Easton Places Focus on Materials, Engineering to Create New Gear Lineup
Easton has embraced technical know-how and adept engineering to create popular lines of composite and aluminum bats. It has used design and color to offer up the top-selling backpack in the game. So, when it came time for the California-based brand to enter the elite glove market, the brand dipped into the knowledge of premium materials and exacting design to craft the Legacy Elite line.
"Since this is our first legitimate high-end glove launch in a long time it was important to make sure we did everything to come out swinging and not take any shortcuts," says Eric Walbridge, glove category manager.
While 2018 gear for Easton includes plenty new in the way of bats and packs, the Legacy Elite glove line leads the effort of creating from scratch. Easton had already made top-flight gloves for sponsor NCAA squads and Walbridge mined feedback from the 1,500 glove orders per year to determine the most popular sizes, web options and colorways. From there, it was all about materials and design tweaks for the self-professed glove collector.
It started with the best in leather. The leather comes from cows in the American Midwest, where the colder climate helps develop a thicker hide for added glove durability. From there, Easton sent the leather to Japan for the most refined tanning. "It is a combo of the best of both worlds," Walbridge says. "You have sturdy, durable thick USA steer hide, but get the refined subtle craftsmanship out of a Japan tannery."
That combination was already offered to Easton's college teams, but not in retail. Adding to the leather base, Easton includes 100 percent rawhide lace, high-end sheepskin liners and little tweaks, such as foam and sheepskin on thumb and pinkie loops to build out the line.
With the Legacy Elite launch, Easton developed specific patterns for differing positions--something it wasn't previously doing. "Little things like that can make a huge difference and hopefully consumers are starting to notice we put a lot of time and effort into this," he says.
Walbridge brought in "basically every glove that I really, really like" and started to cherry pick the best ideas. Picking apart patterns allowed him to "Frankenstein" the Legacy Elite. "I have been a glove collector my whole life and am always trying to figure out a new way to do things," he says. "Gloves are subjective, as every hand shape is different, every playing style is different and preferences are different. If we can combine the best features of (gloves), that is the best way of going about it."
With feedback from schools, the process went on for over a year before the Legacy Elite line launched in September. "I'm not saying anything we did is revolutionary, but sometimes combining things in certain ways can make a pretty nice product," he says.
His favorite features include a wrapped sheepskin thumb and pinkie loop that makes putting your hand inside the glove like placing it in a "bag of warm donuts." The Japanese tanned leather liner on the palm offers a stiffness to help hold shape, but also a velvety texture at first touch for a combination Walbridge wanted. "I like the thick leather for durability and I appreciate the process of breaking in a glove" he says. "I wanted that memory that stiff leather offers, but didn't want players to put their hand in and feel like they were putting it in a cave." The sheepskin liner helps with that feeling, making the hand stalls a comforting place. Shearling fur on the back of the hand gives a plush feel.
When it came to patterns, Easton combines two worlds there two, especially on the infielder glove, with flat fingers for a quick transfer and soft hands, but a more symmetrical depth for a deeper pocket. "You can secure the ball, but still have a flatter surface to get the ball in and out," he says.
"It is," Walbridge says, "about honing the craftsmanship of it."
That craftsmanship doesn't stop with the new Legacy Elite glove line, as Henry Fitzpatrick, bat category manager, says new bat versions come distinguished in two lines: Ghost and Beast.
Helped along by the addition of the new USA Bat standard, Easton not only created new designs to match the standard, but brought fresh technologies into lines across all age groups, whether USA Bat or BBCOR.
"Really for us and our engineers it is about doing what we do best with composite and aluminum," he says. "That is what we are about, for all different swing types."
With the composite bats dubbed Ghost and aluminum Beast, Easton has created a fresh focus. The Ghost line for USA Bat standards has four models, a -11 one-piece composite, a -10 Ghost for a two-piece construction and then both a -8 and -5 Ghost for those kids getting ready to transition into the -3. The -10 serves as the flagship model.
The story is similar in Beast, where Easton offers different options of sizes within the line.
With such regulation in the industry, Fitzpatrick says the engineering expertise comes in how designers layup composite materials to develop the sweet spot. He says the Ghost features the largest sweet spot the industry.
Then, with the barrel dialed in, Easton created a completely new connection piece to improve feel. Using a more spongey and lightweight connection material, akin to the popular Adidas Boost sneaker cushioning that returns energy to the user, Fitzpatrick says the Easton material allows the hinge to act as a vibration dampener while taking weight out of the connection and allowing it to shift elsewhere. This Connection+ technology has made its way into the BBCOR Ghost line too. "We have the biggest two-piece barrel in the industry and we have been chasing improved feel," Fitzpatrick says. "That is what the players want in the composite."
On the aluminum side, Easton has introduced the ATAC alloy, what the company says signifies the highest-end alloy for lightest weight and strength to create a larger barrel with a lighter swing weight.
With so many changes in regulation and fresh technologies, Easton has created a more cohesive aesthetic for the Ghost and Beast families, with the Ghost a more technical and stealthier colorway, falling in the same family all along the line. The Beast has a bit more noticeable look with the stacked "X" logo for a louder look. All the BBCOR bats feature white, black and gold, while the USA Bat standard bats have yellow, grey and white and the USSSA bats feature orange with grey and white. The coloring helps organize the standards for the consumer.
Color also has a key role when it comes to the brand-new Walk-Off backpack, but so does forward-thinking design.
Julie Tobyansen, category manager for bags, says this latest fourth-generation of the Walk-Off, the top-selling bag in baseball, has made changes that focus on freeing up space and protecting equipment.
The first bag to create an external helmet holder continues this external concept, but improves the structure of the bag to help keep its shape no matter how much stuff is packed away. Then to create more personal space, the personal pocket that previously sat behind the helmet holder--sometimes blocked by the helmet--has moved to the sides of the bags, creating two personal pockets on the side of the bag on top of the bat sleeve. This move serves to also eliminate much of the mesh on the bat sleeve, which was a fail point on the bag, giving both a more durable bat sleeve, but also more protection for the barrel.
"This has given a multi-purpose use," Tobyansen says. "There is extra space for personal items on the outside of the bag for easy accessibility and protection of the barrel with more durability in the bat sleeve."
With 12 colorways of the bag launched in September, Easton has latched onto a current color trend in both sports and fashion: tonal colors. This color-on-color aesthetic eliminates the standard base color of black, white or grey with an accent color. Now a red pack is red on red on red, so it "has this read of a very vibrant color and then the different textures of materials on it gives you some dimension."
"We did a ton of testing with high school kids to make sure they were interested," Tobyansen says. "It blew up and they loved it. It looks awesome and looks completely different on the shelf."
From tweaking bat sleeves and colors on bags to creating new hinges in composite bats to building an entirely fresh premium glove market, Easton remains focused on technology and materials across all their lines.
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.