Baseball

Area baseball beat: Dustin Pedroia has a handle on unconventional bat

Boston Red Sox’s Dustin Pedroia warms up before playing against the Los Angeles Angels on July 18.
Boston Red Sox’s Dustin Pedroia warms up before playing against the Los Angeles Angels on July 18. The Associated Press

Baseball players are superstitious and don’t adapt well to change. So the idea of using a bat with a knob resembling an ax handle will take time to gain acceptance.

But for one major leaguer, the Axe Bat has been the answer to years of hand and wrist injuries. Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (Woodland High School) is a believer, and his production has improved this season.

According to a 2014 study by UCLA engineering professor Vijay Gupta, the Axe Bat creates faster barrel acceleration, increases swing speed and delivers a more efficient power transfer. The comfortable grip design also reduces the risk of injury, most commonly to the hamate bone and ulnar nerve.

I need this knob. I can lock my fingers the way I want to. It feels good in your hand.

Dustin Pedroia on the Axe Bat

In 1990, New York woodworker Bruce Leinart developed the Axe Bat concept while chopping wood. The natural fit in his hands and accurate swing convinced him he had stumbled upon baseball’s next great innovation. He suggested his idea to manufacturers but was rebuffed until Washington-based Baden Sports, whose main product was balls, agreed to license it for 20 years starting in 2009.

“You put it in your hand, and it just fits,” Baden CEO Michael Schindler said in a statement. “It’s made for your hands. The old knob just isn’t. If you mess with this for a while, the old knob starts to feel odd. There is no doubt in my mind it’s a better product. When you have 150-plus years of tradition to buck, it just doesn’t happen with the snap of a finger.”

The concept of the Axe Bat isn’t new. Ted Williams, one of the game’s greatest hitters, touched on the idea in his 1971 book “The Science of Hitting.”

“Get a bat and swing it against a telephone pole,” Williams wrote. “Where is the wrist position at point of impact? Square and unbroken, that’s where, just as when you hit a tree with an ax.”

Pedroia, whose 2014 season ended because of hand surgery, the third consecutive year in which he underwent surgery on his hand or wrist, was introduced to the Axe Bat in spring training by Red Sox hitting instructor Chili Davis. Davis used a similar version for one-handed drills. Pedroia liked it and ordered one.

The day after he received it, a Victus Sports representative was watching batting practice and noticed Pedroia with the bat in the cage. The rep asked how it felt.

“This is what I need,” Pedroia told USA Today. “I need this knob. I can lock my fingers the way I want to. It feels good in your hand. Just grabbing it feels comfortable. I wish it was certified.”

9Dustin Pedroia’s home run total in 75 games this season, surpassing his total of last year and matching his 2013 production

When the representative told Pedroia a certified Axe Bat was available from Victus, a New Jersey-based company that had the rights to use Baden’s patent and the Major League Baseball certification to make wood bats for the professional game, Pedroia placed an order.

Pedroia is the only major leaguer using the Axe Bat.

“For me, it’s just a personal preference,” Pedroia, who is on the disabled list for a second time because of a hamstring issue, told USA Today. “What feels good, feels good.”

While the Axe Bat isn’t threatening Louisville Slugger and Easton for market dominance, it has been successful outside MLB. Since Baden’s wooden and metal bats were introduced to youth, high school and college players and teams, sales have more than tripled since 2012.

Statistics back up the sales. Marietta College of Ohio won the 2012 NCAA Division III championship in its first season using the Axe Bat. The team led the nation in hits and batted .331. San Jose State used it in 2013 and had more hits and fewer strikeouts than any team in the Western Athletic Conference that year. And more than 20 former major leaguers in Japan use it.

As for Pedroia, he is batting .287 with nine home runs in 75 games this season. He hit only seven homers in 135 games last year and nine in 160 games in 2013.

Hoskins honored

Clearwater (Fla.) Threshers first baseman Rhys Hoskins (Jesuit, Sacramento State) was named Florida State League Player of the Week. He was 9 for 28 with five extra-base hits, 10 RBIs and 10 runs.

Mark McDermott is a freelance writer specializing in Sacramento-area baseball. Contact him at egmacker@yahoo.com.

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