Every year, when the Ohio snow begins to melt, Phoenix Bats takes a trip. Founder and head designer, Charles “Lefty "Trudeau swings through both the Grapefruit and Cactus league to make sure that professional baseball players get access to high quality wood bats. We caught up with Charley while he was swinging through the gulf coast of Florida.
What do you hope to accomplish with every visit to a big league baseball team’s facility?
CT: There’s a couple of things, first of all you want to check in with your existing customers. Make sure they are taken care of, they got everything they need and find out if there are any concerns or problems that have arisen that you don’t know about. A lot of these guys, I know them real well and they may not think anything of it or don’t want to bother me with something - but it’s nice to know that everything is going exactly the way they want it to because this is their career. Certainly we also want to expand on our existing customer base by getting to know new players, new equipment managers, things like that and hopefully develop a bigger network of contacts and friends.
What’s the best way to go about doing that?
CT: It varies from camp to camp. In some you have very easy access to players and in others the players almost have to come to you. You certainly don’t get a platform. There’s no way that you can direct everybody at one time and a lot of it is word of mouth. The players know what everyone else on the team is using so if you have a very loyal customer on the team it certainly makes talking to other players easier because they know that we take care of somebody on their team who is happy with us.
Does the fact that you are the founder of the company help when talking to the players, as opposed to a sales rep from a larger company?
CT: I don’t know whether being the founder has a whole lot of effect on it. I think what probably has more of an effect is the fact that they know that I design all the bats. So when they are talking to me about their bat and what they want to do with it, they are talking to the guy who is actually going to sit down and do the design work for them. So I think that makes a big difference. But as far as being the founder, it’s certainly not something I stress with them. I know a lot of the guys know that and they appreciate it, but I don’t think it’s a critical aspect of what we do down here. When these guys place an order, in a lot of ways they are trusting us with their career. I think we have a good reputation and the players trust us. They know we do everything we can to take care of them.
Is there a player or coach that you always look forward to meeting up with?
CT: Oh sure, there are a lot of players that I really look forward to seeing when I come down because it may be the only time I get to see them. Some of them are friendships that have been established for years. You know we’ll go out to dinner with a bunch of them. Like tomorrow night I’m going out to dinner with a lot of players. It’s something that I look forward to every year and I know some of the players also look forward to it. It’s a relaxing time during spring training when there is a lot of stress.
How do you convey the high quality of Phoenix Bats to these professionals?
CT: That’s really where the word of mouth comes in. When you are talking to a player that may be friends with a player that we work with and they’ve heard that we are very careful with the wood that we send them and that we stand behind the product. We get them bats quickly so they’re not sitting around for months waiting for them to show up and things like that. We’ve been lucky along these lines because the players do talk about us and we’ve gotten a very good reception over the years because we take care of our players.
Do you help the players design their own custom bat specifications?
CT: A lot of it depends on the level of player you are talking about. If it’s a guy on the 40 man roster, they probably have a pretty good idea of what they want. If it’s a kid who’s just got drafted who may not have a huge amount of experience with a wood bat - and may not have any experience with the idea that they can design their own bat - then you really do spend some time with them and maybe go through several generations before we get to the model that’s just right for them.
How do you help the more experienced players learn about new technology in the industry?
CT: A lot of that comes with earning their trust. I’ve got boxes of bats that guys have given me where they like the design or the way this bat feels, but they want us to make it for them. Once we’ve earned that trust then we can talk about making the handle thicker or changing the slope into the knob, whatever it might be.
Where do you see the future of wooden bats heading?
CT: I really see it expanding. I really see colleges going back to some form of wooden bats. My guess is it won’t be a single piece wood bat like they use in professional baseball, it will be some form of a composite or something like that. Just because high schools and colleges can’t afford to buy dozens and dozens of wood bats, and they are young players, young players break bats. So I think you are going to see a wood bat that has a higher degree of durability than a big league bat. That’s where I see the future of baseball going, away from the aluminum bats, the metal bats, the carbon fiber bats, things like that which have gotten just scary responses. The ball coming off those bats is just so fast and so hard that even the young guys can’t react to it fast enough. You just keep seeing guys get hurt or even killed by balls coming off of these bats and eventually everyone is going to say enough of this, and you’ll go back to a wooden bat.