example, the Giants wanted an old Golden Gate Bridge icon used during Spring Training on a Varo. They delivered.
"We like to work with innovative companies that support baseball at all levels--not just the Major League level, but also down through the youth leagues," says Noah Garden, MLB's executive vice president of business. "Varo does a great job of creating a functional, attractive product that players of all ages enjoy using. We're glad that they are a partner and look forward to their continued growth with us."
Expect to see Varo, which makes all its products in the United States, start rolling out more than just product with the MLB logo on the side and packaging, as they need to dial in the best way to match team logos and colors with consumer interest.
"We want to take the on-deck circle and pre-game batting practice," Schinko says. "Anything pre-game, we want you to turn to Varo before you go to your most important at bat." We've already seen it from the MLB on-deck circle.
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.