Out of Left Field
by Bill Reznak
Loco about the LoCoBat: A Trilogy
Part III: Long Live the LoCo Bat!
As opening day approached for the SRL's inaugural season, we had a great deal of equipment to order, including bases, scorebooks, and a few dozen Wiffleballs. With only the M&M bat (click here if you don’t catch the reference) and a couple old yellow “banana bats” in our arsenal, we also thought it would be prudent to order another LoCo Bat or two from eBay. Since Mike Abraham of the Purple Cobras beat me to the punch and ordered one before I had the chance, I figured that we could get away with one new one for a while. So we began our season with a new LoCo Bat, the M&M Bat and those two beat up yellow ones that I only included as an afterthought.
Then in a twist of irony, Hank Hunsinger hit the first home run in SRL history with a yellow bat. I find it somehow suitable that the first league homer was hit with an official yellow bat, but six weeks and 56 home runs later, that is still the only one hit with one. Hank was the last yellow bat holdout and continued to use it for three weeks before switching. But I digress. Let’s get on with my LoCo Bat story.
I might not be smiling, but my LoCo Bat makes me happy.
On May 26th, in only our second week of action, a player tossed aside our new bat and took the M&M bat claiming, “That one’s cracked.” I honestly thought he was joking until later in the game when someone else said it was broken. I looked incredulously as I saw that it was split right down one of the seams. How could a brand new bat crack when its most demanding task was to hit a Wiffleball? I was especially stunned since our six year old model was still going strong. A few days later I sent a message to the eBay seller from whom I ordered the bat and detailed what happened. I said that if he were merely a seller, then I did not hold him responsible, but if he actually manufactured the bat I was highly disappointed.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Since the transaction took place a few weeks earlier and I already left positive feedback, I thought I might get no reply at all. I optimistically desired an offer for a free replacement if I were willing to pay the shipping costs. My reply came as a complete surprise. Not only was I offered two new LoCo Bats at no charge, but this mystery seller was none other than Tom LoCascio, Wiffleball Hall of Famer and the man who puts the LoCo in the LoCo Bat! I replied that one bat would suffice, but if he wanted to give us two, I would accept them and promote his product in my column. And that, dear reader, is the origin of this trilogy because three business days later, as I arrived home from work, a long triangular USPS box holding two brand new LoCo Bats awaited me.
After receiving our replacement and our bonus, I contacted Tom and thanked him for keeping his word and standing by his product. I also requested information about him and his involvement with the LoCo Bat for this column. It turns out that, publicity or no publicity, Tom LoCascio loves to talk about Wiffleball.
LoCascio began, “I'm a Wiffle ball addict since I was a kid. I have had two Wiffle ball documentaries made about me; a Wall Street Journalist (Stefan Fatsis) followed me around to all the tournaments one summer, and been in an episode of this week in baseball and on ESPN Outside the Lines. I have even been called the Godfather of Wiffle.” While this Wiffle resume sounds impressive, it's simply the continuation of a childhood pastime. “The funny part about it all is it all stems from being extremely passionate about my favorite game since I was six years old. Like you I just wanted to play and play often.”
There was a point in Tom’s adult life when he had no idea that there were opportunities for him to continue his childhood obsession competitively. That all changed in the late 1990s when a friend told him he heard an ad on the radio promoting a Wiffleball tournament that offered a cash prize to the winners. “I called, and the rest is history,” Tom recalls.
Tom began playing professional Wiffle Ball in 1997 with incredible results. “I won three National Championships in 1998-2000, and I was runner-up in 2004.” So how did one of Wiffleball’s most celebrated players also become known as its most celebrated bat maker? “The bat was a byproduct of playing against teams that had used other types of bats, and none of them were the yellow banana. My team would still win most of the tournaments even though we were using highly inferior equipment. I decided to make a LoCoBat, and the masses realized rather quickly that they were now the ones at a serious disadvantage.”
One might wonder why Tom was willing to share his superior equipment with his opponents. “I just wanted to play and use a bat that would level the playing field. I didn't realize my bat was tipping the scales heavily in my favor.” The origins of Tom’s business can be traced back to one of these tournaments when a player from another team asked if he could give it a try. LoCascio recalls the moment, “After a few swings he was sold and asked if I could make him one.” This incident began a snowball effect. “I agreed to make and then sell it to him, and the orders have never stopped, all basically by word of mouth and my little eBay ad plus my two page website.”
Although the original model also consisted of the merging of a plastic barrel with a wooden handle, Tom’s product did not originally look so sleek. “Initially, I put screws in it and it looked sorta like a Frankenstein bat.” Like many great inventions, the current look stems from a fortuitous accident that Tom recounts here:
“One day my Pop and I were carving the handles on a lathe and made the insert part of the wood handle too thick at its base. It took me ten minutes to hammer the wood into the plastic. After I finished, I asked my Pop for the drill gun to screw in the screws. He asked me to try and pull the two pieces apart. I tried, and he even gave me a vice to help me try and get them apart. I couldn't even twist it apart. Many Wifflers call it voodoo or some sort of glue, but it is actually called a snake effect.”
Tom LoCascio at work on a new LoCo Bat.
Although Tom is proud of his product and his success as a player, he seems more proud of his influence in the sport. “Many of the Wiffleball leagues and organizations adopted many of my rules and philosophies of the game.” When asked to elaborate, he explained, “My philosophy of playing the game is to treat every opponent with the utmost respect. My philosophy of the rules is that defense is important, and I wanted each ground ball put into play to be handled by the defense with a catch and a throw.” Like the good sport that Tom is, he even endorses a style that he prefers not to play. “I hate base running in Wiffle ball but believe that it's the answer to getting this game on television. I personally wouldn't play it that way if given a choice, but from the viewer perspective it makes a ton of sense.”
So what does the future hold for the LoCo Bat? “I would like to manufacture a plastic bat from scratch. That means I would like it to be completely plastic with slightly different dimensions but basically 36" in length. This bat would also be able to be customized with a wood handle if desired." But don't expect this all-plastic version in the immediate future. "This is still a future project with no timetable.”
It’s pretty apparent that our new LoCo Bat breaking was a fluke. You already know the history of the M&M bat, and I am thrilled to report that our replacements are doing great. I would like anybody purchasing a Wiffleball bat to seriously consider the LoCo Bat. In an age of major corporations, inflated prices, and impersonal service, we actually have an honest to goodness small-businessman who constructs and uses his own product and passionatly stands behind it. Oh, and the bat hits like crazy! How can you not be loco about the LoCo Bat?