Warstic Enjoys Being Different
Warstic started as a personal creative challenge for founder Ben Jenkins. But as the brand with a new aesthetic, a new “spirit” in baseball, continued to grow for the former Mississippi State baseball alum and minor leaguer turned graphic designer and branding strategist, the challenge turned into a tangible way to inspire hitters, link cultures and connect people.
Now, as the Texas home of Warstic expands production of the aesthetically evolved premium wood bats, metal bats and accessories into a Warstic-styled take on retail space in downtown Dallas, Jenkins isn’t just tinkering with branding. He’s building a baseball business using the insights he has from 20-plus years in business, the baseball know-how from co-owner and four-time MLB All-Star Ian Kinsler and the creative and business mind of co-owner and musician Jack White.
“It seemed really natural to team up and be part of this,” White said in a rare interview granted Baseball America. “I believe in what Ben is doing and I love baseball. To bring design to it, Warstic stands out and brings interesting ideas to the table.”
Kinsler, who came on board, along with White, in 2017, told Baseball America, he understood Jenkins’ passion. “It was exciting,” Kinsler said, “a company that could make its mark in Major League Baseball and with the kids.”
And that mark comes clean. Simple. Distinctive.
Kinsler, like Jenkins, said he grew tired of an industry all about wild colors, huge graphics and in-your-face designs. The former leadoff hitter in the Phillies system said it was his perfectionist personality that limited him in the sport (dealing with failure was a tough process), but that obsessive drive led him to excel in design.
“With creativity, perfection works brilliantly, being able to spend all the time I want refining, experimenting and tweaking a project,” he said. “I wanted the brand I was conjuring to feel connected with people who really love to be the underdog and just love to fight back from adversity.”
Having worked with Native America organizations and artists, Jenkins incorporated the idea of a warrior into his company, the idea of a warrior’s mentality and spirit, which birthed the concept of bats as a “war stick.” But the branding know-how in him dropped the “k” and gave him Warstic. “The dumb magic is I created something that hadn’t been invented out of two common words,” he said. “Taking the k off is, simply, the best thing I ever did.”
Warstic turned into a metaphor for a hitters’ weapon and embodied an emotion and a mantra of inspiring people to attack both the ball and life. Coupled with minimalistic designs, Jenkins knew he had a fresh perspective.
As Warstic has grown, Kinsler’s recent $250,000 loan has allowed the company to expand the in-house wood bat production pipeline. With Kinsler on board to ensure dialed-in big-league performance, Jenkins, with the creativity of White, continues to refine his design and technology. “Let’s raise the level of design thoughtfulness,” Jenkins said. “Let’s take simple things and improve them and make them interesting. We want to stop people in their tracks with bold simplicity.”
That aesthetic shows up in the brand’s logo, a simple two-line symbol called the “war stripes.” That aesthetic spills over. Maybe it is a completely natural bat with a three-inch red tip. “From distance, you notice it,” Jenkins said. “If you put crap all over it, or perhaps a brand name, you wouldn’t notice it.”
While Jenkins doesn’t like the idea of a kid swinging his bat only because a big-league player does, he knew having the likes of Kinsler use Warstic proved quality and performance. “These aren’t toys or decorations,” Jenkins said. “Many people did initially think these are so pretty, surely they don’t perform well.” Kinsler was originally drawn to the simplicity of design, but once he verified the quality, he started to understand the vision and passion.
Now Kinsler provides a genuine connection to MLB players. Warstic maxes its every day MLB roster at 12 players to ensure they have enough professional-grade wood to go to retail customers. That said, new MLBers—without getting paid to do it—continually try out Warstic, such as Bryce Harper at the MLB All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. Harper has since asked for more bats. Miguel Cabrera now uses Warstic, as does George Springer. Matt Kemp’s recent resurgence in Warstic also has the company excited since he started using Warstic before Spring Training.
Jenkins has the man he wants leading the charge in clubhouses. “Ian is a perfect representation of the mentality,” he said. “He goes out every day and is Johnny Battle, Warstic’s imagined brand persona. He is the guy going to compete with fire and controlled focus every pitch. He is absolutely the leader you want to take you into battle.”
Kinsler said teammates think he’s crazy for using new bats and colors all the time, something that started as a way to showcase Warstic’s range and has turned into a “fun” effort. “Justin Upton gives me a hard time,” Kinsler said. “He swings the same-looking Warstic, the same color all the time. He rarely deviates. I try to tell Ben all the time, send me whatever new ideas you have, whatever you think is cool. I think my staple is my all-black with gold, but I’ll bounce around."
With the MLB wood dialed in, Warstic’s metal bat line, launched in early 2017, has made its own mark and continues to evolve, surpassing wood bat sales for the first time in 2018, led by the new Hawk 2. As the official bat of Area Code Baseball this past season, players using Warstic set a home run derby record in the games.
The upcoming fall launch of Team Warstic Select Baseball Club, as well as The Warstripe Nation & Academy, a training and education-focused nonprofit select team with connections across the country, has Jenkins hoping to further his core belief that youth players can become better baseball players by resisting the pressure to be one-sport specialized athletes and learn to compete, to hone their mental game, increase nutrition knowledge and expand their perspective on life. “A true warrior doesn’t define himself by his craft,” Jenkins said, “he masters it, but masters his mindset as well.”
Jenkins hopes to build that philosophy out through the academy and as he expands into other ventures, whether softball, hockey, lacrosse or off-season sports like surfing, skate, fly fishing and snowboarding.
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In the baseball realm, everything Warstic does relates to offense, down to the from scratch-designed Warstic batting glove. “Anything connected to the hitting system, I’m in for,” Jenkins said. “Anything generally to do with holding the bat. This brand has no interest in the defensive side of the game. That may come later with a sister defensive brand.”
Warstic continues to grow in a non-traditional manner, such as when Jenkins brought in White as a co-owner. “People were apprehensive about bringing a rock star in because it doesn’t make sense at first glance,” he said. “He is an incredibly passionate baseball fan. He represents high performance and creativity.”
White said he was drawn to Warstic based on design—a world he has loved since he worked in upholstery as a teenager. “What is different is the packaging, the overall design and how it is delivered,” White says. “And that is what Warstic stands for. Very different.”
Different includes how the brand approaches its showroom and retail space soon opening in the historic Deep Ellum District in downtown Dallas. A retail store, microfactory where customers can watch wood bats get made, a batting cage, bat fitting room, design studio and event space for clinics and seminars aims to pair youth with both bats and the right mindset. “Let’s build an environment we want to be in and make this a great experience for people,” Jenkins said. “Let’s really interact with people.”
From Dallas to design and business to charity work—at an event in Tulsa in September, Warstic will announce a fund that uses a small portion of every sale to build fields on reservations, a cause that has White honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame—White stays involved in every aspect of Warstic. Having a rock star as part of the mix has given Jenkins a different perspective, but White said he thinks it tells those on the outside that Warstic isn’t like any other sporting goods company.
“We are attacking it from multiple angles,” White said. “To have Kinsler as a co-owner, what I bring to it and what Ben brings to it, it is a really cool team. I like working with people outside of the place I usually work. That is when beautiful things happen.”
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.