TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — Ever since the game of baseball was invented, players have needed two essential pieces of equipment: a ball and a bat.
It’s the former that one Northeast Mississippi company is making a name for itself.
The Uppercut Bat Co. is less than two years old, but it has drawn a legion of fans and customers who have taken to the company’s wood bats.
“We started talking about it about three and a half years ago, and about a year and a half ago we started to really delve into it,” said founder Brian Boatner.
With offices in Sherman and production in Belden, Uppercut is a small operation, with only four employees, including Boatner.
It’s no Louisville Slugger — and the company has no plans to get that big — but Uppercut makes bats from the same high-quality ash, maple and birch the bigger companies use.
Uppercut’s wood of choice, however, is maple. While it’s a little more expensive, it’s stronger than ash and less prone to shatter.
The company’s customers are mostly little league, high school and minor league teams and players, but word of mouth has drawn interest from every level.
The Cotton States Baseball League, a six-team collegiate wooden bat league based in New Albany, uses Uppercut as its official bat.
This past week, Uppercut was in Omaha, Neb., for two major youth baseball tournaments to demonstrate its bats. There’s no shortage of baseball tournaments, and Uppercut is stepping up its efforts to attend as many of them as it can.
“There’s not a better way to show your product than to toss some bats to players and have them take BP (batting practice) with them,” said Ryan Moody, who heads sales for the company.
Uppercut isn’t Boatner’s first entrepreneurial venture. In addition to that company, he also has a hand in a T-shirt company and another sports-related business.
Boatner, 28, himself is no stranger to baseball. A standout at Saltillo High who went on to play at Itawamba Community College and the University of North Alabama, Boatner got in the sporting goods equipment business with an invention of his own about eight years ago.
The Shoulder Shield came about after Boatner suffered a labrum injury. While surgery was successful, his arm was constantly tight.
“I looked for a shirt for some sort of support, but eventually I just made one,” he said. “It was crude but did what it needed to do.”
After trial and error with designs and materials, Boatner created a neoprene sleeve that traps heat in users’ shoulders and elbows.
The Shoulder Shield keeps the joints loose, something athletes want to maintain for peak performance.
Its popularity goes beyond baseball, with college and professional-level players in other sports including softball, tennis and volleyball using it.
“We’re selling it across the country,” Boatner said.
With Uppercut, Boatner hopes he can develop another strong customer base, although he freely admits bat-making companies are regional in scope for the most part.
“Customers tend to be very loyal to the bats they use,” he said. “But we looked around and there really wasn’t anybody making bats in the area. The nearest companies are in Nashville and Baton Rouge. So we saw a niche.”
With only a four-man crew and two lathes, Uppercut can make 200 to 300 bats a week.
The bats are custom-ordered and designed, and can come with a variety of coats and colors.
While it’s a fairly simple process to make the bats, it does take time from start to finish to get the bats ready for use.
Depending on the size of the job, an order typically takes three to four days to complete.
Boatner and Moody say the prices for their bats are competitive. An adult bat made from ash is about $75, while a maple bat costs $5 to $10 more. Youth bats start around $55.
“We’re not trying to be a discount bat company, though” Boatner said.
Already, he has plans to build a new facility and to add more equipment to ramp up production.
“In three years, I see us with more employees and making many more orders,” he said.