Mitchell Godkin may be on the cusp of a technological breakthrough with his new venture, Leadbury Bat Co., and a new bat-drying method that is yielding tremendous results.
Godkin is a third-year engineering student at the University of Western Ontario who has been working for over a year at an internship with his father’s company, Nostalgic Wood, which works with reclaimed wood and focuses on flooring, furniture and doors.
While working there for over 16 months, Godkin was charged with developing drying processes with the arrival of a new kiln. Once he began working with the drying protocols, a logging company approached Godkin about custom drying. Soon after, with the results he was seeing, Godkin knew he needed to get into the baseball bat business.
“As the kiln tech guy, it was quite a different process. I did research and found that no one was using this type of machine for drying baseball bats,” Godkin told Paul Mayne of Western News. “I got some bats done up and got them to Western for some testing. The initial results were so exceptional I went back and said, ‘I’m going to start my own baseball bat company because I think I have a pretty good product here.’”
Godkin said, in an interview with The Citizen, that he was seeing tremendous results in initial testing. When comparing his bats to bats widely used in the baseball world, Godkin’s demonstrated 20 per cent more strength and even more flex. With improved strength and flex, Godkin’s bats showed greater performance and durability than popular bats on the market, the two most sought-after traits for any product.
Godkin conducted the testing at the General Dynamics Lab at Western Engineering and he is still working to improves his bats’ performance.
The custom drying process is patent-pending, Godkin said, meaning that he can’t discuss the details of the science involved or the machine that’s used, but he’s excited for what the future holds.
Godkin knew he would see good results from the drying process, thanks to the work he had been doing through his internship, but he didn’t expect to see such a drastic improvement and admits he was a little surprised.
Godkin began producing his bats, getting them in the hands of the Western Mustangs baseball team, along with the Orlando Baseball Academy and the London Majors and has seen increasingly positive results. Just recently, in fact, the Majors’ catcher hit a grand slam and a double off the outfield wall with a Leadbury bat.
As an engineering student, Godkin has done his best to manage growth and ensure that quality control is kept in place. He said that one of the most common threats to a new business is growing too fast, which can lead to not keeping up with demand or expanding too quickly and putting out an inferior product.
He has been working to combat that by only producing bats that he knows meet his high specifications. In addition, he is also trying to keep control over who is using his bats. Godkin says he likes to have a relationship with the players using Leadbury bats so he can work with them and engineer the products to ensure top-level performance for those players.
In addition, he’s using that relationship to learn more about the process and to constantly improve.
When one of his bats breaks, he’s asking players to return the bat to him or at least send him a picture. He wants to know where and how the bats are breaking so he can try to strengthen them if possible.
As for the wood being used by Godkin and Leadbury, it’s all maple and ash sourced from the Huron and Bruce regions. It’s important, Godkin said, to source local materials for a company such as his.
In addition, he said that taking control of the drying process, which is what has made all the difference with his bats, isn’t something that has been a priority for many of the major bat companies.
Many companies, he said, outsource their drying and don’t take control of the process. However, with his engineering background and emphasis on the wood-drying process, he seems to have found a breakthrough in the industry.
Godkin said that there has been very little innovation in the world of wood drying in the baseball bat industry over the years. He told Western News that the traditional kiln drying process can leave moisture at the centre of the lumber.
“No one has reinvented the drying process in a long time. Typically, the process uses ambient heat, but I’m using a different process to do that. It’s not just a gimmicky new thing; it’s a big change to the manufacturing process,” he told Paul Mayne of Western News. “My process allowed the wood to dry much faster, more evenly and without as much damage to the grain structure of the wood. That results in a stronger bat with more flex – meaning more bat life and more performance. Those are the main two things you want in a bat.
“That’s the big thing that I can offer my customers – I’m a woodworking drying expert making baseball bats, rather than a baseball guy trying to learn the woodworking side of things as he goes along.”
Godkin says he is a baseball fan who frequently attends Toronto Blue Jays games when he can and admits that one day he hopes to see Leadbury bats in the hands of those Major Leaguers.
His first focus, however, is the local London market and then Ontario before he aims to expand to the rest of the Canada and the United States.
Godkin says that Ontario is such a great baseball market that it makes sense to focus on his home province before getting any bigger. If he can manage the growth and quality control, he hopes to expand if possible within the next three to five years.
He says he has some connections in Ontario, as well as in Florida, Texas and Virginia, so he hopes to attend spring training next year and see whose hands he can get his bats into during the earliest days of the baseball season.
While he grew up playing baseball, the Walton-area native’s first love as a child was motocross. He was an accomplished rider and a regular at the Walton Raceway for years before he went to Western in London.
Leadbury Bat Co. is a nod to the former community of Leadbury, which was just south of Walton, but has since vanished off of many maps.
Godkin still has one more year left to study at Western, but with his company’s success and the initiative he has shown, his professors are working to nurture that work and help him to grow.
He says he has had access to tremendous intelligence and support at the university and his professors have tailored the course around his business. His fourth-year thesis will be based on the research being conducted with Leadbury Bat Co. and that year’s work will also tie into the company and its expansion and research.