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How Easton’s Aluminum Know-How Took Over Baseball

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Easton’s baseball expertise started with an arrow. Plenty of arrows, actually. James Easton started making wooden bows and arrows out of a garage in Oakland in 1922, introducing the world’s first aluminum arrow in 1939. Thirty years later the company followed that world’s first with another: one of the first-ever aluminum baseball bats.

Easton then capitalized on aluminum. In 1978, the California-based company created the B5 Pro Big Barrel, commonly known as the “Green Easton,” and took over the aluminum baseball market through engineering, innovation and research and development. Now 50 years later, Easton continues to churn out a fresh approach to baseball and fastpitch products.

A culture of research and development permeates through Easton. From the detailed timeline of Easton bats on the wall to the R&D team tucked behind secure glass, Dan Jelinek, Easton senior vice president of sales and marketing and a 20-plus-year veteran of the brand, said a 10-by-10 image of Jim Easton on the wall with an early engineer using a measuring device to check the Green Easton’s inner barrel diameter includes the quote: “If we can’t do it, no one can.”

“All of the R&D folks see that every day,” Jelinek said, “and that is the culture of Easton.”

While Easton was the first to turn arrows from wood to aluminum, doing the same for a baseball bat was trickier, forcing engineers to form the bottle shape of the bat. Not only did the company need to create a vision for the product, but they had to engineer equipment just to make it. “In the early days, even as an employee,” Jelinek said, “you had to go through eight levels of security. Nobody was allowed in the bat factory because all the equipment was proprietary.”

When Little League approved aluminum for the first time in the early 1970s it opened up the largest market size for the bat style. Already engineers had learned the science of starting with a larger aluminum tube and reducing the diameter and inner wall construction to create an arrow. “They had learned so much from the arrow business that the next logical thing was bats with the opening up of Little League,” Jelinek said.

The Green Easton, the B5 Pro, a 71/78 aluminum alloy with a 2-5/8” barrel diameter, changed the game by dropping weight. “Instead of swinging a 31 or 32, they could handle a 33- or 34-inch bat,” Jelinek said. “It changed the whole game.”

The first aluminum bats were heavy, all similar weights to wood, just with the advantage of not breaking. Easton used a higher-strength alloy and thinner walls to take the weight out of the bat without sacrificing durability, the first to do this and create the B5 Pro as a -4, four ounces of weight less than the length. In the 1980s, the B9 debuted, dubbed the Black Magic, a 2-3/4” barrel with a -3 length to weight ratio.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Easton started to dominate college baseball and is now the most-used bat brand in College World Series history since the adoption of non-wood bats.

As with any sporting hard good — from arrows to golf clubs to tennis rackets — aluminum gave way to carbon and then composite. The next breakthrough came in the early 1990s when Easton bonded carbon to the inside of the barrel wall to make the outer barrel even thinner. Called the C Core for the carbon core, they crafted a lighter bat with added structure. “I was here for that launch,” Jelinek said. “It was crazy. The bats, for a baseball player, were like a new phone coming out with a screen on it.”

Easton then developed the first two-piece bat in 1999 that cut vibration and created natural flex. The first full-composite carbon bat in slowpitch softball came out in 2003 and a fastpitch version was in 2004. Creating a totally different feel and sound, engineers could also change the weighting using different hand-created carbon layups. In 2006, a two-piece version, the Stealth Comp, released and then in 2014 Easton became the first with a rotating handle.

Easton continued its growth in fastpitch in 2017 with a double-barrel Ghost bat, with a soft outer barrel and another barrel a quarter of an inch beneath structurally suspended, now the top-selling fastpitch bat on the market and with technology that could make its way to baseball.

“We are in a different environment of performance regulations that we have ever been,” Jelinek said. “It is forcing us to be more creative and innovative than ever. We feel very confident about our ability to continue to innovate in a regulated environment and a great example of that is the Ghost.”

Easton expects to continue to commit resources to fastpitch, an area they see ripe for growth, but that doesn’t mean baseball still isn’t a massively high priority. Along with bats, Easton has the top-selling bag line in the market, is in the top in both catchers’ equipment and batting helmets and wants to make inroads in fielding gloves.

“People expect to see innovation from us in bats, but we are very focused on expanding the full breadth of Easton,” Jelinek said. “Our internal directive and motivator is, if we are only in that category, if we only made batting helmets or catchers’ gear, how would we treat that if we relied on that one category to drive revenue?”

Easton’s recent reentry into fielding gloves put a focus on premium designs and materials, along with signing some key MLB players, such as Alex Bregman and Jose Ramirez. By putting a focus on a dozen key MLB relationships, Easton has started to grow the glove line, keeping them at a slightly lower price point for the same premium materials as other brands and then taking exact player models and putting those in the retail line.

Updated batting helmet design incudes a universal jaw guard that works for both a left-handed or right-handed hitter and new catchers’ gear designed for fastpitch puts Easton “just as focused on the women’s side as we are on the men’s side.”

With the College World Series in June and Little League World Series in late summer, expect to see key launches coming from Easton, including a new composite technology. So far, the ADV is Easton’s flagship performing bat in the BBCOR category and that technology — the most advanced composite materials with the best foam system in the conjunction joints — will move to all segments next year.

The Easton soft urethane knob — with the feel of a skateboard wheel — received MLB approval, so expect to see that knob spread to wood and additional lines, allowing players to get more leverage on the bottom of the bat. “When you talk about innovations, there are a lot of things you can still do to a bat to give a player an advantage within the rules,” Jelinek said. “That is one of the best examples of something we have done recently.”

With a quiver full of firsts in the evolution of bats in the company’s 50 years of baseball history, expect the arrow-like direction of Easton to continue.

Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.

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