ITHACA, N.Y. — Watch any baseball game from Little League to the College World Series, and the ping of aluminum bats resounds through the air. The familiar crack of a wood bat, instantly signaling a deep fly ball or scorching line drive, is now confined to the major leagues.
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Bill Ruth is trying to reverse that trend with his new company, Ruth Baseball, based in Ithaca.
“Baseball is the only sport in the world where we give kids the wrong tool to do the job until they turn professional,” said Ruth, founder and president of the company. “It doesn’t make sense. We don’t give kids synthetic footballs or plastic golf clubs.”
Ruth Baseball launched on May 21 and has already fielded orders for bats online. The company sells premium baseball bats made of two different types of wood: hard maple and European beech.
In the 2013 season, about 70% of Major League Baseball players used maple bats, and most of the others relied on ash. Yet, Ruth says that European beech is a secret weapon that has the potential to change the game.
Why European beech?
According to Ruth, bats made from European beech are more dense than maple, meaning that more energy is transferred to the ball. Beech is also more elastic, increasing what Ruth calls the “trampoline effect,” sending baseballs farther into the field—or the stands.
Ruth has worked in sales and marketing his whole life, focusing on sporting goods for the last six years. His two sons both play Little League baseball in Lansing, and his father, who is a furniture maker in Binghamton, helped with the initial prototypes.
‘Ruth is my family name’
Ruth’s mother is also an avid baseball fan, but that wasn’t always the case.
When Ruth made his high school’s varsity baseball team, his mother wanted to come to his games, but she didn’t know anything about the sport. In order to teach his mother the game, Ruth would sit with her and watch the Atlanta Braves, one of two teams that played on their cable television.
Eventually, Ruth and his mother became fans of the Braves, and the two even began traveling to Atlanta together to watch the team play once a year. Now, Ruth’s mother records any Braves game she can’t watch live and wears her baseball cap when she goes to see her grandchildren play in Lansing.
“Ruth is my family name,” said Bill. “I’ve been wearing it on my back while playing ball my whole life. My boys wear it on their back while playing ball. I understand what the name means to Major League Baseball. That’s why we’re making a premium product.”
An emerging trend
While wood bats are prohibited in school competitions all the way through college, more and more summer leagues are switching to wood from aluminum. Ruth said he would “love to see a whole bunch of local kids with Ruth bats in their hands, using them as training aids.”
Ruth says that wood bats are able to give players instant feedback on their swing that aluminum and composite bats smother. If you swing at a ball and hit it too far on the inside of a wood bat, for example, you will feel a familiar sting in your hands. Hit the ball on the sweet spot, and the definitive crack of the bat will echo off the outfield walls.
Entering the field is also a bit scary, said Ruth, and understandably so; the market for wood bats is largely dominated by a few big-name companies. Nevertheless, mainstream success is not impossible. The Marucci Bat Company, founded in the shed of an LSU athletic trainer only 13 years ago, already rivals 160-year-old Louisville Slugger as the most-used bat in the MLB.
“What sets us apart,” said Ruth, “is the European beechwood coupled with the Ruth name. As far as I’ve been able to find, nobody’s ever put that name on a baseball bat.”
Ruth first came up with the idea for the bats while he was at The Field in Lansing with Ryan Stevens, head coach of the Tompkins Cortland Community College baseball team as well as a team in Texas.
Stevens said many of his TC3 players now train with the bats. “The reaction I’ve gotten from my players is that there seems to be a good amount of jump off the European beech bat, and also a nice true sound to it as the ball comes off.”
Not only are TC3 players using the bats for training, but also the Alpine Cowboys in Texas, a pro team where Stevens is the head coach. “I think Ruth Baseball bats are going to explode,” said Stevens.
“Something clicked inside of me,” Ruth said, referring to that moment when he first thought of starting the company. “With my background in sales and marketing, with what I know about woodworking, with the name, maybe this could be the perfect storm.”
You can check out Ruth Baseball bats at its website, www.ruthbaseball.com.