Louisville is a beautiful city on the Ohio River rich in heritage and history, home to three of the most iconic museums in the United States: the Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum, the Kentucky Derby Museum and the Muhammed Ali Center. With only two days in this quant city in the heart of the Ohio River Valley, we decided we only had time to visit two of these incredible sites. Sorry Muhammed Ali…we’ll have to catch you next time.
If you’ve never been to the Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum, the first thing you’ll learn when you visit is that it’s actually the Hillerich-Bradsby Co., reflecting the original founder who started making bats for professional baseball players in the late 1800s, J. F. Hillerich. His original business plan was to be a traditional woodworker, but all that changed when his son, an aspiring baseball player himself, started helping with the family business.
Bud reached out to a local professional who was in a hitting slump and asked if he was interested in using a custom bat made from the shop. Bud & his dad would soon transition their business from a woodworking shop to a bat factory shortly after Pete “Louisville Slugger” Browning used his new custom bat to break out of his slump with three hits the next game. Several other professionals wanted to use the same bat Browning used, and a new business was born. After making bats for several other professional ballplayers, a local salesman, Frank Bradsby, become a partner in 1916, and they started selling bats to all the big-time major league players, including Babe Ruth & Ty Cobb. Louisville Slugger became the brand of bat they produced and has been their trademark brand ever since, and was recently sold to Wilson Sporting Goods in 2015.
The machines they use to create bats originated in Germany and are no longer made. They rigged these woodworking machines to mass produce bats, some for the professionals, and others for retail outlets like Dick’s Sporting Goods, and each machine can make up to 400 bats per hour. This machine to the right is a special machine that only makes bats for MLB players, and it has been signed throughout the years by the players who have visited the facility, including one of my childhood favorites, Hall of Famer George Brett of the Kansas City Royals, and, most recently, Cal Ripken Jr.
In the museum they had several game-used bats on display, as well as a video describing how all Louisville Slugger bats are made from wood that originated from the same forest near the Pennsylvania/New York border. The trees in this forest are evaluated to find the ones that will be best for making bats, including their composition (maple, ash or birch), their structure (straight or crooked) and their density. Once selected and cut down, the trees are sent to a local mill to turn into billets, which are bat-sized columns of wood prepared to be carved at the factory. Several MLB players have made the trip to Louisville to hand-pick the billets for their bats, including Hall of Famer Ted Williams, the last player to hit over .400 for the season. I had no idea how much thought and work went to making a bat to hit a baseball.
Hannah & Naomi joined me on this tour, and we had a great time. They give you a mini wooden bat at the end of the tour, but Naomi decided that wasn’t enough. She bought two more mini bats in the shop, a pink one because she loves pink and a red one with our beloved Cardinals logo on it. I picked up a t-shirt and Hannah grabbed a postcard. However, one of the best parts of the entire tour was at the very end they had a lego room with some pretty cool lego displays, including Busch Stadium in legos. I have never been more tempted to throw something in the back of my van and drive away!
Since it was Friday, we enjoyed our Family Movie Night with some Salmon cooked on the grill & The Emoji Movie, had a family Bible study on the first half of Acts 1, and then retreated to bed looking forward to Day 3, which would be our day at the Derby.