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Bat boy
Aug. 4, 2014

The love of baseball and woodworking spawned the company Delano Bats for teenager Peter Kruse. From the small workshop at his family’s home, Kruse, with help from his family, has hand made more than 300 bats, which are used by players from youth to town team levels.

DELANO, MN — Ted Williams once said, “The hardest thing to do in baseball is to hit a round baseball with a round bat, squarely.”

Willie Stargell said, “They give you a round bat and they throw you a round ball and they tell you to hit it square.”

Like Williams and Stargell did during their heydays in the big leagues, every spring and summer in Delano, Peter Kruse tries to figure out the mystery of consistently hitting a round baseball with a round bat.

When it comes to the round baseball part of the equation, Peter is left wondering like everybody else. The round bat, he knows plenty about.

Peter loves baseball bats. Not the aluminum bats he and his junior varsity and VFW teammates swing during their respective games, but wood bats, specifically of the ash species.

“He has always liked wood bats. Ever since he was a little kid, he wanted to use a wood bat,” said Peter’s dad, Jim. He was crazy about it before the craze.”

Wood bats were adopted again for town team baseball in the state of Minnesota in 2002.

“They are just cool because the pros use them. It sounds different,” Peter said of wood bats.

Peter loves wood bats so much that he decided to start making them. In April of 2012, as an eighth grader in the shed at his family’s Farmington Avenue home, Peter turned his first usable bat, and, in doing so, started his company that is now known as Delano Bats.

Peter, the oldest of six Kruse children, is the manufacturing brains and muscle behind the company. He is assisted big time by younger brother Andrew, a prominent player on the 15U AAA team.

“I pretty much figured out how to make a bat on YouTube,” Peter said. “Nobody ever taught me how to use a lathe. I don’t know how I figured it out.”

Jim is not surprised Peter figured out a lathe and the process in making bats.

“He is really handy,” Jim said of Peter. “My father and my grandfather were talented, but I had no talent like this. He figures it out on his own — he’s got some talent. I don’t know how he does it. He has a knack for it and he has always had a knack for it.”

The interior of that shed at the Kruse home was designed and built by Peter, himself, and is now a fully-functional workshop.

Currently, the Delano Bats facility consists of two power lathes — one for shaping and the other for sanding — a painting station, a customized cupping machine (a drill press with an old hockey sock attached) to bore out the barrel end of the bats, a laser engraver and a storage loft that houses about half of the 600 ash, maple and birch wood billets in stock.

The early models of Delano Bats were shaped and sanded via primitive methods, with one person shaving the wood with a handheld chisel while another turned the billet by squeezing the trigger of an anchored power drill with a bit sunk into the wood.

“We did that to convince dad that we needed a real lathe,” Peter said.

Initially, Jim balked at his son’s request to start a bat company at the family home, but the elder soon gave in.

“I told them “No way, I’m not going to buy you a lathe,” Jim said, then considering the safety issues. “Then, I thought, ‘Well, now, I have to buy you one because this is too dangerous.’”

Peter had to prove to his dad and himself that the investment of buying the proper machinery was warranted.

“You have to figure out if this is for you,” Peter said. “You cannot just buy a machine that is made to do this. You have to figure it out first, unless you have a lot of money to spend.”

Peter didn’t really know what he was going to do with the bats he was making. The purchase of the new lathe made up his mind.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing, but, after we bought that lathe, I realized I have a lot of money I need to make to pay it off so I better start selling them,” he said.

Jim and his wife, Carol, decided to allow Peter to start the business, thinking in terms of the life experiences running a business will give their oldest son.

“From a parents’ point of view, we thought this would be a good thing to teach him about a lot of things, like customer service, manufacturing and quality,” Jim said. “I told these guys that things will go wrong — that is a given. Now, you have to figure out how to put things back together, and not get frustrated.”

Jim knows plenty about manufacturing, as he works for Prinsco, Inc. of Willmar.

“He’s trying to put his influence on us,” said Peter.

“He tries to make sure we put it in the computer system after we make a bat,” added Andrew, who will lend a hand with the sanding of the bats but whose strength in the company is sales.

Jim noted the paperwork and data entry side of the business is not the boys’ strong point.

“These boys are a little loose on the inventory part of it. I bark about that around tax time,” said Jim.

When it comes the blue-collar work, on the other hand, Peter is dedicated.

In two years, Delano Bats has produced more than 300 bats. Maple wood bats are the most popular produced by Delano Bats. The company also turns bats out of ash (Peter’s preference), and birch.

“After practice gets done, I can turn out three or four. Four bats in one night is pretty good,” said Peter.

Friends and teammates of the two oldest Kruse brothers were the first to use the bats and still do. As far as promoting Delano Bats outside the community, the Kruses took advantage of the State Amateur Baseball Tournament being in Delano in the summer of 2013. The Delano Bats tent sold more than 50 bats at the tournament. During the most recent Delano 4th of July Celebration, Delano Bats was the official bat supplier to the Stars and Stripes American Legion Tournament.

The Kruses had a tent set up at the Stars and Stripes tournament, where additional bats and T-shirts were available for purchase. Prices on bats ranged from $15 for a less-than-perfect model to $64.95 for a Pro Series maple. Those prices are inexpensive compared to leading brands. That’s because the Kruses know where they stand in the bat industry.

“When you are a market leader, you have pricing power. When you are not a market leader you cannot have pricing power,” Jim explained. “You have to do a good job with your customer service and marketing. People always tell us we are not selling them for high enough.”

“The prices are good where I have them now,” said Peter.

Critics have questioned why Kruse named the company Delano Bats, citing the town-specific name might turn away bat-buyers who come from outside Delano. Peter thinks the name is perfect, for Delano is his home town. Those critics of the name should know that another bat company has done quite well in its 120 years since adopting the name of its home city. Ever heard of Louisville Slugger?

As for purchasing Delano Bats, potential buyers can log on to the company’s website at www.delanobats.com, which was recently redesigned by the third-oldest Kruse boy, Aaron, 13. On the website one can find out how to purchase a bat and customize it to his or her specifications. Delano Bats can produce bats for adult and youth players in baseball and softball, as well as fungo bats for training. The company also offers custom engraving.

The only retail store Delano Bats are sold at is All Seasons Sports in Delano.

“They are quality bats and its a local kid making them,” said All Seasons Manger Shawn Lynch. “It’s local and we try to keep things local as much as we can.”

And the customers?

“They love them,” said Lynch.

Future Minnesota Gopher Toby Hanson is one of those customers who loves Delano bats. He uses a 33-inch maple bat with a natural handle and a black barrel.

“They are very good bats that have a lot of pop. I have yet to hear of one breaking,” said Hanson. “He provides them at a very generous price, too.”

Delano Bats did get in the hands of one professional player in the minor leagues. That player remains nameless due to his affiliation with another bat company. As for getting Delano Bats to the major leagues, that is a difficult and expensive ordeal that currently exceeds the limitations of the Kruse workforce.

As far as trying to grow the Delano Bats company, Peter knows what a greater demand would mean for he and his busy family of seven.

“You need to be able to handle a lot of orders,” said Peter, who also plays hockey and football.

“We are trying to not get too far ahead of ourselves,” said Jim.

The Kruses noted that the major bat companies use Computer Numerical Control (CNC) lathes that can turn out a bat in three minutes or less, minus the paint.

A CNC lathe is not currently in the plans for Delano Bats so Peter knows he is not ready for greater demand now. In the future, though, who knows?

“If I can do this after college I will, but I don’t know what will happen,” he said. “This is what I would like to do.”

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