Hand-Painting Brings Artistic Flair to Heritage-Styled Bats
When Jeremy Mitchell started Mitchell Bat Co. he wasn’t quite sure how he was going to pull off the promise of hand-painting customized designs on bats. But Mitchell figured it out quickly after launching in 2013 and now comes as a key collaborator for brands and individuals looking to enjoy custom-designed, hand-painted bats.
Coming off a MLB All-Star Game collaboration with Louisville Slugger, Mitchell said he’s constantly collaborating with different brands across the country, everyone from Jack Daniels to Homage and Ebbets Field Flannels to Ralph Lauren. He has a New Era collaboration in the works right now.
For Mitchell, the rise of his company happened quickly. A visual designer working for 15 years at advertising agencies in digital design, Mitchell felt an itch to create something with his hands. While working on a project in his hometown of Nashville that brought him into a shop where skateboards were handmade, he realized his love of baseball could translate into design.
He started with sketches. Then Instagram posts. Soon, though, strangers were asking how to buy bats and during the seventh-inning stretch of Game 6 of the 2013 World Series, Mitchell bought his URL and crafted a quick website.
As fans continued posting photos from the game at Fenway Park, Mitchell started commenting on photos and telling people about his Mitchell Bat Co. designs. He had two orders within the first few days and the orders kept coming—from Australia, the West Coast and Canada.
Two weeks later, ESPN wanted to feature Mitchell in a holiday gift guide.
“I had no idea how I was going to do it. I wasn’t ready to start producing these things,” he said. “It gave me no choice.”
Later, Ralph Lauren reached out and wanted bats for a spring floor set (someone had bought Ralph’s son a Mitchell bat).
Mitchell connected with a bat dealer who sells professional-grade wood bats and Mitchell has stuck with him ever since. Then came the trial and error of painting bats. Now, though, he has three painters on staff.
“I paint a little bit still,” he said. “That was my first love of this, using my hands and painting and the whole process. A lot of my friends have tried to help out and it takes a special touch to make it where the stripes are straight. I hold the paint job to a very high standard.”
Making those stripes perfect remains the trickiest part of the process. First, Mitchell tapes a bat and spins it to watch for any wobble.
“It is such a slow, tedious process,” he said. “But it is a fun process, it is that same sort of fulfillment of creating straight lines when cutting grass. I know what it is going to look like when it is finished.”
Mitchell’s love of stripes comes from his childhood. It was in the late 1980s that his mom brought home boxes of cards from Topps, which was one of her clients. Jeremy said he would study the uniforms, looking at the art of the stripes. Those stripes inspire his design style. To pay homage to that history, he includes a pack of 1988 Topps cards in every bat he ships.
While some sandlot leagues that celebrate decorative bats clamor for a Mitchell design, he said that most orders come as folks look to display a bat or give a gift. The evolution of his customization has only helped with that. Early on he was “stubborn,” refusing to put a logo on a bat, but after Jack Daniels asked, he knew he couldn’t say no.
“That was the first one we ever did,” he said. “It was a neat project and we posted pictures and now it is the majority of what we do.”
For the Jack Daniels project, he stained bats with whiskey and lit them on fire to mimic the whiskey-making process (he also learned that while he loves maple for the smooth wood, if you are going to flame-char a bat, you need the strength of ash).
Whether 100 bats at a time with a corporate logo or one-off gifts for friends and colleagues, Mitchell has worked with a variety of folks. He also hasn’t shied away from collaborations, whether Topps, the Cincinnati Reds, Louisville Slugger, Steel City or Ebbets Field Flannels, where the two have a new collaboration upcoming that will pay homage to Negro Leagues.
All those connections excite Mitchell. And a portion of every one of his sales supports under-served children through MLB's RBI program.
“When I started this thing back in 2013 I had a list of people I wanted to reach out to, brands I admired,” he said. “They all reached out to me before I could reach out to them. Word spread fast.”
He’s developed a relationship with the owners of Ebbets, soaking in advice from the 30-year-old company. Working with Louisville Slugger for the MLB All-Star Game was an achievement he relishes.
“They had bigger and better plans than I could have ever imagined,” he said. “That was a neat project to work on. Playing baseball as a kid and growing up in Nashville, with Louisville just three hours away … Babe Ruth swung that. It was an honor to work with them and share that (All-Star) stage.”
Still mainly using maple, except for the occasional use of ash for the uniqueness of the grains, Mitchell has learned quite a bit about the process over the years. From char-flaming bats to knowing that red is always the final color you put on (he learned the hard way that red can turn to pink in a hurry if muddied), Mitchell continues to create custom designs. He does it by hand. One stripe at a time.
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.