The Axe and the Axe Bat
My son hikes through the winter woods with an axe. It is a medium-sized Hudson Bay axe that is good for all-around camp use. Felling dead trees is his new fascination but as a ten-year old, he can only do it in my presence for safety’s sake and the dead tree he wants to cut must have my approval.
This is a rite of passage. He’s proved himself responsible enough to safely handle and carry a pocketknife, and later, a small hatchet that he uses to make the dilapidated wood structure he calls a “fort.”
He approaches the dead oak. It is about ten inches in diameter and the bark peeled off long ago. He squares up to the side of the tree, feet spread in an athletic stance, knees slightly bent. He brings the axe up behind him and readies himself. He looks like a batter at home plate waiting for the pitch.
The first strike bites into the wood and the second strike cuts out a wood chip. He swings again, expanding the rough gouge, his breathe frosty in the air. After ten strikes, he pulls off his coat and stocking cap and tosses them into the snow.
As he chips away on the tree, I consider that this is an excellent workout for him since he plays baseball in the local park & rec league and on the town’s travel team which plays other small towns in the central Wisconsin region. The act of shopping down a tree is like a baseball swing but not entirely: there isn’t the follow-through of the bat whipping around his body. The crack (or ping sound) of the bat hitting the ball is replaced with the dull thud of steel on a tree trunk. The axe, with its steel head, is unbalanced compared to the gradual thickening of a sleek bat.
I decide it’s close enough and it’s a fine, rugged exercise on a day where he could be curled up on the sofa and playing with an insipid electronic device.
The tree shivers. This is the tipping point. My son takes a breather.
“You want me to take a few swings? I could probably drop it in a few whacks.”
“No, I’ll finish it.”
He’s knows that if I took over at this last moment, the satisfaction of putting the last blow into the tree would be stolen and he would not own the exhilaration of the thunderous fall.
The tree goes down safely in the direction we wanted, and it sounds like a small airplane crashed in the woods.
Christmas nears and he needs a new baseball bat. Just like a pair of shoes, kids outgrow their bats and his old bat is too short and light. The varieties of youth bats are numerous and baffling. But for me the selection was simple: since he developed a love for woodsmanship and tree felling, under the Christmas tree was an Axe Bat, a type of baseball bat that has the fawn-foot curve that resembles the end of an axe handle.
The Axe Bat is one of very few design changes in the history of baseball bats. A baseball bat is really nothing more than a club and a club is a stick that is thin on one end and thick on the other. There isn’t much to improve on and that is what gives the bat a simplistic elegance. Bats have been modified since man first picked up a club. For violent intentions, spikes can be pounded into the wood or barbed wire wrapped around the business end, creating an exceptionally vicious weapon. For sporting purposes, bats have been made of wood, bamboo, aluminum and composite material.
Bats have been shortened, lengthened, hollowed out, corked, sanded, stained, painted and polished. But the one thing that has hardly changed is the design.
The Axe Bat design is the fourth design modification in the history of baseball bats. The first tweak was invented by Emile Kinst in 1890. It was called the banana bat. About halfway up the length of the bat where it starts to thicken, the bat curves like a banana. Kinst believed this would put spin on the ball. The design never caught on. Then there was the mushroom bat designed by Spalding in 1906. At the end of the bat there was a mushroom-like knob that resembled the glans of a large penis. This allowed for a better grip and a strong grip makes for more control of the bat. The Wright & Ditsons Lajoie bat added another knob. It had a lower ring-like knob and there was another round knob two inches up from the lower one. His helped batters when they choked up on the bat but the problem with this design is that each batter grips the bat slightly differently so the knob spacing might or might not be comfortable.
For over a century, the design of the baseball bat has remained mostly unchanged. Bats can be painted cool colors, and the signatures of great sluggers can be engraved upon them but the shape mostly remains the same.
My son is older now and he still uses an Axe Bat at the ball park and he likes it very much. He hits well with it. In the woods, he doesn't use the axe very often as now he has developed an appreciation for chainsaws.