If you spend time at a Sequim Little League game this spring, you might notice a new logo on some of the bats. That’s because the Tsunami Bat Company, a local business run by Gary and Brenda White, has been exploding in popularity thanks to well crafted and eye catching, colorful bats.
The Whites settled in Sequim to wind down their U.S. Coast Guard careers, and decided that after their retirement — Brenda retired in 2017 and Gary is on what is known as “terminal leave” until his retirement date this August — they would try their hand at making bats.
As a family of avid baseball fans, several of whom play themselves, they found they weren’t always happy with the quality of bats they bought and saw elsewhere, and felt that they could do something about it themselves.
Gary grew up in Sequim and has long loved woodworking; he built the trophy case at Sequim High School before he joined the Coast Guard. His passion meant that he knew what he wanted to see in the bats that he and his children were using, and that most of the bats he was seeing in stores weren’t giving him that. So he started looking into what he needed to do to make them.
Tsunami was born in the shop behind the Whites’ Happy Valley home.
The bats start out as billets, or 37-inch-long dowels of prime ash or maple wood, turned to a size slightly thicker than the bat will ultimately be. Gary turns the wood on a computer-driven CNC lathe – a high-end model made in Pennsylvania and used by many major bat manufacturers – that can take a billet and turn it onto a bat in just three minutes with precision.
He then takes the bats, cuts off the excess wood at either end, and sands the bats by hand.
“I need to make sure there’s no scratches or dings or anything before we move on,” Gary said.
That’s because the next step is Tsunami’s real signature – dyeing the bats. While most bat companies will simply dip their colored bats in lacquer and move on, Tsunami takes a unique approach instead of using stains to dye the bats.
Their hand-mixed dyes are applied carefully to the sanded bats in order to create a striking effect where the grain of the wood pops through to create eye-catching detail, especially if the bat is “flamed” first, where Gary takes a small blowtorch and runs it over the bat to blacken the grain.
The colors of Tsunami’s bats stand out, but they say the quality is excellent as well — noting they only use the best wood they can to make the best-performing bats.
Given how expensive baseball bats tend to be these days – with little league metal bats often costing more than $100 and high-end wood bats often approaching $200 – getting a bat that will perform well and actually last is a must, especially with cheaper options being easier to break. Having a bat that can stand up to the rigors of the game is a must, White said.
Because of the relative small size of their company right now – currently it’s just Gary crafting the bats and Brenda running the marketing and logistics side of things, with occasional volunteer help from family – means that while the quality of their bats compare to the best pro bat makers, the cost isn’t nearly the same. Their bats cost $90 for a fully customized pro-grade adult bat – compared to the and $60 for a youth model.
Their work is customizable, with everything from the style of the bat to the colors of the dye to being able to add simple images to the engraving available as options.
Tsunami Bats was founded in June 2018, though they’re only just recently started to kick into full gear. They spent most of their first year in business getting established and ironing out their process and methods, and now that Gary went on leave a little more than a month ago, work is picking up.
“I’ve probably filled more orders and made more bats in the last month than I had in the seven months before that,” Gary said.
He says he can make about 15 bats a day from start to finish, and is working on seeing what he can do to add to that count.
With the company making more inroads with high schools and little league groups in both Sequim and Port Angeles, the couple anticipates things are only going to get busier for the local business.
Brenda is often found “in the field,” as she describes it, either advertising the company or delivering bats at local little league practices. She said she loves seeing the looks on youngster’ faces when they get a Tsunami bat for the first time, because — as she puts it — “You know how special it is at any age.” They aren’t used to having their name on a bat, she said, so to get one in their hands and see just how good a bat it is creates a special moment for them to remember.
Tsunami Bats don’t just make their bats for youths, though. The company has several clients at both Sequim and Port Angeles high schools as well as with the Port Angeles Lefties. They’ve sold bats in more than 20 states, and to clients in Canada and as far away as England. They’ve also made bats for Houston Astros’ AAA outfielder Alex De Goti.
In order to make sure as wide a customer pool as possible can use their bats, Tsunami makes their bats to conform to USA Baseball specifications, the couple said —meaning that they can be used in any Little League, Babe Ruth or Cal Ripken league that permits the use of wood bats, as well as in more advanced tiers of competition.
Gary and Brenda White said you won’t see Tsunami Bats in Major League Baseball any time soon, however: that requires a separate and expensive certification that they can’t justify quite yet, though it is in their five-year plan. That plan includes eventually getting a shop and storefront space in town, as well as expanding their product line and adding more employees.