No trees have been struck by lightning recently near Brad Gresock’s home.
If a limb happens to get zapped and splits open, Seneca Valley senior catcher Brad Gresock knows exactly what he's going to do with it.
“I'd pull a `Natural,’” Gresock said, laughing.
What started out as a project with his father, Dan, five years ago has turned into an obsession for Gresock.
He makes bats. Lots of them.
So far, none have been made out of a tree struck by lightning like in the movie “The Natural.” Gresock hasn't had the occasion of carving a lightning bolt into one of the bats he's crafted.
At least not yet.
He'll be using an aluminum bat Thursday as the Raiders take on North Allegheny in the second round of the PIAA Quad-A playoffs. It will be the fourth meeting between the two schools. The Tigers beat Seneca Valley in the WPIAL final May 29.
Gresock's bat making started out innocently enough. At the age of 13, he was set to play in his first wooden bat tournament. The only problem was he didn't have a wooden bat.
Instead of going out and purchasing one, he and his father decided to make one instead on the lathe in their garage.
“We started out by looking online, looked up what the regulations and specs were,” Gresock said. “We went out and got what we needed and started making one.”
The first step was getting a wood billet _ a cylinder of ash or maple that can be spun on the lathe and crafted into a bat.
Gresock gets his billets from BWP Bats in Brockway. The billets can cost as little as $20.
Gresock still remembers the painstaking process of making that first bat.
“It was real interesting,” Gresock said. “It was the first time I had ever held a wooden bat in my hand.”
Gresock still has the first bat that he and his father made. Once he made his first, he was hooked, and he has made nearly two dozen more since.
Some have lasted longer than others. Of all the bats he has made for his use, only three have survived.
One didn't even make it through a game.
“I was playing in a game on a Saturday night and I was using a bat I had just made that morning,” Gresock said. “I was 2-for-3 with it and in my last at-bat, I fisted a ball over the shortstop for a hit. The bat shattered. It's very hard to see a bat you made break.”
Gresock said it takes him about four hours now to make a bat from start to finish. It took him much longer when he first started.
His bats have come in all shapes and sizes.
“I've made bats from 30 inches long to 33,” Gresock said. “I prefer 32 to 31.”
Through repetition and trial and error, he has the process down.
“I'm able to put it on a scale and get an exact weight that I want it to be before I start,” Gresock said. “That way I don't have to go back and adjust it after. I know exactly what the weight's going to be. That's what really makes my bats stand apart. I can get the distribution of weight perfect. It makes my bats unique.”
Gresock prefers his bats be made out of maple instead of ash.
Maple is a heavier, more dense wood. Ash is lighter, allowing for greater bat speed, but it's also more brittle.
“I prefer hitting with a maple bat,” he said. “It's more solid. I like the feel of hitting a ball with a maple bat.”
Gresock is taking his bat making to the next level.
He is currently developing a unique logo to put on his bats. The bats he makes now do have unique markings on the knob where he cuts two little lines at the top and a cross on the bottom.
“I enjoy the fact that the bat I'm holding in a game is a bat that I made with my own hands,” Gresock said. “I enjoy that it has my own unique markings on it.”
Gresock has demonstrated his craft in class projects and in a YouTube video.
His bat-making skills also allowed Gresock to raise $200 for the Miracle League in Cranberry Township.
Making bats is something Gresock would love to do for a living.
“There's more to a sport than just playing the games,” Gresock said. “I've been able to combine two of my passions.”