JEFFERSON PARK — Russell "Buddy" Herberg's bat factory is a 12-foot-by-10-foot shed in the backyard of his parents' Far Northwest Side home.
"Pretty much every day I'm in here," Herberg said of the wood-shaving-covered shed.
Herberg, who played catcher at Whitney Young and earned a scholarship to Cardinal Stritch University, said Firehouse Bats is a perfect blend of his athletic and craftsmanship genetics. His great-grandfather, also Russell, was a woodworker, and Herberg constructed the shed with his father, again Russell — a Chicago firefighter — and uncle.
"I have that woodworking ability coupled with my interest for baseball and the game," said Herberg, who still plays in summer leagues and is an assistant coach at Triton College. "I guess it shows I have the initiative to do something with my talent."
Justin Breen details the backstory behind Herberg's bat business:
Herberg started making bats as a teenager after finding a lathe — which spins the wood as Herberg shapes the bat — in the basement of his father's firehouse. He never intended to make a business out of the hobby, but through contacts with summer league and other baseball organizations, Herberg developed a small clientele.
"The bats are made of good, solid wood and the weight is balanced," said Keronn Walker of B.I.G. Baseball Academy, which uses some Firehouse Bats.
In the past year, Herberg said he's sold about 150 bats. They are made from either ash, maple, birch or hickory and sell for between $35 and $45. The bats, which usually take about 40 minutes to create, average 30 ounces and 33 inches in length.
"I'm trying to keep the bats inexpensive because I truly believe the quality is of a Major League caliber," Herberg said.
Herberg said longterm goals are to get his company certified by major and minor league baseball — currently he can only sell to summer leagues, college and high school teams, and youth clubs — and buy an electric Computer Numerical Control lathe, so he doesn't have to do all the work by hand.
Herberg has been called "Buddy" all his life because, as a baby, other firefighters told his father he was his "little buddy" when he brought him to the firehouse. He said he hopes his company can have the same sticking point to present and future customers.
"To have other players appreciate my product is what really rewards me with the process," he said.
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