"The longer we make these bats for people,
the less about the bats it becomes."
-Jeremy Mitchell, Mitchell Bat Co. Owner
Behind Mitchell Bat Co.
Sports Illustrated editor, Dom Bonvissuto (Jeans & Ties) and Mitchell Bat Co. owner, Jeremy Mitchell sat down in the summer of 2014 at Greer Stadium (home of the Minor League Baseball team, Nashville Sounds / Triple-A Team for the Milwaukee Brewers) and talk about life, baseball and Mitchell Bat Co.
The following is that interview:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jeremy Mitchell is sitting in the first row at Greer Stadium, directly across from third base, right next to the Nashville Sounds dugout. He’s wearing a baseball cap, holding a baseball glove and sporting a shirt with a baseball logo on it. When the beer man hands him a cold one, Mitchell pays with cash pulled from a wallet made from the leather of Ernie Banks’ old mitt.
Before the mid-May weeknight game against Oklahoma City starts, he smiles at the woman throwing promotional shirts into the stands. She tosses him one. Later, as Sounds centerfielder Caleb Gindl trots toward the dugout after catching an inning-ending flyout, Mitchell hollers for the ball. Gindl throws it into Mitchell’s glove.
And when the Sounds break up a no-hitter in the sixth inning, followed immediately by a two-run homer that erases the RedHawks’ lead, Mitchell stands and cheers loudly, high-fiving folks in his section.
“I love baseball,” Mitchell tells the guy sitting next to him. It’s the understatement of the evening.
Mitchell, 35, pours his enthusiasm for the national pastime into Mitchell Bat Company, where he sells hand-painted odes to the game he adores. His bats are blowing up. ESPN.com included them in its holiday gift guide. Ebbets, the king of baseball cool, sells them in its flagship store in Seattle. And a national clothing retailer recently reached out and wants to put them in its soon-to-open store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
These are some of the 31 designs available, all inspired by baseball history. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Mitchell)
It’s heady stuff for a business that hasn’t even been in existence for the length of a baseball season. Mitchell started Mitchell Bat Company on Oct. 30, 2013, with a few innocuous Instagram posts. “It’s gone from zero miles per hour to 1,000 just like that,” Mitchell says.
In August 2013, Mitchell was asked to join a team of five guys on a project to rebrand a Nashville skateboard company called Salemtown Board Co. A web designer by trade, Mitchell had spent the first dozen years of his post-college life creating things digitally. But watching the Salemtown guys build skateboards out of wood and then paint them inspired Mitchell to take his talents in a different direction.
Mitchell first found inspiration from the skateboards created by Salemtown Board Co. (Photo courtesy Salemtown)
“I wanted to get my hands dirty and create something, I just didn’t know what it was,” Mitchell said. “After helping out at Salemtown, I realized I could do something similar with baseball bats.”
Part of Salemtown’s mission with its skateboards is helping inner city kids, many who grow up in father-less homes. That struck a chord with Mitchell, whose parents divorced when he was 8. “My dad kinda split after that,” Mitchell said. He channeled his frustration and disappointment into baseball, playing in local youth leagues around his childhood home of Hendersonville, Tenn., just outside Nashville.
“I get where kids are coming from when they don’t have a dad. They’re looking to fill that void and turn towards coaches and people in sports,” Mitchell said. “In telling Jacob [Henley, co-owner of Salemtown] about the idea for Mitchell Bat Company, I realized why baseball was so important to me. It was because of that lack of a father growing up. That’s one of the main things that drives the idea and that’s why I wanted to design something that would give back to kids who needed a father figure.”
Mitchell knew he wanted to involve a youth sports-related charity once he started selling bats. But first, he had to figure out how to make them.
The second half of 2013 was a busy time for the Mitchell family. Jeremy and his wife Kathy welcomed daughter Sophia in August, who joined sister Amelia at home in Nashville. Jeremy also was starting a new job in October at redpepper, an advertising and marketing agency. Jeremy and Kathy planned on waiting until January to give Mitchell Bat Company a go.
But during the World Series in October, caught up in the excitement of the Boston Red Sox’s run from worst to first, Mitchell got the itch. He already had created a web site and been fooling around with bat designs on his computer. During Game 6, he activated the site and started posting pictures of his first two designs, the Boston and the St. Louis, on the Mitchell Bat Company account on Instagram. Through Instagram’s geo-tagging feature, he was able to find Red Sox and Cardinals fans who were attending the game at Fenway Park. He started liking and commenting on their photos, and in turn, they saw his account and started liking his photos. It quickly spread.
“I was marketing like crazy that night,” Mitchell said. “It was all, Like, like, like, like, like. I could barely keep up.”
Four days later, Mitchell Bat Company sold its first two bats. The following week, someone in Oakland wanted to buy a green and yellow bat. Then, a man emailed Mitchell, asking if he made a blue and orange New York bat and if he shipped to Australia.
“We do now,” Mitchell replied.
Designing the bats and the website was second nature to the digitally adept and artistic Mitchell, but actually making them and painting them was a different story. He found a supplier just outside Nashville, and bought 50 raw wooden bats. He learned how to sand, tape, paint and stripe his bats from watching his friends at Salemtown, but there was still plenty of trial and error.
Meanwhile, orders were rolling in via the website, despite the fact that Mitchell hadn’t actually painted a bat yet or figured out how to ship them. Though the customers initially came from grassroots Instagram marketing, things really went batty when the popular blog Cool Material did a post. Other blogs like Gear Culture and Selectism quickly followed suit.
“The success of this happened very fast,” Mitchell said. “We quickly had to make a lot of decisions because we didn’t want to fail.”
Jeremy figured out the painting—“It first took me awhile per bat; now I can do it faster but it's still a long process,” he says—and Kathy helped with the shipping. By then, it was mid-November and Christmas was right around the corner. Turns out, hand-painted bats look great under the tree. In an attempt to stem the rush of orders coming in so he could catch his breath, Mitchell raised prices and shipping costs and set an early Christmas deadline. It didn’t help.
“The baby bed was full of bats. The front room was full of bats. Everywhere in our house, there were bats,” Mitchell says. “I don’t recommend having 20-30 bats sitting around your house with a toddler and an infant. It wasn’t ideal but we made it happen.”
Mitchell Bat Company survived the holiday sprint, getting every order it received to the customer before Christmas day. After the new year, Mitchell kept his foot on the gas pedal, fine-tuning the design, launching more color options and networking with other small brands in the genre like Leather Head Sports and Contino Brand.
There are plenty of other things in the works, as well. Mitchell recently brought on two part-time employees to help produce the bats. His friends at Railyard Studios gave him some workspace to do his painting. He’s added pennants, hats and balls to his online store, and he’s also working on leather hangers that look like baseball mitt stitching—customers can use them to display the bats on walls. An E-newsletter and mini-bats are on the horizon, too.
His favorite part of the budding business, however, has been interacting with the customers, who don’t hesitate to express pleasure with his products.
“I’ll get emails from people who tell me they open the package and immediately get taken back to old Busch and going with their dad,” Mitchell said. “I’m just sitting there at my desk in Nashville, Tennessee, and someone in California is telling me a story about a game they went to 30 years ago. I get goosebumps. I’m reaching these people and sparking memories. That’s what gets me excited.”
True to his word, Mitchell has partnered with MLB’s RBI program and gives a portion of the profits of every bat to help revive baseball in inner cities. He’s also donated bats to various RBI fundraisers and been invited to RBI functions featuring professional baseball players.
It’s dream-like stuff for Mitchell, who still very much enjoys the work he does in advertising. But Mitchell Bat Company allows him the opportunity to work with a different kind of customer than he encounters in his day job.
“The thing that I love personally is I’m not solving anybody’s problem with these bats,” Mitchell said. “There is no login information with bats. The bats won’t break. No one is going to call me at 2 o’clock in the morning and say, ‘My bat is down, can you log on and fix it?’ Web design and advertising is never, ever, ever done.
“These bats are gonna be on someone’s wall for 30 years. Some kid is gonna get in big trouble for playing with his dad’s Mitchell bat. I think about this while I’m doing it and it doesn’t feel like a job for me. I get up at 5 every morning that I have bat orders. Nothing besides my 9-month-old can get me out of bed at 5 each morning except for these bats.”