Director of Athletic Training produces bats for Major Leaguers
For more than 100 years, baseball has been a part of what we think of as classic Americana. And in the last 10 years, one long-time LSU staff member has linked it to another well-known narrative: the home-grown small business.
Jack Marucci has been the director of athletic training for the LSU Athletic Department for 16 years.
CBS This Morning feature story on Marucci Sport
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim First Baseman Albert Pujols is one of three current Major Leaguers invested in Marucci Sports as minority owners.
The original lathe that Marucci used to create his very first bat for his son, Gino, in a utility shed behind his home.
Today, 300 Major League baseball players, including 16 participants in the 2012 Major League All-Star Game use bats made by the Marucci Bat Company.
LSU Director of Athletic Training Jack Marucci started out with a single, hand-made wooden bat that he carved in a storage shed for his son, and now co-owns a company that produces them for 300 Major League players, including 16 participants in the 2012 Major League All-Star Game.
The Marucci Bat Company, based in Baton Rouge, has since expanded into offering aluminum bats, batting gloves and other baseball apparel, and also owns and operates the Marucci Elite Cypress Mounds baseball complex, which hosts local sport leagues and offers private instruction for individual players.
"I always go back and look at the shed in my backyard," said Marucci, who has worked for the LSU Athletic Department for 16 years. "For it all to have come this far, it's just been such an amazing experience. It's really been humbling, but I don't take it for granted at all. We all work hard so that the best players in the world want to use our bats."
It all started in 2002, when Marucci's son, Gino, asked his father for a wooden bat. When he couldn't find a company that made them for an 8-year-old, Marucci decided to buy some woodworking materials and make one himself. Gino's bat was a hit with his friends and teammates, and soon word-of-mouth, and demand, spread to the point that Marucci found himself making full-sized models. From there, various contacts from working in the athletic departments at LSU and Florida State University would help bring the bats up to "the Show."
Eduardo Perez, a former player at Florida State and old friend of Marucci, used two of his bats in practice with the St. Louis Cardinals and eventually recommended them to then-teammate and superstar Albert Pujols, as well as Cincinnati Reds Hall-of-Famer Barry Larkin, who became the first major-leaguer to score a hit in a game with a Marucci Bat.
"Barry really encouraged me to pursue it as more than just a hobby," said Marucci.
The certification process to become an official bat supplier for Major League Baseball was an arduous one, involving tens of thousands of dollars in fees and a $5 million liability insurance policy, but Marucci would get some help from former Tiger pitchers Kurt Ainsworth and Brett Laxton and Joe Lawrence, a Lake Charles native who spent time in the minor leagues before a brief stint with LSU's football team.. They helped create a business model for company, while word-of-mouth began to spread the product throughout the big leagues.
Perez would introduce the bats to Jose Cruz, Jr., whom eventually showed them to then-New York Met Carlos Beltrán.
"Carlos put us on the map," said Marucci.
Beltrán would become a loyal customer, and from there the product spread amongst his teammates and even his opponents.
"We kept working with the players and getting their feedback for what they wanted in a bat," said Marucci. "And they really became our best salesmen."
Eventually, many of those players would become more than just endorsers of the product – they put their own money behind it. Several current or former major-leaguers have become minority owners in the Marucci Bat Company, including Pujols, Boston Red Sox All-Star David Ortiz and Toronto Blue Jays slugger José Bautista.
As the company continued to expand, Marucci would receive help from more partners and business associates, including a CEO, Brett Stohlton.
"For me, Marucci represented a unique brand opportunity," said Stohlton, who came on with the company earlier this year. "Jack, along with Kurt Ainsworth and Joe Lawrence, built a company known for unmatched quality and service, which translated into amazing loyalty amongst the best players in the game. Upon those same principles and through our relationships with big leaguers, we think Marucci has the potential to be a leading sporting goods brand and an asset to the local community."
"I'm smart enough to know that some people can do other things better than I do," Marucci explained. "Brett really loves the core of our story, and understands exactly what we're trying to do here."
Working alongside one of the top athletic departments in the country hasn't hurt either.
"When players come in for a visit to the factory, they always want to come in for a football weekend," Marucci said.
"They want to get down on the field, and they'll be out there snapping pictures like a 12-year-old."
"Plus, when clubhouse guys call us about the product, they know we understand big-time athletics," he added.
Though Marucci is still full-time with LSU and isn't involved in a lot of the day-to-day business decisions of the company, he remains very hands-on in the bat design and production process.
"I just want to make the best bats that I can make," he explained. "We're all committed to that."
The company receives wood from an Amish logging company in Pennsylvania that they purchased in 2008. Out of an annual yield of 150,000 to 180,000 individual pieces of wood, approximately 13 percent will actually become Marucci bats.
"I know what I'm looking for, down to the selection process, the drying formula, everything," said Marucci. "Twenty sets of hands touch every piece of wood we use."
Even Jack's original customer has reached the age of using dad's product.
"Gino's playing in a wooden bat league this summer, out at the Marucci Elite complex," Jack said of his son, now a 17-year-old senior-to-be at the LSU University Lab School. "It's funny, because all this is just what he's come to know at this point."