Oscar Porcellato is a bit of a wonderboy, making his own baseball bat just like Roy Hobbs did in the movie The Natural.
Hobbs, played by Robert Redford, named the bat he made Wonderboy; Porcellato stamps his with a stylized OP.
“I’ve always been into woodworking,” Oscar, a 6-foot-1 left-hitting slugger with the Whalley Chiefs of the B.C. Premier Baseball League, said in a backyard workshop that used to be the family garage. “I made magic wands for my friends when we were into Harry Potter and I made cedar planters.
“With baseball, it was natural to switch to making bats.”
His first effort, when he was 15, began with a square block of maple his dad Ray bought on eBay and a $75 lathe found in Tsawwassen through craigslist. It took him two days. He also planed away too much wood and, it being too thin, the bat has never hit a ball. It could, however, be a great souvenir someday.
Today, using round billets of sugar maple bought in Sedro-Woolley, Wash., Oscar can lathe and gouge out a bat in five hours.
“I always kind of knew what I was looking for in a bat,” Oscar, a 16-year-old New Westminster Secondary student in Grade 11, said. “So I make my own the way I’ve always wanted my bats to be.”
There was a day that all Major League Baseball bats were made of ash, and three-quarters of them still are. But sugar-maple bats became a thing after Hall-of-Famer Barry Bonds used Canadian maple to hit 73 home runs, still a single-season Major League record 17 years later.
That club Bonds used, the Sam Bat, was invented in Ottawa by Sam Holman in 1997. Like Oscar, Holman crafted his bats in his garage before the practice also took over his basement and dining room. Today, Sam Bats are made in a purpose-built facility an hour outside Ottawa in Carleton Place.
“It won’t be taking over our house,” Ray said. “My wife said that was not happening here.
“But Oscar can get a pretty good thing going here (in the garage).”
He has started a gofundme page to raise capital, hoping to turn his hobby into a business.
Part of the Porcellato’s double garage will be sealed off for sawdust-free staining of the bats. He’s registered for a GST number, applied for a business licence, named his company Oscar Porcellato Lumber Co.
Two sporting goods stores, he said, have promised to sell his bats once he builds an inventory.
But to do that, he needs a computerized lathe, which costs about $9,000. He needs racks for the billets and finished bats, new chisels and gougers, all the stuff required for a professional production facility.
“I told him he can have the garage if he puts up a business plan,” Ray said.
Entrepreneurship runs in the family. Ray owned Cloud 9 Specialty Bakery, a maker of gluten-free desserts and breads, until a couple of months ago. A former Salmonbellies lacrosse player, his hobby is stringing sticks for customers all over the world.
“It’s in our blood to create things and be this way,” Ray said.
So far, Oscar has sold a couple custom-made bats to teammates on the Chiefs, and one to a Little Leaguer in Chicago.
“It’s cool because, like, Major League players get to pick everything about their bat, junior players usually don’t,” Oscar said.
Bat No. 15 is sitting on his lathe waiting to be freed from inside its billet. Leaning against a wall are a Justin Morneau bat used as a model and a duplicate of it Oscar made that is waiting for the OP logos to arrive from the manufacturer before he gifts it to Morneau.
Morneau, a New West native who won an American League MVP and two Silver Slugger awards during his 14 Major League seasons, has been good to Oscar over the years, as has Morneau’s father George, who took Oscar under his wing and taught him how to hit and how to put in the work required.
“Justin has given us tons of (baseball) equipment over the years,” Oscar said. “And I got to go on the field and do batting practice once before a (Minnesota) Twins game.
“Now I have something to give him to say thanks.”
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