Custom baseball bats normally take at least a week to make. But when Boston Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes called with a special order, Ocean City bat maker Gregg Balin was ready to drop anything to help out.
Gomes wanted to do something special to help the families of victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
He ordered four of his normal 34-inch rock maple bats supplied by Balin’s Victus Sports, which turns the bats on lathes at a 6,000-square-foot facility in Blackwood, Gloucester County. But Gomes also wanted the inscription “Boston Strong” and the names of the three victims of the terrorist bombings etched in the wood, plus the name of MIT police officer Sean Collier, who was shot and killed.
The order came in on Friday morning. Balin said custom orders normally take seven to 10 days.
“We stopped what we were doing and all emphasis went into getting that done and getting to FedEx to get them out. He called Friday. We shipped Friday at 5 p.m. He got the bats Saturday at 10 a.m. They were in his hands in 16 to 18 hours,” said Balin, 60, a Bridgeton native who lives in Ocean City in a bayfront home.
The bats were used in Sunday’s doubleheader against the Kansas City Royals, signed by the entire Red Sox team, and then auctioned off to help the families of victims.
Major League baseball kicked in $500,000, the Red Sox $100,000 and Fenway Park fans $46,500. There were many smaller efforts to raise money.
The story has been picked up as far away as Los Angeles and that can only help Victus Sports, which has been turning bats for less than two years but has about a dozen Major League customers and close to 100 in the minor leagues, where it has been concentrating efforts.
“Gomes is a regular customer and a very patriotic guy. It’s a good story. We’re glad to be part of making that happen,” Balin said.
Balin, a retired developer and contractor, has played amateur baseball for years. He’s the player/coach of the two Victus Sports teams that compete in Ocean City in the New Jersey Independent Baseball League, or NJIBL, a Sunday morning league for players 25 and older and a Wednesday night league for players 35 and older.
He was at a tournament a few years ago when owners of a fledgling Pennsylvania bat company, Jared Smith and Ryan Engroff, asked him to try one of their bats. He liked the bats so much he bought in with Smith and Engroff, becoming the majority shareholder and chief executive officer. They changed the name of the company and moved it to southern New Jersey.
“The predecessor company was struggling in Pennsylvania. They lacked the money and the management to take it to the next level,” Balin said.
The company is now swamped with orders and has gone from four to nine workers. Balin said he went from “complete retirement” to working harder than ever — though he still finds time to play plenty of baseball, often with Smith and Engroff depending on how much work there is to do.
Philadelphia Phillie Laynce Nix, another Victus customer, was so impressed with the Boston Strong bat that he ordered a similar one to help victims of a fertilizer plant explosion in his home state of Texas. Nix is from Houston.
Nix always orders ash, and the bat will be delivered to him on Thursday.
“Nix wants the bats to say West Texas on it. All the Phillies will sign it and they will auction it off,” Balin said.
Balin is not sure if the efforts will lead to more sales, but said if there is interest he could market the Boston Strong and West Texas models. For more information, visit www.victussports.com
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