When Kurt Ainsworth was working his way up through Baton Rouge’s youth baseball ranks, on his way to LSU stardom and an Olympic gold medal and the major leagues, he and other local youngsters had Skip Bertman’s Grand Slam when they needed to go work out in a climate-controlled setting.
The Bertman-owned facility was in the Industriplex area off Siegen and Airline, a few tape-measure David Ortiz home runs away from where Ainsworth and fellow ex-big leaguer Joe Lawrence are building up the Marucci Sports empire.
From wooden bats that LSU trainer Jack Marucci used to make in his backyard to a facility on McCann Drive, a previously nondescript Industriplex address, the Marucci Sports brand has grown and grown. Marucci has become the No. 1 wooden bat among major leaguers. Marucci’s star-studded advisory board of active major leaguers includes Ortiz, Jose Bautista, Andrew McCutchen, Albert Pujols and Chase Utley.
The company branched into aluminum bats about six years ago and later further expanded its reach to softball, batting gloves, protective gear and apparel.
Friday marked the start of the latest Marucci Sports venture: the grand opening of The Hitter’s House at the corner of Siegen and McCann complete with a big splash of former LSU stars turned professional baseball players now playing under the Marucci label.
“As CEO of Marucci, I want to try to grow the games of baseball and softball,” Ainsworth said. “There was a need in Baton Rouge for this kind of indoor facility. So we studied a bunch of facilities around the country that throw real baseballs and softballs as opposed to dimple balls. This will give kids and their parents the opportunity to come in and train.”
What Ainsworth hopes will set The Hitter’s House apart is a 24-hour fitness section for those who purchase memberships to the facility.
“They’ll have their own cages in the back,” Ainsworth said. “This takes a little bit of (Skip Bertman’s Grand Slam) concept and adds the training part.”
Each cage at The Hitter’s House will be adjustable for fast or slow pitch and, as mentioned earlier, will cater to softball players as well, a market Marucci just delved into over the past couple of years.
“It’s a big opportunity,” Ainsworth said of the softball market. “We love the game as well. We feel we have good products.”
Among the former Tigers slated to be on hand for Friday’s grand opening were recently departed All-America shortstop Alex Bregman (Astros organization), Mikie Mahtook (Rays), Anthony Ranaudo (Rangers), Jared Mitchell (Angels), Ryan Verdugo (Angels), Andrew Stevenson (Nationals), Kade Scivicque (Tigers) and Jared Foster (Angels).
Growing the already-burgeoning Marucci brand is an offshoot of The Hitter’s House concept, which essentially gives the company a dedicated storefront from which to sell its products and introduce new ones.
Ainsworth said there is interest on Marucci Sports’ part and from investors around the country to replicate The Hitter’s House franchise in other markets.
“We like the concept a lot,” he said.
A concept that at its core started in a backyard Baton Rouge tool shed and is now poised to take over a sizable chunk of the baseball (and softball) world.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.