Hook Bats becomes business from a hobby
July 16, 2012 | By GRANT MEECH | KWCH 12 Eyewitness Sports ANDOVER, Kan.
— Any Monday afternoon, you can find Todd Hook doing some woodworking in his garage. Surrounded by what looks like every tool ever made, he whittles on long racks of wood and leaves a nice layer of sawdust on his Wrigley Field sign and Shocker baseball poster. But look closer at that chunk of wood, and you can tell this is no ordinary stool or chair - Hook is making a baseball bat. A wood bat, and a good one.
"Everything is done by hand here - nothing is done by machine," Hook says inside his "shop" outside Andover. "So nothing is going to be the same. Every bat is going to be a fraction of an ounce different. And believe me this was a long process to get here. We made 50-60 bats before we had a product we could take out in public."
A guidance counselor at Campus High School, he runs Hook Bats and makes about 50 bats a year, serving high school and college kids around the region. One of his bats reached the Double-A levels with the Boston Red Sox.
He started back in his hometown of Enid, Oklahoma out of necessity for a summer team he coached and through trial and error, he figured out the art and the science of what makes a good, wood bat.
"A lot of it was the products, a lot of it was operator error and a lot of it was just figuring out what the players wanted," Hook says. "I've got the tools figured out now and I haven't had any ruined ones a several years."
He puts the wood in the spindles and whittles away, leaving sawdust flying like snow. After about an hour, you start to see the shape of the bat. 31 inches and less than 32 ounces, that's the goal for the Hook Bats head artist. After an inspection, it's back to grinding some more. And more. Around two hours of just grinding before he weighs it.
"I prefer to work with Ash, it tends to give the hitter a little bigger barrel," Hook said. "The maple tends to be a little less forgiving and also the barrel is going to be smaller, and also heavier."
From grinding to painting, Hook can make a bat in about a day. In contrast, Louisville Slugger can make a bat in five minutes. He does it all by feel, and judges by his trained eye.
"I know what it needs to feel like," he said. "I know that when I take it off the machine and it's not right, I'm going to know immediately if it's too heavy in one area. And I can put it right back on and fix it."
With the final round of sanding done, the final weight is perfect. He lights the torch for some burning to add texture before he lacquers three coats of wood varnish on the finished product. By the morning, it's ready for batting practice.
The Andover public library has a history of baseball exhibit during the month of August. A Hook Bat is displayed to represent the modern era of baseball equipment. Many thanks to the Andover Historical Society for the honor.