Hoosier Bat Co. • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Hoosier Bat Co.

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Hitting home runs from the Little League to the Major Leagues.

by Laurie Wink

Located on a stretch of East Calumet Avenue near the Route 49 overpass in Valparaiso is a small company making a huge hit with baseball players from Little League to Major Leagues.

Hoosier Bat Co. has supplied custom-made, high-performance bats to such heavy hitters as Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas and Juan Uribe of the White Sox, and Cubs player and coach Dave Martinez, to name just a few. Thomas hit his 500th home run with a bat made by Hoosier Bat, and wanted to be shown swinging one in the sculpture of him at White Sox U.S. Cellular Field.

Dave Smith founded Hoosier Bat Co. with wife Debbie in 1989. After hearing Smith's backstory, it's clear the work fits him perfectly–just like the bats he crafts for players of all ages. Smith knows the game of baseball inside and out. The New Jersey native grew up going to games at Yankee Stadium and Ebbets Field. Although not the best batter, Smith was an outstanding pitcher who was named to New Jersey's All-State team in high school. He was a standout baseball player at the University of Nebraska, then played one season for the Mets.

EXPERIENCE ON THE FIELD Hoosier Bat Co.’s Dave Smith grew up going to games at Yankee Stadium and Ebbets Field, and played a year for the Mets.
EXPERIENCE ON THE FIELD Hoosier Bat Co.’s Dave Smith grew up going to games at Yankee Stadium and Ebbets Field, and played a year for the Mets.

Through serendipitous circumstances, Smith became a full-time scout for Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. The legendary baseball mogul was a customer at The Hayloft, a restaurant Smith owned in Plymouth. Steinbrenner ate there during trips to board of director's meetings at nearby Culver Academy, his alma matter (Class of '48). They developed a friendship and Smith went to work for him in 1980.

Nine years later, Dave and Debbie Smith moved to Valparaiso and started Hoosier Bat Co. The 25-year-old company is the third-longest-existing wood bat manufacturer in the United States. Dave's claim to fame is the patented three-piece Woodforce 2000. It's made of ash in the handle, hickory in the sweet spot and maple on the barrel end. The pieces are held together by an adhesive manufactured by National Casein, a company that supplies the woodworking and furniture industries. Smith learned about wood adhesives as a salesman for the company.

The Smiths and three long-time employees operate Hoosier Bat Co. year-round. They turn out 35,000 bats a year, one at a time, in less than two minutes each. Bats are customized for players ages 8 and up, Smith says. Each bat is tailored to an individual hitter's size, weight, age and strength. Other factors that make for a player's perfect fit are the handle shape and thickness, knob and barrel shapes and balance.

Smith says wood bats are popular because of their durability and accuracy in hitting the sweet spot. Hoosier Bat Co.'s most popular model with major leaguers is the HB235, featuring an ice-cream-cone-shaped knob and comfortable bottom hand grip. Power hitters tend to like the HB325, featuring a thicker handle and longer barrel that adds to its durability.

Bats are priced from $40 to $100, come in 14 colors and can be imprinted with a player's name. Besides regulation bats, the company makes small bats for team trophies, booster clubs and company promotions. Scrap wood is made into bat stands and other products displayed in the company's showroom. Debbie Smith has created a line of baseball jewelry, including earrings and bead bracelets that can be made in team colors.

The Smiths invite visitors to tour the facility. They frequently host grade-schoolers, who send them handmade thank you cards. Dave Smith, 74, is generally onsite six days a week, doing a job that never seems to get old.

“Every day with wood is a learning experience,” he says.


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