Choice Of Champions

Maple wood baseball bats have proved to be a force in the game

An American pastime was not only imported — but embraced and trans­formed — in Japan. Much like how Japan added value to the auto sector, it adopted an American game and put its own spin on it. 

Japanese-style baseball imposed much of the rigidity and discipline associated with its culture onto a slow, American game. This craftsman-like devotion to the sport has been credited with being the reason so many Japanese players make it across the Pacific into the big leagues. Most notably, former professional baseball outfielder Ichiro Suzuki embodied the spirit of a baseball samurai. 

To build on the metaphor, the base­­ball bat is the sword used in the field of dreams. Bats have been made from white ash, yellow birch and even aodamo (Japanese ash) trees, but the most prized bats are derived from the same hard maple tree that yields the syrup that sweetens waffles and pancakes.


The best known of these bats hail from a 930-square-metre structure located in Carleton Place, near Canada’s capital. The manufacturer, Sam Bat — officially, The Original Maple Bat Corporation — first gained notoriety when it perfected a bat for Barry Bonds, now known as the 2K1, with which he hit a league-record 73 home runs. According to the maker’s official website, “maple is a very dense wood with a close grain which means it holds together well under impact.” This natural structural integrity, combined with the company’s production process, creates bats that players trust inside the box. 

According to Shigeru Nishigami, president and CEO of Kashimaya, a Japanese sporting goods distributor whose clients include Franklin and Sam Bats, two-time Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) Pacific League batting champion Katsuya Kakunaka (Chiba Lotte Marines) and nine-time NPB All-Star Yoshio Itoi (Hanshin Tigers) both use the famous maple bat. 

In a promotional video created by Canadian company Shopify, the founder of Sam Bat, Sam Holman, talks about three elements that go into a “perfect maple bat”: straightness of grain, density of wood and the craftsman. 


And like the maple bats themselves, which stand up under impact, Sam Bat’s business has not cracked even under the weight of the pandemic. Since Covid, Sam Bat has increased its international reach. Their US-bound exports have kicked into high gear since the pandemic started, increasing from 70 per cent pre-pandemic to 85 per cent now, according to The Globe and Mail.

Sam Bat’s dedication to perfection, cus­tomizing each bat to their pros’ needs, has led to more than 75,000 bats being made for Major League Baseball (MLB). Twelve MLB MVPs have chosen to use them. While Sam Bat has become the best-known bat in the big leagues — providing 4,000 bats a year — they do not monopolize the maple bat market.

The baseball bat is the sword used in the field of dreams


For example, there is Koji Yamane, an international admissions assistant at Centennial College, who has a side business through which he exports maple and birch bats to a Japanese original equip­ment supplier and distributes his Hakusoh Bats to countries such as Mexico, Australia and the Dominican Republic, and to regions including Europe. Due to the saturation of Japan’s base­ball bat market with big players such as Asics and Mizuno, Yamane — who once played in the celebrated Koshien high school base­ball tournament — not only supplies his bats to Japanese independent and semi-pro leagues, but also focuses on emerging foreign markets. 

“I started running my business seriously in 2018,” Yamane said in Japanese. “Recently, we established Hakusoh Bat’s headquarters in San Diego.” He has been pushing his newest model, the Spark Slugger, everywhere. Yamane’s gradual success is no small feat when considering the baseball bat business’s razor-thin profit margins, which Holman described in a Chicago Tribune article. 

Currently, one Japanese player is on Canada’s lone MLB team: pitcher Yusei Kikuchi. Few other Japanese have donned a Blue Jays uniform, but countless others, including Ichiro, have set foot on the Rogers Centre field. Toronto legend Joe Carter, who hit a three-run walk-off home run to win back-to-back World Series titles, also once used a Sam Bat. 

The American game will continue to inspire baseball-crazed Japan, a country that has solidified its reputation in the baseball universe. As countless Japanese kids dream of one day going to the big leagues, the tool they hold in their hands while dreaming may just come from a maple tree, felled in the Great White North. 

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