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    This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Louisville Magazine. 
    To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, please click here.

    Photo by Drew Meredith

    The World Series ended two days ago. Professional baseball stadiums meditate in peace — hollow, quiet, shelved until next season. Spring training doesn’t start for three months. And yet the second baseman for the Miami Marlins keeps texting Garrik Napier. He wants to talk bats. Now. Call me when you get out of whatever you’re doing. 

    Napier works as Louisville Slugger’s pro bat coordinator. “Anything for the major or minor leagues goes through me,” Napier explains on a warm November morning as machines shaving wood into baseball bats groan in the background. The 37-year-old is tall, bearded and looks like he could bench-press a national forest. His nickname? Lumberjack.

    Louisville Slugger is nearing its 132nd year in professional baseball. Each bat begins as a “billet,” a sturdy cylinder of maple, birch or ash wood measuring 37 inches long and three inches in diameter. Napier’s sawdust-coated desk sits on the floor of the downtown factory, near floor-to-ceiling stacks of billets. He wipes the desk’s surface clean three times a day. Has to keep a piece of paper or something over his water cup too. Technically, he’s “corporate.” But working from the floor is easiest. 

    Napier oversees a production line that makes 300 pro bats and “MLB Prime” bats per day. Prime bats are pro-quality but available to anyone with $100 or so bucks. (Louisville Slugger has two other production lines — one for less-expensive bats sold at sporting-goods stores, the other for miniature souvenir bats. The factory churns out 2 million bats a year.) Napier must ensure that each of his bats undergoes the same 22-step production process and six quality checks — everything from passing Major League Baseball weight requirements and grain standards to double-checking the spelling of players’ names once a machine has branded the bats with their moniker to eyeing the spray finish for bubbles or runs. “So sometimes a player orders 12 bats,” Napier says. “It may take us 30 or 40 billets to get those 12 bats.”

    When Napier tells strangers what he does for a living, their curiosity begs for the who more than the what. Some of baseball’s best? They depend on him. That Miami Marlins player wants to come to the factory in three days to create a custom bat. Derek Jeter consistently used a Louisville Slugger P72 for all 12,000-plus plate appearances. Napier helped make some of those. 

    He started at Louisville Slugger almost nine years ago, “doing the grunt work.” It was a natural progression, given that Napier grew up playing baseball in Scottsburg, Indiana. He even scored a spot as second baseman on Hanover College’s team. Then, with a business degree in hand, he became a mortgage loan officer. “Got in while it was good,” he says, laughing. You can probably guess what ended that career. 

    Friends in a recreational softball league who worked at Louisville Slugger urged the self-proclaimed “baseball junkie” to join up. Within a few years, Napier climbed his way to leader of the pro line. “You watch the game of baseball in a completely different way,” he says. “You’re looking at the product. I want to know: Why aren’t you swinging that bat I just sent you?”

    Napier lights up while reliving the World Series now two days into history. A lot of players gripped Louisville Sluggers. “The Mets were swinging six, two for Kansas City. Eight out of 18 hitters?” he says, smiling. “That’s pretty good for us.” Dozens of other professional bat makers exist. Since Louisville Slugger is the official Major League Baseball bat, only it can have the MLB logo, distinguishing it from any other “wooden stick.”

    Now Napier’s running down memory lane. The 2008 All-Star Game? Best day on the job. Josh Hamilton hit 28 home runs in the first round of the Home Run Derby with a 35-inch C353 Slugger model. “That was a bat we worked on just a couple days before to overnight to him just to have for the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby,” Napier says.

    Napier gets another call. He might have to head to the Arizona Fall League, an off-season league that attracts top prospects in minor-league baseball — a good place for players to test out different bats. Napier’s job demands a lot of out-of-town work. It’s tough to leave his wife and six-year-old daughter. But few baseball junkies can connect a paycheck with a pastime. When asked his favorite part of the job, the lumberjack wistfully sighs: “Everything.” 

    This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Louisville Magazine. 
    To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, please click here.

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