When the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon walked into the spotlight in the 2017 All-Star Home Run Derby in Miami, he brought Old Hickory along.
Blackmon, one of a growing number of MLB players selecting the Tennessee-based wood bat manufacturer, moved the company’s customization options front and center. Blackmon called the folks at Old Hickory ahead of the All-Star Game, saying he wanted a patriotic bat.
While going through a few options for Blackmon, the final iteration came in a navy barrel with a red handle. The barrel included white stripes and the neck featured stars.
“Oh, it was a blast,” Travis Copley of Old Hickory said about the process. “We had fun making them and fun thinking through the designs and tinkering around with different ideas with our guys in the shop. Everybody got involved.
“We have a good relationship with Charlie, where he’ll stop by in the offseason, so being it was him was even more special.”
The customization of wood bats has remained a key component of Old Hickory since it opened its doors 20 miles north of Nashville in 1999.
The growing stable of designs for a company that also creates metal bats and other baseball gear comes from the players who swing the bat, each able to customize the product. “We are always player driven,” Copley said. “Guys are tweaking models, the handles and the barrel diameter. We are always on the lookout for new colors, something different that MLB will allow and combinations that will give it a different look every once in a while. Most of the models come directly from players at every level, the big leagues, minor leagues, high school, men’s senior leagues. We don’t turn away ideas or players. If you want a custom bat, we are happy to make that. If Mike Trout needs a custom bat, we are happy to do that.”
Old Hickory uses hand-selected maple and ash from the northeastern United States and Canada, hand-finished and hand-sanded to the specifications of each player. Copley says that every player has their own unique desire, whether it’s more balance of weight throughout the barrel or others who look to move more weight to the end. No matter the distribution of weight, though, the past couple of years have seen an increased desire in more weight via denser wood.
The most popular Old Hickory bat remains the J143, which Copley credits to its balance. “It has a longer barrel to it, with more surface area, but something unique is that it stays balanced,” he said. Plus, the J143 falls on the higher density side of wood bats. Copley said MLB players love learning about how wood density gives them increased performance with improved durability.
When Old Hickory first started, it was one of very few companies offering custom wood bats for anyone. Since, Copley said, the company has taken that customization beyond an order form and into a relationship with players from multiple levels.
That relationship with Blackmon gave the Rockies’ star one of the more noticeable bats on All-Star weekend.
— Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.