Fort Myers, Fla.
Wahpeton, N.D., native Jim Anderson loves to tell the story of Darin Erstad, the former big-league ballplayer from North Dakota. Anderson is the founder of MaxBat, a bat company that has about 100 major-league players using its product.
Erstad used MaxBats and he would order both the maple and ash versions, which is unusual for big-leaguers. Most are devout believers in maple ... or ash ... or birch.
But usually only one. So Anderson asked Erstad why he ordered two species of wood.
"He said when he hits the ball with maple, it's off the barrel like that. It's just gone. He hits it and it is just gone. He said he didn't like that. He wanted to control the ball a little more," Anderson said. "Ash has more flex, so Darin said 'When I swing and hit the ball with ash, the ball is on the barrel longer and I feel like I can send it to different parts of the field.'
"My mind was just blown," Anderson said, laughing. "You're telling me you can do this with a baseball that is thrown between 93 and 100 miles per hour? You can control the baseball off the bat? And, yes, he could."
This is a hint to the rest of the world that big-league ballplayers might be operating at a slightly different level than the rest of us who played baseball growing up.
That includes Anderson, who grew up playing ball in Wahpeton and actually still plays amateur ball for a team in the Twin Cities, where he now lives. That love of baseball led to creation of MaxBat, which Twins players like Trevor Plouffe, Jason Bartlett, Jason Kubel, Miguel Sano and Kurt Suzuki swing.
Anderson's son, Max, was born in 2001 and the new dad wanted to commemorate the birth of his son by making a bat and having the kid's birth date, weight, etc., etched into the bat. Having a gift for working with wood, Anderson did that.
"I was playing amateur ball at the time and thought it would be neat to make a bat I could play with, but let me try to make a bat with my child's birth statistics on it," Anderson said. "I did that, but I didn't want a bat without a logo on it. So I came up with the name MaxBat and designed a logo. When I put that logo on the bat, just as a wall-hanger, it looked like a major-league bat. It really did. It was like, wow, that's really cool."
Anderson began making bats in his basement he and some friends used in amateur ball. He didn't think it would go any farther than a hobby. Then Sept. 11, 2001, happened and the fallout included Anderson's job disappearing.
"So here I am a new dad, no job and the world in chaos," Anderson said. "It upset me a small organization on the other side of the world could affect my life the way it did. So I thought why don't I try to make bats for a living? if it works, great, if not, no big deal."
Anderson made some bats and sent them to MLB for approval. When baseball executives sent him word his bats had been OK'd for use in the major leagues, Anderson kicked things in gear. He found investors, located a spot to manufacture the bats in Brooten, Minn., and got to work.
The Twins were very helpful in getting MaxBat started. Anderson said the organization provided guidance and advice on how to get the company started and make it successful.
"(Former Twin) Doug Mientkiewicz very picky, so Twins had me mess around trying to make something he liked," Anderson said. "I had some luck, got help from the Twins, but in the end it is really the product. It is a good product and guys want to use our bats."
MaxBat has grown steadily in the 13 years it has been in business. All of the Twins minor-league players use MaxBat and Anderson said about 100 major-leaguers use his product.
Sunday, Anderson and an employee were at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers working the clubhouse -- making sure current clients were happy and talking with potential new customers. Leaning against a wall just outside the clubhouse was a felt-lined suitcase loaded with all colors and styles of MaxBat. Players would stop by, pick up some lumber and take a swing or two.
"It's just human nature. when people see a new bat they want to pick it up and feel it and see if it's something they've never had in their hands before," Anderson said. "Then we'll start talking about that model and they might want to try that in a future bat order."
Anderson is the third Wahpeton person to gain a foothold doing business with the Twins and Major League Baseball. Mark Stutrud is involved with Summit Brewing out of St. Paul and the Shuler family produces Giants Seeds.
Gotta be something in the water, right?
"Must be the beet plant," Anderson said.
Follow on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO