RED DEER, Alta. -
The Red Deer bat company that played a small role in a baseball tragedy is housed in Jared Greenberg's garage and basement.
Prairie Sticks sells Canadian-made bats out of the central Alberta city. Greenberg's operation received a burst of publicity when the Golden League's Calgary Vipers traded the rights of pitcher John C. Odom for 10 Prairie Sticks bats two years ago.
Odom's death from a drug overdose later that same year created a smaller aftershock of attention for Prairie Sticks. The odd ways celebrity is generated still has Greenberg, 34, shaking his head.
"I wasn't expecting the publicity that came from it or the media hype," he said. "It was a player for bats, instead of a player for cash. If it was a player for cash, we wouldn't have had people calling and asking for interviews.
"We saw some sales come of it, but we weren't going to try and exploit this trade. We actually talked to him (Odom). We stand for quality and service rather than some publicity that happened to just steamroll on us. As a business, we decided to concentrate on what we do best which is making and selling bats."
Greenberg was born in Montreal, but raised in Red Deer. The former junior college baseball player was struck with the notion of constructing his own bats nine years ago and made his first one with a display-model lathe from Canadian Tire.
"A lot of teams and organizations throughout the country were making the transition from aluminum to wood bats and it was a good time to get into the market," Greenberg said.
A couple of lathe upgrades later, Greenberg and partner Dan Zinger produce 3,000 to 4,000 bats per year for baseball players in high school to the pro leagues. The price ranges from $55 for ash to $95 for high-end maple.
There are bat makers in Ontario such as Sam Bat, KR3 and Mash Bat. If Greenberg is the only one in western Canada, he doesn't draw attention to it. There isn't a Prairie Sticks sign in front of Greenberg's suburban home.
A wood billet is transformed into a bat in his sawdust-filled backyard garage. The finishing touches of dipping the bat in paint and engraving are performed in his basement.
He'd like to move his operation into one large warehouse to speed up production, but Greenberg's insulated garage is luxurious compared to what he started out with.
"It's always been some sort of garage or shed," Greenberg said. "This is probably the nicest place and the first place we've actually had heat inside, so that's been a nice change. It's not awful to come out here during winter."
The company's largest client base are teams in the independent Golden, Northern and Frontier leagues. Prairie Sticks provides bats to teams, but also makes custom-made bats for individual clients. Greenberg says the licensing and insurance fees to get into Major League Baseball would cost about $35,000 per year and he's not quite ready for that.
"It's just a matter of time. We're in this business for the long haul," Greenberg explained. "It would be unfortunate if we were to lay out all this money and our business went under for just one year.
"There's lots of great players, there's lots of great kids who are players. They still need a good product to play with. So be it that we're not in the big-leagues right now. We'll get there, but we're not going to risk our reputation and business just for that.
"It was a dream of mine to play in the big leagues and I think after my first practise in college, I quickly re-evaluated. If this is the way I make it to big leagues, no complaints here."
Greenberg says he makes a living making bats, although he's not yet independently wealthy from it. He points out his wife Danielle works as a child psychologist.
"There's definitely money to be made or there wouldn't be so many companies trying for a piece of the market," Greenberg said. "A lot of it has to do with the number of people playing baseball and the number of people making the transition from aluminum back to wood.
"If you are smart and you know what you're doing, you just have to have a little bit of ingenuity and some brains. I don't think there's a better job. Sometimes it gets a little monotonous, but what doesn't in life?"
The Calgary Vipers had offered Odom a job when he was released from the San Francisco Giants, but Odom couldn't cross the border because of conviction for aggravated assault. Not wanting to trade for cash, the Vipers dealt his rights to the Laredo Broncos for 10 black, maple Prairie Sticks bats worth about $665 in May, 2008.
According Nov. 5, Associated Press story, Odom initially embraced the celebrity created by the trade, but friends said it later weighed upon him. A medical examiner ruled his death at the age of 26 was from an accidental overdose of heroin, methamphetamine, the stimulant benzylpiperazine and alcohol.
"Hopefully it wasn't because of the trade and the publicity, but it was unfortunate," Greenberg said.
At the time of Odom's death, Greenberg says he received unusually large bat orders for November going to locations that wouldn't have baseball at that time of year. The 10 bats were never used in a game because they were purchased by Ripley's Believe It Or Not museums.