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When the UCI Cyclocross World Championships took place in Louisville earlier this month, it marked the first time this prestigious event had taken place outside Europe. To help commemorate the occasion, one of America’s most iconic sporting goods manufacturers decided to join the party. From its home in the host city, Louisville Slugger has been making the best bats in baseball for more than 120 years and the mini bats it gave away around the course during the weekend of races proved popular keepsakes for visiting fans.
Once the cowbells had fallen silent, we took some of our favorite riders to visit the famous Slugger factory, an establishment that has served some of the very finest hitters to have graced the game. Accompanied by some our friends from Oakley, we went behind the scenes to discover something of the history of these celebrated bats, what goes into their manufacture, and maybe take a few swings ourselves.
These days, the majority of the bats are made using an automated process. You can walk the production floor and see the machines cranking out perfectly-hewn Sluggers, ready to be used by the likes of New York Yankees star Derek Jeter (he only uses black bats). But the factory is also home to one mastercraftsman who can show you how things used to be done. It was from this softly spoken and gracious fellow that Oakley rider Katerina Nash saw a perfect bat, turned by hand on a lathe, produced in less than five minutes.
Throughout the museum you’ll find bits of history everywhere, such as the Detroit Tigers’ commemorative bats from last year’s World Series; the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera is a customer, so is Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants, the eventual series winners. There is, however, one bat that stands out from the rest. The scars around the Slugger marque on Babe Ruth’s Louisville Slugger 125 are notches for every one of the home runs he hit in his then record-breaking season of 1927. When that bat broke, he sent it back to the Slugger factory to be repaired. The bat now sits grandly behind glass in the Slugger museum but you can still count each of the 60 notches
In addition to a few full-sized Oakley-Louisville Slugger bats that were autographed and given away at the museum during the Worlds weekend, the Oakley riders competing also received mini bats, which they subsequently hid around town. Jeremy Powers, who had been staying off-site to continue his training directly after the US National Championships, spent an afternoon placing bats around the Worlds course, in his hotel and possibly in a few bars nearby. Those lucky enough to find them in the days and weeks following the Worlds have taken home their own little piece of sporting history.
Still on: Apparently the 'bathunt' is still happening. Tim Johnson took one all the way to Tokyo and hid it yesterday in his favorite bike shop. With that kind of dedication, it's possible that these bats will keep popping up all over the place.
Here are a few examples of what the #OakleyBatHunt created during the weekend in Louisville.
Its— Oakley Global Sports (@OakleySports) January 31, 2013
<a href="https://twitter.com/louisville2013">louisville2013</a> week in KY &amp; @<a href="https://twitter.com/jeremypowers">jeremypowers</a> is hiding @<a href="https://twitter.com/sluggernation">sluggernation</a>/oakley bats around the city #OakleyBatHunt twitter.com/OakleySports/s…
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- The hills above. #raphasurvey http://t.co/jlIkXowxyT
- U23 winner in 2012 what's in store for @RichHandley90 in the @anpostras http://t.co/xyZWX3NbtG