Play Ball!

Friday, June 22, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Louisville, KY
When we headed north on I-65, the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum were high on our list of sights to see in this city founded in 1778 and named for a French king.  One of the oldest cities west of the Appalachian Mountains, Louisville has a population of 750,000.  Pronunciation of its name depends on where you're from.  Natives call it LOO-uh-vull, sometimes shortened to LOO-vull, while outsiders and politicians give it the full LOO-ee-vill.  We just called it the home of the slugger, and that's what we were searching for.
Once we got to downtown Louisville, our destination was not difficult to find, thanks to the 120 ft exact-scale replica of Babe Ruth's 34-inch Louisville Slugger bat.  This oversized clone was a harbinger of great things inside, and the Slugger folks did not disappoint.
Before we even entered, we were treated to the Louisville Slugger Walk of Fame sculptures on the sidewalks of Main Street.  Players inducted into the LS Hall of Fame are honored with bronze casts of their LS bats accompanied by a home-plate plaque commemorating the highlights of their careers.
Steven with Babe Ruth's Walk of Fame bat
Inside visitors can visit the museum and take the factory tour for a very reasonable admission of $11 for adults ($10 for senior leaguers!) and $6 for minor leaguers.  The museum told us the history of the Louisville Slugger ballplayer and bat and how these two came together.
Exhibit depicting Bud Hillerich and Pete Browning
The year was 1884.  Pete "The Louisville Slugger" Browning, a local boy who was a star hitter for the Louisville Eclipse baseball team, was in a slump.  One day during a game he broke his favorite bat.  A woodworker named Bud Hillerich was watching the game and convinced Pete to let him carve a new custom bat for him.  The following day Browning had three hits with the new bat, and a new Kentucky industry was born.  Browning was glad to agree when Hillerich suggested naming the bat after Pete's nickname.
On the factory tour we learned that about half of major league bats are made from maple and the other half from northern white ash. Forests in New York, Pennsylvania, and other northeastern states provide the wood for most LS bats because those areas have the most favorable climate and terrain for growing these trees.
Louisville Slugger by the numbers: 
  • 40,000 trees harvested for bats annually
  • 10% of logs judged adequate for MLB bats
  • 5 weeks the wood dries in a kiln
  • 1,800,000 wooden bats made annually
  • 5,000 regular bats made each day
  • 5,000 mini-bats made daily
  • 120 bats MLB players order each season     
Checking the specs
Louisville Slugger is the largest provider of bats to Major League Baseball with more than 50 percent of big-leaguers using the company's lumber.  As in years past, all major league bats are custom-made to the individual player's specifications.  For more than 100 years, this was done by hand.  With today's technology and computer-driven lathes, the carving time for a custom bat has been reduced from 20 minutes to 40 seconds.  Of course that doesn't include the branding, lacquering, etc.
After watching all those bats being made, how could one not be inspired to pick one up and take a few swings?  To satisfy this urge, the museum added Bud's Batting Cage where visitors can hit with replica bats of legends like Babe Ruth and Ted Williams or current superstars.
Trying out some fast pitches
Another fun exhibit was the Grand Slam Gallery, where visitors (wearing the gloves provided) are allowed to hold (but not swing) Louisville Slugger bats that were actually used by some of baseball’s greatest hitters–past and present–including Mickey Mantle, Cal Ripken Jr, Derek Jeter and Johnny Bench.
Derek Jeter got some great hits off this bat.
In another part of the Home Run Gallery is a Louisville Slugger bat Babe Ruth used in 1927.  He carved a notch in the bat for every home run he hit with the bat that historic season.  That was the year that the Bambino smashed a record 60 home runs in 154 games.  His mark stood until 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61 homers in 163 games.
Babe's bat
There are 21 notches carved along the top of the oval logo.  This bat model was developed by Lou Gehrig.  Measuring 35.5 inches and weighing 40 ounces, it was made from hickory.
As most baseball players know, every bat has what is called a "sweet spot."  An exhibit in the museum explained this concept to those of us not familiar with the term.  Hitting a baseball directly on the "sweet spot" of a bat gives you the most energy exchange from the bat into the ball.  Make contact anywhere else on the bat, and energy is wasted.
According to the exhibit, aluminum bats have a larger area around the sweet spot that is more forgiving than wooden bats.  So, it's easier to get a hit with an aluminum bat because you don't have to make contact exactly on the sweet spot.  With either aluminum or wood, if you grip the handle of a bat loosely near the knob and tap along its barrel, you can detect the sweet spot.  When you tap that point where there is no vibration and you hear a totally different sound, you've found the sweet spot.
After a few hours at Louisville Slugger, we had a great lunch at PF Chang's and drove to Cave Hill Cemetery to find a few letterboxes.  While there, we saw a woman carrying pruning shears and garden gloves approaching the shrub where we had found our last box.  Though Ken and Steven thought she might be a letterboxer, her equipment convinced me that she was just there to do a bit of trimming.
As we were searching for our next box, we learned the truth.  The "gardener" drove up in her car and stopped next to us.  "Did you find the letterbox?" she asked.  We had, and we chatted with her for a few minutes, learning that her trail name was Morganstar and she was there to check on a couple of boxes planted by her sister, PuppyPaws.  Unfortunately, she had not anticipated needing her letterboxing gear, so we were not able to exchange signature stamps with her but we enjoyed meeting her all the same.
Back at the hotel, Ken and Steven went to work out in the fitness room.  Ninety minutes later, I found one of them drenched with perspiration.  Steven had been running on the treadmill while Ken walked.  That was only the beginning of the boy's passion for hotel workout rooms.
Later, he discovered the bargain of the day when we had dinner at a nearby California Pizza Kitchen restaurant.  Perusing the kids menu, he found a chocolate sundae (adult size) for $1.00!
FRIDAY, 22 JUNE 2012
We paid our respects to the colonel at Cave Hill Cemetery.

A ball and glove to match the size of the bat in front of the factory