America's Historic Homer Hit With Canadian Bat

Bonds' record-breaking home run courtesy of $500 maple bat manufactured by Quebec's Original Maple Bat Company.

GATINEAU, Quebec (AP) - Sam Holman confesses he'd gone to bed and didn't see Barry Bonds hit home run No. 756 to break baseball's career record.
Bonds did it Tuesday night with a maple bat spun on a lathe in the Canadian capital, and for Holman, founder of the Original Maple Bat Company, the record is just another testament to his company's signature product, the Sam Bat.
''I was asleep as usual. I'm 62 and Barry hit that past my bedtime,'' the former stagehand for the National Arts Centre said Wednesday outside his manufacturing plant. ''I woke up to the phone ringing and I knew instantly that he'd got it.''
The ''it'' in this case is sole possession of the record for most career homers in major league baseball history, eclipsing Hank Aaron's mark of 755 and Babe Ruth's 714 along the way.
When Wayne Gretzky broke Gordie Howe's NHL career scoring record of 1,850 points in 1989, no one paid much attention to the maker of No. 99's hockey stick. And Michael Jordan's sneakers might have been great marketing opportunities when he was winning all those NBA MVP titles in the 1990s, but the shoe's designer wasn't interviewed by media outlets across North America.
Holman, by contrast, was fielding calls constantly Wednesday from as far afield as Denver. It's a tribute to baseball's insatiable appetite for memorabilia, and to Holman's unusual product.
''We introduced maple to the sport of baseball,'' he said, displacing, but not replacing, the traditional ash bat. ''I did do that, and it has changed the game a bit. It's still wood—it's just better wood.''
Maple, says Holman, gives batters a more durable product.
''It doesn't have that bend in it like ash has and it doesn't fray and degrade,'' Holman said. ''A player spends a lot of time just making sure the next bat is as close to the last bat he had. We try to be extremely consistent and we are consistent. Barry's use of the bat is kind of a testimony to that.''
Ironically, considering the bat's durability, Bonds retires each Sam Bat he uses after every home run, and has done so for years.
''That's just smart economics,'' said Holman. ''Collectors now collect everything.''
Holman, amiable and folksy and always dressed in overalls, is a rather different breed from the brooding, driven Bonds, but it's clear the two have developed a friendship of sorts since Bonds began using the unique Canadian maple bats in 1998.
Just last week, Bonds insisted that Holman make him some slightly lighter bats, shaving his 34-inch model down to 31.6 ounces from its usual 32. Holman sent him four—grudgingly.
''In 2001 we had the exact same conversation that we're having now. His dad was alive at that time and Bobby (Bonds) supported me,'' Holman said. ''I said to Barry, 'You need the weight in the bat. The bat has to do work, too.'''
The bat-maker suspects one of the lighter bats was used for the historic homer, ''but I honestly don't know. It's kind of hard to tell from my TV screen.''
Hadn't he spoken to his highest-profile customer?
Holman sent Bonds an e-mail congratulations on Wednesday afternoon.
''I'm sure he'll read it and, maybe, I don't expect to hear from him,'' Holman said. ''I'll be surprised if I do.''
He called Bonds a ''good friend and it's the most interesting long-distance relationship I've ever had. I work as hard at that, I think, as I do at any other relationship I have,'' Holman added with a throaty laugh.
The relationship has been good for both men. Last spring, with Holman facing bankruptcy, Bonds gave him $40,000 to stay afloat, with only one proviso: ''I want 75 bats for that.''
At $500 a bat, that was a steep premium for the slugger, but one that some 120 other major leaguers who use the maple bats should appreciate.
As Holman relates the conversation, Bonds told him, ''I know I'm buying everybody else's bats.''
The money allowed Holman to find new majority ownership and move the business to a bigger manufacturing plant across the Ottawa River.
There is one last irony in that this most quintessential of American sporting achievements was accomplished, in large part, with Canadian hardwood ... or at least with maple fashioned by Canadian hands.
The rough stacks of square maple timbers in Holman's noisy wood shop were bought in New York, but that's because all the best quality maple from across North America is brokered there.
''It's kind of akin to a second lieutenant in Vietnam—if it's that valuable a tree, it goes to New York to go through that market. The seller here knows he's going to get his best price by doing that.''
So is the maple actually Canadian-grown?
''We buy it there (in New York),'' Holman said with a shrug. ''Maple trees, you know, they're the strong silent type. I don't know where they come from.''
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