Category Archives: Chris Fine

The Wrong Questions to Ask

It’s not uncommon for parents and players alike to call me asking for recommendations on what to buy and what bat is the best, and I’m happy to field questions of all types. With that said, here are the questions I get asked the most and why they can be misleading when it comes to picking out the right bat.

Bat 101 with Me and Patrick Kivlehan

Bat 101 with Me and Patrick Kivlehan

Question 1. – What’s the weight of the bat?

Especially in the case of adult bats, I often get asked if the bat is a -3. The reason why this question isn’t that important is because how a bat swings is what’s important. I can give you a +0 balanced bat that swings like it’s a -3 and alternatively I can give you a -3 that swings like a +0. Instead of concerning yourself with overall weight you’ll be better off trying to figure out the right model that compliments your swing. Also, the heavier the bat the denser it will be and the more distance you will see. The bat will also last longer the heavier it is.

Question 2 – What wood has the most pop?

There might be a study done in a vacuum where they tested what wood has the most pop but we don’t play in a vacuum. There are too many variables at hand from the player swinging it, to the model, to the pitches you’re seeing. Overall, you’re not going to see much difference in distance amongst the woods but the one thing to be aware of is the durability. Maple and Birch are going to be the more dense woods so they’re going to be more durable and harder to break. Ash is a porous wood and has a different grain structure which makes it weaker. A better route to go than worrying about what bat is going to give you the most distance is trying to figure out what wood is going to give you the most bang for your buck and that’s going to be birch, maple and bamboo. Ash is a great wood and some players swear by it, and I’m not saying they’re wrong, but they understand that ash bats aren’t going to be as durable which isn’t common knowledge amongst many players.

Question 3 – What’s the biggest barrel you have?

I did a separate blog post on big barrels here: http://blog.viperbats.com/?p=208 but I’ll try to add on to this. I often get dads calling trying to find bats for their sons transitioning from little league to the bigger barrels and the first they want is a wood bat with a 2 5/8” barrel. Or I get the ex-high school stud playing amateur ball for the first time with his buddies wanting the biggest we have to offer and I’m just left shaking my head. We have, I believe, 1 model that has a barrel diameter that big and I rarely recommend it. The biggest problem with a big barrel that players, coaches and dads alike don’t understand is that in a wood bat all of the weight is going to be where the mass of the bat is. If we make a 2 5/8” barrel bat whether it’s a 31” or 34” it’s going to be extremely end heavy and hard to get around. Out of the hundred or so professional players we talked to over the last month about models, not one requested a bat with a barrel larger than 2.55”.

Spring Training – Mariners Experience

Sorry for the late post it’s been a hectic few weeks here at Viper land! I got back from springing training about two weeks ago and wanted to share some stories!

The first team we got to see was the hometown Seattle Mariners. The facility upgrade they got was really nice, minus the fact that the layout changed from the year before and I didn’t know where I was going! When we visit teams we get there around 7am as that’s when the players get there and get going for the day. It’s also not uncommon for the players to be stretching and working out next to where we’re set up. This year as we were setting up I happen to see Robinson Cano doing some hurdles so I tap Jordan on the shoulder and say “Hey that’s Cano”. We both turn our heads and look, and as soon as we do he trips on the hurdle. I start laughing. Apparently I laughed loud enough that he could hear me because he looks over at me and yells, “IT’S HARDER THAN IT LOOKS!” and that was my first experience with Mr. Cano. Good times.

Montero's Bat

Montero’s Bat

Shortly thereafter, some players started coming out and I ran into Jesus Montero. When he originally came to Seattle two years ago we made him some samples to try and never really got feedback from him.  I bring this story up because walking next to him I noticed our Viper end sticker on the only bat in his bag… so I quickly stopped him and inquired. He smiles and pulls it out and shows me. It’s a 35” maple JM1 from two years ago that we made as a sample and it was still in one piece in his bp bag. I was stunned and couldn’t do anything but shake my head and say “you’re bad for business.” He laughed and said he liked it and he’ll talk to his agent. I still can’t believe he had a bat that has lasted him two years!

Where we were set up is right next to a practice bullpen and a pitcher walked by and started talking to us. Turns out he was new to the Mariners this year and had a meeting and “thought” this was the right place. While waiting for his meeting we had a pretty awesome conversation, the guy couldn’t have been nicer. I know the first few times at spring training I was pretty star struck seeing some guys but I learned the best thing to do is to act is if they’re just a normal person and it goes a long ways. So we talked about anything from going on go-carts that go 50mph to veteran leadership in the clubhouse until his pitching coach finally came… he was pretty relieved he was in the right spot!

Logan Morrison's BP Bag

Logan Morrison’s BP Bag

After the players got done with their morning workout they started practices so we went and watched some BP. It’s a really awesome experience getting to be on the side of the fence – with the players – and getting to interact with them. We got to watch the infielders take BP so we got to see Kyle Seager and Logan Morrison use their Vipers in live BP.  Between rounds they’d both come over and give us the head nod of approval, always a good feeling! After BP they wrapped up practice and both Logan and Kyle walked with us to the clubhouse where we ran into the minor leaguers for minicamp.

Picture with Kyle Seager

Picture with Kyle Seager

It’s always fun seeing the minor league guys for the Mariners because we get to see most of them start in Everett, then again as they get promoted. We also got to see a local player who just got picked up by the Mariners so it was nice to give him some support. After their cage session ended our day at the Mariners was complete and we were off to the Padres next door!

 

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

I always have to shake my head when I see orders come through the system for a 31” 243 or when I get a call from a player or parent wanting to know what model has the biggest barrel. Truth be told, especially people new to wood bats, bigger barrel bats usually aren’t the best option and will result in flaws in your swing.

Viper Bats Man Sized Bat!

Viper Bats Man Sized Bat!

The age group most guilty of this are the players just switching over from aluminum to wood bats for the first time. Besides being adamant about wanting a bat that is “-3” they also want something that is as big as their metal bat they’re used to swinging.  The problem with this is metals bats are designed specifically to be balanced while fitting in the BBCOR regulations. Basically, in a metal bat with technology the way it is, you can have a very balanced bat with a large barrel and ideal weight. That’s not an option with wood bats.

In a wood bat you’re going to get all the weight of the bat where the mass of it is so if you get a bat with an oversized barrel it’s going to be extremely end heavy, or end-loaded.  Yes, if you make solid contact with the ball you’ll get great pop, but the control and skill needed to make that contact is greatly increased. As a result of the imbalance, the barrel is really going to dip through the hitting zone if you don’t have enough strength. It’s also going to make it more difficult to catch up to faster pitching.

If you find yourself fouling off a lot of pitches you usually hit, it’s probably a good indicator the barrel is too big for you. Another good indicator that your barrel is too big is if you find yourself breaking a lot of bats. By nature, the big barrel bat is going to put a lot of extra tension on the handle during contact so if you make any contact what-so-ever on the end of the bat it’s going to result in a broken bat.

At the end of the day, unless you’re getting paid to play baseball, more often than not you’ll find more success at the plate with a more “balanced” bat. Even though the barrel on these models may not be as big as your model 243 or 174G, they all have respectable sized barrels that are more than capable of being used by power hitters. I’ll break down some of our more popular models below into 3 categories: contact, gap, and power.

Contact Hitters (Average Barrel): 271, 110, 175G, 280, 141, CUV26
Gap Hitters (Little bit bigger): 222, 271L, APV5, 318
Power Hitters (Large Barrel): 243, 174G, 73, CD61, JH9

Not that any of these models are bad, they just require a greater understanding of your swing and the type of hitter you are. People who get big barrel bats understand that they’re prone to breakage and accept that as a tradeoff for the bigger hitting surface. The other trade off with the big barrel bats is that you’re sacrificing your average for power numbers. Hopefully with this information you’ll be able to help find the right model for you to achieve your goals as a player and if you have any questions I’d be more than happy to help you answer them.

Thank You

I’d like to point out I just received an email from “the boss” asking me where his blog is for today…

We’ve all heard the line ‘you don’t know what you have until it’s gone’, and that’s the reason for my post today. We all have things, and more importantly people, in our everyday lives we all take for granted and I wanted to dedicate this post to my dad (who happens to also be my boss) and simply say, thank you.

For those of you who don’t know the story of how Viper Bats got started I’ll give you the nutshell version to catch you up to speed. Growing up I was always good at sports but baseball was my favorite and just so happened to be the sport I thought I was the best at. Junior year in high school you start to realize that if you want to play at a higher level scouts care about how you hit with wood bats, not your rocket launcher known as a BESR metal bat. With this knowledge it got both me and my dad looking more into wood bats and wood bat leagues to play in. Being from the Pacific Northwest in tiny Skagit Valley we quickly realized there weren’t any wood bat leagues around so we did the next best thing and made our own, the Skagit Valley Vipers.

Once fall ball started a family friend who played independent ball suggested we get bats from one of the guys he played with. Originally we started purchasing team bats from him and as the season progressed one conversation lead to another. Next thing you know a semi pulls up with a lathe, few skids of wood and Viper Bats was born.  If you’ve ever seen the Cadillac commercial for great things being built in an American garage (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE58LskfRG4) you can add Viper Bats to the list because that’s where it all started.

Skagit Valley Herald Article on Viper bats

Skagit Valley Herald Article on Viper bats

Aside from “claiming” I was in charge of product testing, my role in the business was building and maintaining the website. In hindsight, being interested in making webpages and being able to make them back in 2003 was a great combination but it was still a minor part in the grand scheme of things. The best part about maintaining the website was I could still do it from college while my dad put in the work so off to college I went. Not only did he have to learn the art of actually making a wood baseball bat (sidenote: don’t ever ask him to swing one), he also had to establish the business side of things. He didn’t have a guide book or fancy education on what it takes to make a successful business, he just had the drive and passion to make it happen.

Skip ahead 3 years, I come back home from college with no degree and really no profound career path to speak of. However, I did come back to a fully functioning company that had now become my father’s full time job. To this day I can still remember the look on people’s faces when he told them he made wooden baseball bats for a living. Seeing as my job was still the website I decided to enroll in some web design classes at the local community college and started working for the business. It started with running shipping packages to the postage store between class and baseball practice, and when baseball finally ended it progressed to printing out orders, sanding the occasional bat, and customer service.

Year by year we continued to grow to what we are today. From moving out of the garage to an actual shop, to hiring our first employee, to seeing our bats on TV in the hands of major league baseball players it’s been an amazing experience.  Looking back I don’t think I knew what to expect. Did I think at all that it would be my job in 10 years? I’m sure I thought it would be nice but I’m not sure how realistic it was but thanks to my dad he made it a reality. It’s remarkable to be a part of what he’s created from the ground up and to be fortunate to have a full-time job doing something I love and I owe that all to my dad.

Dear Dad,

I know it hasn’t always been the easiest having to navigate the lines between boss and dad but I just wanted to say how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. Without you I don’t know where I’d be today and I just wanted to say thank you everything you’ve taught and done for me.

Love,

Chris

PS. This still doesn’t give you a pass for stealing MY pens.

Welcome to my world.

Hey there everyone, I’m Chris. I’m the guy you talk to on the phone, responds to your emails, ships your bats, occasionally misspells a few of your names on your bats, and now blogs. More or less, I’m the office guy who they don’t let out into the shop because I’ll break something. In this blog I plan on mixing in a little bit of everything; from customer questions and/or experiences to tips for players, and possibly even a few of my personal experiences.

So to get started, here’s a little background information on me. Writing scares me. Sharing my

thoughts with the public scares me more. I’ve been procrastinating for over a year on doing this but something clicked for me today. I’m not really sure what exactly it was, but the idea of leading by

example came to mind. I’ve been trying, without much success, to get this blog to take off and realized I haven’t been putting in the effort required to blame anything or anyone but myself.  Well here I am.

You wish your office was as cool as mine.

You wish your office was as cool as mine.

My reason for making this blog was, and is, twofold.

First, I want to reach out to our customer base

and share some of our stories and points of view in an effort to broaden the customer experience, and in the process, shed some light on the people behind the business. Second, I want this to be a place anyone can go to read up on the life of minor league baseball players. Ideally I want this to be a place kids, adults, fans—anyone who’s interested in baseball, can get to know what life is really like for a minor leaguer baseball player. We all see the 40 man guys on TV living the life but no one knows the trip they had to take to get there. Some are drafted in the first round and have all the God-given talent to make it to the show in a few years. Some are in their 6th year in the minors fighting for a job and trying to still live the dream. Whatever their story, I want to share them with you, and I just so happen to have a job that allows me to do just that.

So here is to stepping out of my comfort zone and trying to make my vision for this blog a reality. Until next week I leave you with this question. What have you done today?