Clint Frazier couldn’t wait to show off his newest piece of wood.
With a brightly colored caricature of his face, bright red curls, a jersey number 77 face mask, chain, and sunglasses, his new bat was anything a typical brown, gray, or black bat wasn’t.
Frazier posted a short video of it on Twitter At the end of last month, along with the now classic Major League Baseball marketing slogan: “Let the kids play!”
The New York Yankees outfielder would Show the bat again later during BP, one of the increasingly elaborate sticks seen in Major League training camps this spring and worn by some of the game’s biggest names.
– Clint Frazier (@clintfrazier) February 25, 2021
Two days before Frazier’s post, the Philadelphia Phillies had tweeted a number of photos of six-time all-star Bryce Harper with a similar bat adorned with a painting by Phillie Phanatic.
Bryce made it to Clearwooder. pic.twitter.com/nS5WRbqxUR
– Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) February 23, 2021
San Diego Padres franchise player Fernando Tatis Jr. was spotted with his own customized version, and Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson has an order on the way.
The eye-catching, individually painted bats come from Victus Sports, a wooden bat company based in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Victus Sports was acquired by Marucci Sports, the most popular bat supplier in the major leagues, in 2017 and has been manufacturing bats for major leagues since 2012. However, it took a leap forward last year when it hired artist Bruce Tatem.
“We’re going to get some feedback from players, things they like, maybe something that represents where they’re from, things along those lines,” Tatem said of the design process. “Then I’ll either start sketching or we’ll be at our design meeting together and we’ll go through the ideas and kick ideas out. I just take a collection of all of this and then put it in the computers and start doing the bat design mock. Sometimes I just run with it. “
Tatem, 44, spent more than 20 years airbrushing everything from motorcycles to hockey goalie masks before starting his projects at Victus Sports. His first personalized racket went to former Major Leaguer Jonny Gomes. Tatem, a native of Biglerville, Pennsylvania, and a graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia, was initially skeptical about the baseball bat as a canvas.
“At first it was like working on a completely round surface, but I love that you can roll the bat and reveal the art,” said Tatem. “It’s not like being on the side of the bike where you see everything at once. I like the way the canvas works. I think it solved the puzzle and made it look like an attractive piece of art.”
Tatem works closely with designer Ryan Smith, better known as Diesel. Together they can create a bat in just a few days or weeks, depending on the project. The Company, That made up about 20% of the bats that were introduced on the opening day of last seasoncan produce 100 or more bats for special events like Players Weekend, the league’s annual showcase for the league’s player personality. This can lead to a time crisis where artists work on bats for 72 hours without sleep.
“When Diesel was working on the Home Run Derby Bats and Players Weekend [bats]Sometimes you only know at the last minute who’s going to be in the derby, “said Tatem.” So you have no choice but to pull the all-nighter to do that. “
The group’s most recent projects included Tatis’ bespoke wood following its breakout campaign in 2020.
“We weren’t necessarily one hundred percent sure how we were going to convey it,” said Tatem. “We just knew we wanted to make a bat. It was going to be a limited tatis. One of the guys threw the ideas out there and said, ‘Well, can you do blonde dreads on a bat?’ and I didn’t say anything but it was in my head and I went home that night and said, ‘You know what? I think I want to do a bat head from Tatis.’ “
As usual, Tatem set up the project on his computer and figured out the correct dimensions for the portrait before starting the freehand airbrush. Using a picture of Tatis, he drew the picture of the player on the racket, then printed stencils and painted in the finer details with an airbrush brush. From there the bat went to the paint team who completed the bat before sending the special project to the Padres Shortstop.
“When [Tatem] The first time we decided, hey, we now have the option not only to do crazy colors and dipped bats, but now we can actually do art on the bats and I think that’s the direction in which we’re going now I think it’s one of those things that we want to win the trophy of the best, “said Jared Smith, CEO of Victus Sports.” We want to keep pushing the envelope so no one can really catch up with us because you are starting to see other companies out there doing more and more things like us and we embrace it. “
The company hopes to advance bat design in the big leagues, but its work will be limited to social media posts, special events, and batting practice for now.
Rule 3.02 (d) of the MLB rulebook states: “No colored bats may be used in a professional game unless approved by the rules committee.” Rules are supposed to be broken, however – even if the league tries to cut a trend beforehand, it even starts.
Case in point: Harper, who has been using the company’s more traditional bat line in games for years. Five years ago, on July fourth, Harper, then with the Washington Nationals, trotted onto the Chandler Bats plate with a custom bat dyed red, white, and blue and adorned with the stars and stripes and a silhouette of the Washington skyline. He returned immediately before the San Francisco Giants Madison Bumgarner pitcher.
Harper got away with it, but a year later his hopes of debuting a new Victus Sports patriotic bat for Independence Day – the one with a picture of the Statue of Liberty – were dashed. On Instagram, he posted These MLB rules prevented him from using them.
“Someday I hope that the @MLB players can express their feelings and say thank you to everyone who makes our lives possible and safe every day through bats or tunnels or anything up to that point,” wrote Harper. “And no, I’m not going to use this bat today to respect @MLB’s rules!”
At that point, MLB warned and reminded Victus Sports that its license to provide gaming equipment could be suspended. The league has since softened its stance a bit, at least for the Home Run Derby and Players Weekend, as MLB expanded its limited color palette for bats and allowed logos and lettering that are normally banned.
It was the biggest moment in the company’s spotlight to date, when Harper won the 2019 Home Run Derby wearing a Victus Sports bat adorned with “We The People” and an American flag. “No company that shows my personality in my bats is more than Victus,” said Harper through a Victus Sports spokesman.
MLB began experimenting with nontraditional bat colors when the league introduced pink bats for Mother’s Day games in 2006. The league did not comment on whether there are plans to further relax bat design restrictions, as it has done in recent seasons, by allowing custom studs. However, Victus envisions a future where brightly colored sticks are the norm.
“I can definitely imagine. I would love that. Do I think MLB will do it now? I hope so. I mean, I hope they see the value in it. I think any sport you play goes all the way down the line. You see all the different things that just expand into customization and in the products, ”said Smith. “If nothing else, I think they will continue to give us a platform to show the stuff, at least in punch training, hopefully with events like the home run derby [and] Player weekend.
“Now we can start doing some of this cool stuff for our players, the guys that we either have marketing deals with or just guys that have been swinging us for a long time that we really like will see you forever more stuff like that out there, “said Smith,” at least if MLB doesn’t stop us. “