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Toronto gets its own boutique baseball bat company

Posted by Derek Flack / April 12, 2012

Garrison Creek Bat CompanyToronto may be a hockey town by reputation, but that doesn't mean that baseball doesn't have a long tradition in this town as well. In fact, the Toronto Maple Leafs was the name of a local baseball team long before Toronto St. Patricks hockey team decided they'd adopt the moniker in 1927. That baseball team once played out of a majestic-looking stadium near where the ferry to the Island Airport departs until the franchise left town in 1967. A semi-pro team still sports the name to this day, as baseball fans and Christie Pits residents already know. One could also add that the city's only big league championships of the last half-century have come courtesy of the Blue Jays, but this is old news.

To add to this rich, if often under appreciated tradition, Toronto is set to get its own boutique baseball bat company. Founded by illustrator Dave Murray (of whose neighbourhood maps we've previously gushed over) along with furniture maker C.R. Fieldhouse and graphic designer Ryan Christiani, the Garrison Creek Bat Company will produce handmade bats in a serious of styles devoted to some of Toronto's best-known city parks. Their first model, The Bellwoods is a reminder of what gorgeous design objects wooden baseball bats really are. But will people actually use these things?

I caught up with the company's founders to ask about where they hope to take the project and what it is about baseball bats that captured their imagination.

First off, why baseball bats?

Dave Murray (DM): When my friend (and parter in GCBC) C.R. brought up the idea a few months ago, I immediately loved it. We had brought the gloves out of retirement last summer, and it was a lot of fun to go out and enjoy the outdoors and play some baseball. It's also a nice change of pace for me, personally. I pretty much do nothing except for deal with paper, screens (for printing my neighbourhood maps) and computers all day; having something like this which actually gets me out of the house AND challenges me creatively is pretty awesome.

Ryan Christiani (RC): Why not?! I think for me, baseball is the quintessential summer sport, and one of the main goals we had going into this was the idea of getting out there and exploring the parks, having a great time with some friends. And maybe get a little exercise.

C.R. Fieldhouse (CRF): I started making bats over the holidays, and right off the bat (pun intended) we were seriously taken with the feel of the bats - that instant tactile reward you get holding handmade, heavy and well finished objects. We quickly realized that we were on to a great concept. The vast majority of bats these days are industrially produced to exacting standards, and most of us grew up hitting with metal bats. Baseball has traditionally been a community game, a sport that brings towns and cities together, and we felt that the tools of the game should reflect that home-grown, local tradition. We want our bats to reflect those feelings and values of craftsmanship, local production and pride in what your produce.

Garrison Creek Bat CompanyWhat's the Garrison Creek connection?

CRF: The three of us have all lived on or around the old Garrison Creek for quite some time. Our neighbourhood is both geographically and historically defined by it. Most importantly, some of Toronto's most loved and used parks fall within the old Garrison Creek watershed — Christie Pits, Trinity-Bellwoods, Stanley, Bickford, Dufferin Grove. Christie Pits is home turf for the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team, and Bickford, Stanley and Bellwoods all have diamonds. With such a strong connection to where neighbourhood games are played today, the name really seemed to fit with the local feel we are trying to give our bats.

RC: Plus, it just sounded great as a name.

Do you intend these more as collector's items or as objects that'll see some time in the batter's box?

RC: I think that is more up to the person who buys a bat. I would love to see them being used while I am riding my bike through a park! But I am also completely ok with someone who just wants to display it. Maybe Bellwoods holds a special place in their heart from their youth, and the bat just brings back those memories.

DM: I definitely see the artist bats that will be on display at our launch party as collector's items - though whoever purchases one is absolutely free to take it out to the park and use it (I wouldn't recommend it). The production bats I can see going either way. As a design object, they look fantastic - C.R. does absolutely beautiful work crafting the bats, and a lot of care goes into the paint, branding and finish of each bat. They'd be as much at home on display as they would be on the field.

CRF: As designers and artists Ryan and Dave are used to making things that people want to hold on to. And, as a furniture maker, I have a passion for making things both beautiful and functional. Part of the handmade aesthetic we are working with has to do with how we value our belongings. I personally feel that there can be a good materialism - a materialism that speaks to valuing long-lasting beautiful objects and materials, rather than a disposable, consumption-based materialism.

Garrison Creek Bat CompanyYour first model is the Bellwoods bat. Can you give any hints as to other parks that you plan to feature?

DM: I think Christie Pits is a pretty popular choice for the next round of bats, but there's a lot of options to choose from.

CRF: Ha ha, yeah - we've been thinking about this. We definitely want to celebrate the Garrison Creek Connection, but we also want to be sure and share the love around the city. Toronto's first baseball stadium was built out at Queen east and the Don, and there are parks all across the city people love to play in. We've looked at High Park, Riverdale, Christie Pits and Woodbine as potential future models.

How do you hope to communicate a sense of place on each bat?

DM: Playing around with paint schemes, branding, and lettering to reflect each location is a great design challenge. My main goal with each model is to incorporate elements of each location meaningfully into the established branding of GCBC; not to have those elements completely take over the appearance, but to be worked in with more subtlety. The link to the location and it's idiosyncrasies is still there, but it's more of a tip of the hat rather than a full-blown tribute.

There are a number of you involved in the project. Can you tell me about each person's role?

DM: My role, for lack of a more refined title, is essentially "creative director." I'm more or less in charge of branding the company, as well as branding each new bat model we come up with. Things like painting, typography, and general aesthetic appearance fall under my umbrella, though everyone is free to ad their input the process.

Garrison Creek Bat CompanyRC: I'm handling the web and business end of things — all of the back-end stuff. My goal is to make sure everything runs smoothly — so far it has!

CRF: I get to do the dirty work — designing and manufacturing the bats. I also source out materials, work out finishing processes and inspect each bat. And, as Dave said, it's a pretty democratic system. While we all have our own strengths, everyone is welcome to share their input at every stage of the process. We also all work together brainstorming new ideas, and handling day-to-day logistics.

How many bats do you plan on producing for each limited edition?

DM: The plan is to make 10 bats. We really want to emphasize that these are special pieces - everything is sourced and made locally. It's not something you can go and buy at Wal-Mart or Sport Chek. We've even commissioned other local talent - my friend Robin Akitt (shipislandleather.tumblr.com) - to make custom carrying bags for us. They look great - seeing the bags for the first time was pretty much better than Christmas.

CRF: We've been looking at 10 as a nice round number for each edition. This is a new market and new product, and we are really concerned with keeping these as cherished and valued items. If the first run goes well - and we've already got some great interest - we've been looking into ways to expand our production capacity. We definitely want these to be an accessible product, one that many people can enjoy and play with, but we also want to emphasize that they are locally produced, handmade objects.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about the GCBC?

RC: Not much really, we are just a few guys who thought it would be a lot of fun to create a quality product and work with some local talent. The buzz surrounding the art show/launch party has been great, so hopefully it goes over well!

DM: I think Ryan put it best - as friends, we had been looking to work together on something creative for a good while. When this idea came up, it was perfect. The energy that's been put into it thus far is amazing. I can't wait for the launch party on the 26th - some serious talent has signed up - and for the rest of the summer, getting out there and having fun with the bats.

CRF: Look for us swinging some test bats around town as the weather warms up!

Garrison Creek Bat CompanyFor more information about the launch party, check out the company's Facebook page.

Discussion

32 Comments

markus / April 12, 2012 at 03:57 pm
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patrick gray is doin double duty
NC / April 12, 2012 at 04:03 pm
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Way to go everyone! Great idea. I hope it takes off.
Arooo! / April 12, 2012 at 05:09 pm
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Maybe give one to Bautista so he can finally start raking!
Scott / April 12, 2012 at 05:16 pm
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Awesome! I'm excited for this. Gonna try to make it to the launch.
Carthy / April 12, 2012 at 05:39 pm
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Anyone else thinking perfect Bat Mitzvah gift? (sorry)
lol / April 12, 2012 at 06:28 pm
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the douchifaction of ossington continues ... custom made bats?? really, wooden, that break easily, do these guys even know how to make a bat, u know, for baseball, not hanging on ur wall
Fudbar replying to a comment from lol / April 12, 2012 at 07:16 pm
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Yep.. lots of talk about branding, art, logos, localism, etc... 2 pages worth of BS, and not one mention of.. you know.. WOOD! As in the s**t that you make bats out of. Sam Bat, the Canadian company that makes bats for tons of MLB players has spend tons of time and money sourcing maple of just the right grain and density and learning how to cure it properly (hint.. unless these guys have their own kiln and have been stockpiling and testing wood for a few years, they don't have a clue) I'm all for appreciating functional art, but it should well.. function. Any idiot with a lathe can take some green deadfall, let it dry out for a few months and make a bat like shape out of it. It might be 'art' but it sure as hell won't be a good bat.
Young person replying to a comment from Fudbar / April 12, 2012 at 07:44 pm
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I think this is awesome. Fudbar - maybe you should keep an open mind and actually assume that these guys have figured this out, and that all young folks aren't idiots. The press kit on their website says that their bats are made from hard maple, and that the one guy is a furniture designer - I would assume he knows his stuff.
Dave / April 12, 2012 at 07:46 pm
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Just buy from the best guys in the game.

http://www.sluggergifts.com/

Much better product than these guys in Toronto.
LC replying to a comment from Fudbar / April 12, 2012 at 08:36 pm
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I don't understand this automatic assumption that everything sucks. Maybe try the bat out first before shitting all over it, no?
Fudbar replying to a comment from Young person / April 12, 2012 at 09:41 pm
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I see what you're saying, but nope, I'll stick with my curmudgeonly attitude. From the Garrison Creek Bat Co. website: "You simply can’t beat three men who love their craft. And certainly not when they do it this damned well.."

Way to pat yourself on the back as piss on real craftspeople at the same time folks. BTW, 2 of the 3, by their own admission, have no woodworking experience. How does no experience at all suddenly equal 'Doing your craft..damned well'?

Check the website out:.

Clever web design: check. Twitter feed: check. Art Gallery opening announcement: check. Four carefully written and self congratulatory bios, 3 of which admit no skill in woodworking whatsoever: check. Any info on product, wood sourcing, videos of product in use, etc: nope...coming soon. Really???

Truly 'damned good' craftsmanship takes decades to acquire and real craftspeople don't talk, they do. We live in an age where quality workmanship constantly gets trumped by hype and fanfare. About the only exception to that rule seems to be food, so let me phrase my argument like this;

If these 4 folks had opened a food truck/resto and only one of them had any sort of culinary background, and the website was similar with a link called 'Menu' that said 'Coming Soon', and no info about the food, what would you think then?
anti-jaded replying to a comment from Fudbar / April 12, 2012 at 09:59 pm
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hey fudbar -- I hope the next time you decide to hone your skills and produce something by hand some douche on a web forum shits on your plate. maybe you can grade them on the calibre of the crap.
Fudbar replying to a comment from anti-jaded / April 12, 2012 at 10:05 pm
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Do it all the time, have done for years. I just don't tweet about it and hold an art gallery opening everytime I finish a piece. Even after years, my stuff is of middling quality and I'd never have the nerve to sell it commercially. The enjoyment and the process is a very private meditative thing. I could give a rat's ass about what anonymous folks think of it. If these folks are true craftspeople, they'll feel the same way. Only a poseur would be hurt by internet trolls. :)
FourLOKO / April 12, 2012 at 10:53 pm
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First off, why baseball bats?

Well, we saw Best Made Co. was making a killing selling axes to people who don't use axes, so we wondered what wood-based product we could varnish and paint all fancy to sell to hipsters for exorbitant prices. When shovels proved too difficult to manufacture, we set our sights on baseball bats. The rest is history!
Derek replying to a comment from FourLOKO / April 12, 2012 at 10:58 pm
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Yeah, because shovels are so much harder to make than baseball bats. If you're going to troll, you best do better than that.
Fudbar replying to a comment from Derek / April 12, 2012 at 11:14 pm
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Agree. I shit on the quality of your trolling and grade it a C+ at best. I only got into trolling over the holidays, but I'm damned good. In fact, I'm forming a collective with three friends who've never heard of the internet. We'll be live blogging our trolling art from a Parkdale gallery soon.

Sorry for hijacking this serious and well informed discussion about quality woodworking. I know that's exactly the sort of thing that BlogTO is known for. Anyone have any tips for re-grinding the bevel on my spindle gouge to cut down on tool chatter as I come across the face? Should I consider an Irish grind, or does the problem lie in my technique?
Gabe / April 12, 2012 at 11:42 pm
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I can't decide custom made axe or bat? My moustache could be used for either but my flannel jacket is more axe
lol / April 13, 2012 at 12:10 am
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maybe Ill open a small gallery that makes custom basketball's made of the finest african elephant leather
John replying to a comment from Fudbar / April 13, 2012 at 12:50 am
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So either FourLOKO and Fudbar are one and the same, or the latter is so defensive that he thought that comment was directed towards him - either way, more commenter #fails.
Fudbar replying to a comment from John / April 13, 2012 at 01:40 am
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I'm not defensive or FourLOKO. I'm offensive, but only in response to self-aggrandizing idiots and commenters who can't rebut intelligently. I'm actually a gentle, sensitive man who loves kittens, babies and all things helpless and cuddy. Congratulatory online circle jerks just bring out the worst in me. *sigh* I'm so misunderstood.

The comment was clever, well thought out and referenced several other comments and replies. Take the time to read and comprehend and you might catch on to how this trolling game works, son. Speaking of fail, last I checked, using faux hashtags outside of a twitter feed definitely qualified.
Fudbar replying to a comment from John / April 13, 2012 at 01:44 am
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Also, -1 Internet point for feeding the troll. You outta know better. Thanks for playing, though.
AWESOME JESSIE / April 13, 2012 at 08:35 am
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Sheeeeeeeeeeeit! I learned how to make bats in Grade 8 shop class and I'm gonna open up my own east end shop and compete. Imma call my shop the Kew Beach beer league bat shop, ok?! I'm also going to sell dog toys and baby things too.
TraderZed replying to a comment from Fudbar / April 13, 2012 at 09:21 am
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+1000 for calling out faux hashtags outside of Twitter, it seriously made me lol :)
AV replying to a comment from Fudbar / April 13, 2012 at 10:12 am
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Fudbar nails it
Matt M / April 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm
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Yeah, Fudbar pretty much hit this out of the park. (SEE WHAT I DID THERE IN THE CONTEXT OF A DISCUSSION ABOUT BASEBALL EQUIPMENT?!?!?!)

These guys should reposition what they're doing as purely artistic and drop any pretense of producing functional baseball bats. Else, there will be a bunch of angry people trying to return bags full of (very pretty) splinters.

I want one of these bats on my wall. Wouldn't USE it for anything other than perhaps fending off an intruder or clobbering an intern for fucking up a coffee run.
Katherine / April 13, 2012 at 01:10 pm
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I like it! Three guys working hard to create something good. More of this in the world please!
Ratpick / April 13, 2012 at 01:36 pm
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This looks like a nice product and I wish these guys luck with this idea.

But if they get serious about making real bats, they'll learn it's all about listening to what people want and quietly making it happen.

True craftsmen (yes, I used the gendered version, it sounds better) don't really talk about themselves much.

I've got Wood / April 13, 2012 at 01:45 pm
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I'm so confused by this product it makes my brain hurt. It's a bat, but its pretty so it will never be used as a bat...but it's not really art either because it's intended to be a quality handmade bat...ahhhh!
Jon M replying to a comment from Fudbar / April 13, 2012 at 01:58 pm
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You are bang on. Keep up the good work. I may be called jaded too, but I hate this shit polluting people's perceptions and I too can't help but call people out on the bullshit. But hey, good for the company, they make a shitty product, sell it at ridiculous prices and a bunch of idiots may actually buy them.
mister MUSCLE / April 13, 2012 at 03:41 pm
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How can you call this a company when they're only making TEN bats?! Its a vanity art project at best.
Chris / April 13, 2012 at 09:06 pm
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Wow, Fudbar, following your logic, it would appear that young people can't do anything. I would strongly suggest that if this annoys you so much, you avoid buying one of the bats and avoid upsetting yourself reading their website and their biogs.

In business (in reality) not everyone does the core activity, there are people who's job it is to do certain other things. The fact that 1 guy appears to be the web guy an other an artists and the third is....wait for it....a furniture designer and wood worker!

I wish these guys all the best.
40-40 Club / April 19, 2012 at 11:25 pm
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Very nice idea at the right time.

As someone who grew-up playing lots of baseball, it great to see the resurgence of the sport in the hearts & minds of jaded Toronto folk.

The sport took a hit in the 90s with the labour battles & steroid allegations. Innocence lost, along with the 4 million plus fans cramming the Sky Dome, er, Rogers Centre.

The feeling of Baseball is like no other. Even though though I don't play the game too much now, I still can't resist picking-up a bat in a sporting goods store and taking a few cuts, feeling the grain and the weight.

It's nice to see these lads producing art that captures emotions and transports you to a time when Baseball was the most important thing on your mind.

Celebrating the neighbourhoodism is also a great touch. Baseball is about the local. We see lots of that now with all the new Jays hats bopping around town.

Looking forward to getting my hands around one of these.

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