Exploring a Louisville Legend

DSC_0747We’ve all seen them: groups of people scattered throughout downtown with little wooden baseball bats. And, akin to wearing an “I <3 NYC” shirt in New York, we all know exactly who they are: tourists. But are Louisvillians missing out on one of the most interesting museums in the city? I sat down with the Louisville Slugger Museum Director Anne Jewell and Marketing and Communications Manager Lucy English to talk about some of their favorite parts of the factory.

And that’s exactly what the Slugger Museum is: a factory. No animatronics workers, no dioramas of how the bats are made – but real workers skillfully crafting baseball bats. And the tour places you right in the middle of it all. “It hits every sense,” remarks Jewell. “Your sight, your smell, feeling and holding bats. It’s all about being genuine.” But genuine doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt the minute I stepped onto the factory floor. From the smell of the wood to the whir of the machines, I felt like I had wondered out of bounds onto the “real” production line.

DSC_0768_webLed by tour guides with a passion for not just baseball but for the bats themselves, I started off the tour with a demonstration of how bats were made decades ago: by hand turning. “It shows the passion for the history of the company that we still have skills that we had 132 years ago,” attests English. Further along on the tour, we’re able to see how they’re made today: by high-powered machines guided by computers. It’s a history and science lesson to see how far they’ve come in their efficiency while observing how they stay close to their roots.

DSC_0789When the bats are finished being cut, the final touches are placed on them to ensure that they are ready to leave the city and arrive in the hands of a professional player. One step of that is Jewell’s favorite part of the tour – the burn branding. The bats are given the trademark Louisville Slugger logo with the smell of smoke and the sizzling of wood. No Slugger bat would be finished without one, although they demonstrate a couple of the other techniques used for different bats, like using silk-screening or aluminum. It’s another interesting stop on the tour to see a mix of the old and the new.

A trip to the museum wouldn’t be complete without sliding into the store on the way out. Apart from being able to purchase a bat used by your favorite player or engrave a bat as a late – but awesome – Father’s Day gift, there are dozens of bats, gloves and apparel to properly outfit the team. Culled bats, the “factory seconds” are one of the most popular purchases from the shop and are bats with minor cosmetic blemishes that are still ready to hit the diamond. And if you want to try out a bat cut in the style of Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle, the Slugger’s batting cage is a swing through history.

DSC_0729If the group is small enough, a trip through the Bat Vault, what Jewell calls their “Fort Knox” could be in order. Donning white gloves, visitors can hold the original models carved for such greats as Ty Cobb or Jackie Robinson. It’s a truly awe-inspiring experience. “It’s a great addition to the factory tour,” insists Jewell, who has been introducing the public to vault tours over the years. Since their debut, they have become more and more available, with opportunities several times a day.

My single trip through the museum didn’t even cover all the exhibits and sights it had to offer, and I could easily have spent hours enjoying it all. Between the factory tour itself and the marvel of the various historical exhibits, the museum is truly a treat to behold for all ages. And if you enjoy history, science or art, you’ll find something sure to engage you – it’s not just for baseball fanatics. As I left the museum, passing the wall lined with player signatures and gripping my miniature Slugger bat – a free souvenir with every tour – I realized I’d never felt more like a local. VT

The Louisville Slugger Museum is located at 800 W. Main St. For more information, visit sluggermuseum.com or call 877.775.8443.

By Zachary Burrell, Contributing Writer