It seems that anytime we travel, we spend the longest days on the road on the first day of departure and the final day of our return home, and that was indeed the case this time as well.
After logging more than 680 miles on Saturday, Oct. 6, the agenda for our second day was to make a couple of tour stops in Louisville, Ky., and then start driving east once again toward our final destination, the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
We’d stayed in South Indianapolis, Ind., Saturday night, just a short, two-hour drive – and one major bridge crossing at the Indiana-Kentucky line – to Louisville. The massive steel bridge had me gripping the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white (I really dislike large bridges over wide expanses of water, and the Ohio River was, well, just a little too wide in my opinion!)
The “Welcome to Kentucky” sign was attached to the overhead span of bridge, and Greta Garmin instructed me to take the first exit off the bridge to reach our first “tourist attraction” – the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory in downtown Louisville.
A few blocks later, Miss Greta failed me for the first time on our journey – telling me I’d reached my destination when all I could see was some big warehouse with no entrance. (As it turns out, she directed us to the back side of the building – a discovery made when I went half-way around the block and found a gigantic bat extending from the ground to beyond the roof lines of adjacent buildings.
“Aha! We’re here!” I exclaimed to my folks as I pulled into a parking spot just across the street from the entrance.
The visit to the Louisville Slugger Factory was made on the suggestion of a co-worker and it truly is a tour worth your time if you’re in the Louisville area. In fact, Trip Advisor ranks it as the No. 1 thing to see in the city.
Clad in my Minnesota Twins shirt, I was the first in line to buy our tickets for the factory tour. This building in the heart of Louisville is the only site in the world to manufacture the wooden Louisville Slugger bats used by most Major Leaguers, minor leaguers and recreational ball players in the country.
While the process of bat making is now automated, the tour provides guests with a look at how bats were made in the “good ole days,” turned by hand with the use of precise measuring tools.
On the tour, we learned that bats, made primarily of Northern White Ash trees of at least 80 years of age, are carved out of billets (the French word for the trunk of a tree). The billets, which arrive in batches of 5,000 to 8,000, are kiln-dried at the factory for about five weeks until they reach a moisture level suitable for being turned into a bat.
The Louisville Slugger Factory makes 1.8 million baseball bats a year, but more than half of them are the Little Slugger mini bats you can buy at baseball stadiums across the country. Major League baseball players account for another large share, each one ordering an average of 100 to 120 bats per season. (We saw billets pre-selected for Minnesota Twins player Ben Revere waiting in a holding area.)
Equally as impressive as the factory tour (which, by the way, ended with a free souvenir Little Slugger bat – awesome!) was the museum tour. There, we could view the bat used by Babe Ruth during the 1927 season when he hit 60 home runs in 154 games. He carved a notch in the hickory bat for every home run he hit with it.
Another area of the museum featured game-used bats that visitors could hold (only if wearing white gloves) – bats once used by Mickey Mantel, Babe Ruth and Derek Jeter, among others.
There were activities for kids, including an area where you learned how to find the sweet spot of the bat, could take a swing in the batting cage or have your photo taken with the latest bats used by each team who competed in the World Series. The life-size figures of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Derek Jeter and Ken GriffeyJr. were also cool.
Perhaps the coolest of all, though, was seeing the big bat at the entrance to the museum. An exact scale replica of a 34-inch wooden bat designed for Babe Ruth in the 1920s, the bat stands 120 feet tall, stretches 9 feet in diameter, is made of carbon steel and weighs 68,000 pounds. The signature on the side of the bat pays homage to the founder of the Louisville Slugger company, Bud Hillerich. Hillerich turned the company’s first bat in 1884. The bat has been a towering feature on Louisville’s West Main Street since late 1995.
Return for a visit to my blog tomorrow for details on our next stop on this 10-day journey through 10 states.