Photo by Anthony Smedile

Gary Malec, a native of the Jersey Shore, has managed to blend his two passions – math and baseball – into a very unique business.

Along with his brother, Mark, and a handful of other co-founders, Gary runs Birdman Bats, a boutique baseball bat company in San Francisco. The brothers started their company in their Wildwood Crest backyard, and it has since become a favorite with the pros.

“When you start to play baseball with a wood bat, you really don’t know much about it,” says Gary, 35. “Your mom takes you to Dick’s [Sporting Goods], and you just get whatever bat. Well I didn’t like that, so I set out to learn how to make my own.”

The first official “Birdman Bat” was made for Mark in 2011 – he used it to win the Junior College National Championship for Gloucester County College that year.

The name and logo for “Birdman Bats” comes from Mark, too. Months earlier, he’d drawn the doodle that would become the logo in an art class.

Gary Malec on the lathe

Gary Malec on the lathe

“I’d been making bats for like six months at that point, but a baseball bat with no distinguishing marks is kind of boring,” Gary  says. “I found that doodle in my brother’s notebook and was like, ‘Oh, this is it.’”

Gary says the logo’s silliness is by design. “The point of Birdman is to remember how baseball was when you were a kid and to just enjoy it.”

The Malec brothers had some friends in the minor league system who began swinging Birdman Bats, and soon former pros were calling.

“All of a sudden Manny Ramirez is calling me,” Gary says, “Now we’re friends, and I make bats for his kid. I had a bunch of guys from the [Los Angeles] Dodgers swinging them this year, and the commissioner called me and we all got in trouble. That was the best phone call for me, because it means they noticed I exist.”

Gary says the pros like Birdman Bats because the bats are extremely customizable and made of birch wood, which he says is fairly new to the world of baseball bats.

Gary is also devoted to sustainable practices. He says every piece of wood delivered to his shop is used, and he even looks for responsible ways to use his byproducts.

“It all goes to something; none of it gets wasted,” Gary says. “Heavy pieces become kids’ bats. Light pieces become coaches’ bats. I have an overwhelming amount of sawdust, which I understand is good animal bedding, so I’ll donate a lot to animal shelters. It also makes good soil.”

Gary is working through the process of getting major league approval for his bats. He’s swinging for the fences with Birdman, and he says he’ll be satisfied “when it’s in the hands of every ball player around the world.”

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