Lifelong Love of the Game Turns Hampton
Resident from Player into a Wood Worker
By Steve Craig
Hampton Union, Friday, 23, 2012
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON -- Wood chips are piling up at Terry White's feet as he applies a steel gouge with steady hand to a cylindrical billet of high-quality maple spinning on his lathe.
White works the wood with the calm purpose of an artisan. The process will take an hour and every second is a labor of love, born of family tradition. White is making a baseball bat in the basement of his Hampton home.
A good one, judging by the success players are having with his product.
White's company is called Tuck Bats, named for his grandfather Winslow "Tuck" White. Tuck White played in the St. Louis Cardinals' minor league system after captaining the University of New Hampshire team in 1933. Terry White's father, Charles, also played professionally, spending two minor league seasons in the Milwaukee Braves organization before returning to Hampton and becoming the football and baseball coach at Winnacunnet.
"Most of the people that have gotten into this are wood workers turned bat makers. I am a baseball player turned into a wood worker," White said. "What got me into the bats is that I always wanted to have my own name on my own bat."
Now the Tuck Bats logo, emblematic of White's passion for the game and his family, is being swung through strike zones across New England at multiple levels.
The roots of White's bat-making experience began in his youth when he was able to order professional quality wooden bats from an Exeter sporting goods store. This was the mid-1970s when a good wood bat was still better than any metal bat.
"It was a Joe Rudi model, 35 inches, (made by) Louisville Slugger," White said. "It was pro stock and had a real thin handle. I was 5-foot-7, 135 pounds and I choked up and it was just a real light bat and my senior year I led (Winnacunnet) in home runs and triples."
White, a 1978 graduate of Winnacunnet who went on to earn degrees in physics (UNH) and computer information systems (UNH-Manchester), continued to play as often as possible through thee 1990s, finally stopping around 2002, he says.
But when a friend a couple years older told White about the over-30, wooden bat Coastal New England Baseball League based in Durham, it got the competitive juices flowing — and rekindled White's love affair with wooden bats.
White had that old Joe Rudi model in his head when he worked his first piece of hardwood on a newly purchased lathe.
"I wanted the 35 inches and the thin handle," White said.
That first finished product looked good.
"Then I took it out and hit with it and it was horrible."
The bat-making skill has come a long way in the roughly five years since that first attempt. White is evidence of that last season he hit .435 in the CNEBL to finish second in the batting chase. The leader? His younger brother Chuck White, also swinging Tuck wood, as are many other players in the men's league.
"The ironic thing about it was, anybody I made a bat for, the first time up they got a hit with their bat," White said.
Younger players like his son Grafton, a 2011 Winnacunnet grad and centerfielder, had also taken hacks with Tuck Wood as White's skills were becoming refined.
The demand for Tuck Bats started to take off when White bought his nephew Casey Cotter into the sales and marketing end of the business. Cotter, from North Hampton, is a former Winnacunnet player and now a junior on the Merrimack College baseball team. He is also a member of the Seacoast Mavericks, the Rochester-based entry in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, a summer wooden bat league for current collegiate players that has expanded to nine teams for 2012.
"I told Casey, if you can sell these bats, I can make them for you and it really started to take off," White said.
As it turned out, Cotter's plate performance was his best selling tool. "He used it and in that first game he hit a home run and he hit it good," White said. "After that, about six, seven guys from the Mavericks wanted their own Tuck Bats."
In addition to making models for individual players like Cotter, White also has a limited agreement to supply bats for the Mavericks this season. He also has models for sale at USA Training Center in Newington.
Dave Hoyt, a lifetime baseball man who played six seasons of minor league ball in the Twins and Cardinals organizations, is the owner of both the Seacoast Mavericks and USA Training Center.
"Terry's done a very good job of listening and of modeling," his product after popular bats made by major manufacturers, Hoyt said.
White said his most requested bat is the Model 73, a 33-inch bat with a thin handle, cupped end and an oversized knob.
Hoyt said White's bats are high quality and, priced at $55 (ash) and $60 (maple), a relative bargain. Plus, they aren't top heavy like most wooden bats available in the large chain stores. A well balanced bat, Hoyt said, increases bat speed.
"He's onto it. The thing is, he's going to have a problem with production," Hoyt said. "I could be selling these things all day long, knowing what other programs like the Mavericks want."
Cotter is also continuing to spread the word. He was recently named the Northeast-10 Conference Player of the Week and most of his hits are coming off Tuck Bats.
"I usually go between a couple of (models). I love them all to be honest," Cotter said. "Probably my favorite is the Model XX. It's a maple bat with a big barrel and has a skinny handle. The weight just feels right."
White has learned a lot, he said, about how to acquire top-quality woods, mostly maple and the harder-to-get ash, from Northern New England and upstate New York. This helps to insure consistency in his product, whether he's producing a specific model or customizing a bat for an individual customer.
Still, each bat is handmade and each billet of wood was formed in nature. Therefore no two bats are ever exactly alike.
"This is still a work in progress," White said. "My biggest challenge is I'm trying to find better finishes."
With American Legion switching from metal to wooden bats for this season, the demand for good quality wooden bats is only going to increase. White feels Tuck Bats (www. tuckbats.com) is positioned to help fill that need.
The question will be how much time — and money — he and the extended baseball-crazy family can inject into the bat-making business. White is a full-time technical client manager for a worldwide information technology company based in Andover, Mass.
"Tuck Bats is a family business and I always want to keep it at that level," White said.
But, as the company's client list grows in number and playing level, White gets increasingly closer to what could be a pivotal business decision. Does he invest in the necessary insurance to be a certified bat maker for professional baseball?
"Do I want to sell my bats to the major leagues? That's something we have to decide as a family but ..."
White pauses a moment. You can almost see his lifelong love affair with baseball sparkling in his eyes.
"If I ever had one of my bats make it to the major leagues, that would be so cool."