LINDON — A few years ago while playing minor league baseball in Washington, Tyler Eastman didn't like the quality of bats available to him.
Like Roy Hobbs, the character portrayed by Robert Redford in the movie "The Natural," he wanted a bat made from a certain grade of wood and customized to his swing.
"I wanted a bat with my name on it," he said.
So after the season Tyler and his father, Kelly Eastman, began toying around in their Highland garage making wood bats. They turned a few pieces of wood by hand on a lathe, but couldn't quite come up with a usable bat.
"They were breaking on the first pitch and were definitely nothing anyone would want to use," Kelly Eastman said.
After hours of trial and error and wasting many pieces of wood, the Eastmans did some engineering research, bought better equipment and located higher quality wood. They eventually made a handful of bats that were durable.
"We realized right off the bat that we were going to have to spend some serious time and money learning how to do this if we didn't want to get ourselves embarrassed," Kelly Eastman said. "It's very technical to make a good wood bat."
Tyler Eastman, liking the phrase "dinger" for a home run, decided on the name "Zinger" for his customized bats. When local ballplayers saw the Zinger bats in use, they liked the look and the performance. Before long the Eastmans were receiving about 50 requests per month from Utah athletes for customized bats.
"That's when we decided we could sell them," Kelly Eastman said.
The garage hobby quickly turned into a full-fledged business. Today, after investing about $300,000 in equipment, refining their knowledge and skills on bat construction and opening shop last month in a building with 3,000 square feet in Lindon's industrial park, the Eastmans are selling about 1,000 customized bats per week.
The Zinger bats were recently approved for use by Major League Baseball, which has the Eastmans dreaming of the day when a major league-player hits a dinger with their Zinger.
"To see a big-name professional baseball player hit a home run with a bat that we made would be an incredible feeling," said Kelly Eastman, owner of Zinger-x Professional Bat Co.
So far the Eastmans have mainly targeted high school and college players. They'll soon begin marketing Zinger bats to minor-league players. Most big-name major leaguers have contracts with the large bat companies. But the Eastmans hope the up-and-coming big-league players will give their bats a try.
But you won't find Zinger bats on the shelf of any store. They are marketed only through the company's headquarters or Web site and through sales representatives — mainly players throughout the country. The Eastmans believe that once players see a demonstration on the Zinger bats and try one out, they'll be hooked and will be ordering a bat of their own.
"When they swing it, then they want one because they believe in it," said Tyler Eastman, president of the company.
While professional players can only use wood bats, high school and college teams have pretty much stuck to aluminum bats for the past decade or so. Many baseball experts believe, however, that the trend is moving back to wood bats. And some believe that using a wood bat during practice improves a player's hitting skills.
"When scouts see that a player can hit with these bats, then they know they can really hit," Tyler Eastman said. "A wood bat separates the good players from the rest."
The Eastmans credit two factors for the company's growth. First, the Eastmans now have the equipment and material to make a better product. Second, all Zinger bats are personalized.
"People can tell us the kind of bat they want, the kind of wood they want, and we'll make it and engrave their name on it," Tyler Eastman said.
Kelly Eastman spent much of the past year traveling the country establishing the relationships necessary to purchase the highest quality wood in the bat industry. Zinger bats now come in middle-grade, professional player-grade and major-league-grade wood. The company sells five bat models, in three colors and at differing lengths and weights.
In the Eastmans' garage it took six hours to cut a dozen bats. With the equipment the company has now, they can cut a dozen bats in 20 minutes, and the bat quality is much more consistent.
The Eastmans say Zinger bats are not making them rich. In fact, it might be several more months before they see their first profit. But passion for baseball is the reason they began making bats in the first place, and passion for the game is what keeps them going. They are driven by the prospect that each day, more and more baseball players across the country are playing America's game using bats that they manufactured.
"It's for the love of the game," Kelly Eastman said.
Custom-made Zinger bats are priced from $35 to $75. More information on Zinger bats is available on the company's Web site www.zingerx.com or by calling 1-800-488-9722.