SPORTS

Lone female pro player rep hits the road to show off the Phoenix Bat Company

03/17/2014 11:00 EDT | Updated 05/17/2014 05:59 EDT
DUNEDIN, Fla. - Outside the Blue Jays' clubhouse, Michelle Ismaj waits patiently alongside a table adorned with an array of baseball bats.

Toronto manager John Gibbons walks by and can't resist, taking a moment to check out the goodies and chat.

Baseball players have a love affair with their bats. Ismaj's job is to help them fall for those from the Phoenix Bat Company.

Ismaj who travels with 16 to 20 bats in a special carrying case, is unique on the bat beat.

"I'm the only woman that sells baseball bats," she said.

That is a plus and a minus.

"I use it to my advantage but I also deal with a lot that I'm sure the guys don't have to deal with," she said with a laugh.

Ismaj (pronounced Is-mah) has already worked her way through the Arizona-based teams and is now on the Florida leg of her pre-season tour.

It's a competitive industry with 32 bat-makers approved by Major League Baseball. One of her rivals is the Original Maple Bat Corporation, which makes the Sam Bat in Carleton Place, Ont.

Based in Plain City, Ohio, just outside Columbus, the Phoenix Bat Company has been a pro-approved manufacturer since 2000.

Phoenix founder Charles (Lefty) Trudeau used to restore houses for a living and play on a vintage baseball team for fun. The Ohio Historical Society, knowing his wood shop had a lathe, asked him to make some 19th-century-era bats.

He did, and soon the bats — which were bigger and longer than today's models — were in demand among other historical leagues. Trudeau then tried his hand at making modern bats, setting the stage for Phoenix.

Ismaj cites up the quality wood used — ash, maple and birch, which are the three woods approved by Major league Baseball — and the company's customer service as Phoenix's key assets.

"As long as we provide them with great customer service, quick turnaround and just good, consistent wood, then they're happy," she said.

Based in Scottsdale, Ariz., Ismaj spends plenty of time on the road, from the Arizona Fall League to winter ball in Mexico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela. She'll also visit Puerto Rico.

Her first language is Spanish, for example, which helps.

The other Phoenix pro rep is Doug Deeds, who spent 11 years in the minors.

Bats are very personal to baseball players so Phoenix tries to meet all demands. The company trumpets its Italian-made precision lathe, saying it can reproduce a custom order years later.

"They're very superstitious. Very superstitious," Ismaj said of her customers. "Once they find something they like and they start getting hits, then they stick with that."

Ismaj pulls out a maple bat, similar to one used by Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels. Then a birch model similar to one used by Atlanta's Justin Upton.

The bats look sharp with a distinctive logo featuring a P with flames trailing behind it.

Players who have Phoenix bats in their arsenal this spring include Adam Eaton of the Chicago White Sox, Yoenis Cespedes and Alberto Callaspo of the Oakland A's, and Didi Gregorius of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"We've got a ton of guys," Ismaj said. "We're very appreciate of the guys that try us out and do like us and stick with us."

When Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers won the Triple Crown in 2012, he did so with the help of a Phoenix bat.

Phoenix bats are also available to the general public, with a normal price of US$90 to $95.

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