Yasiel Puig and Hunter Pence are just a few of the big league stars who now wield the artisan baseball bats from the 6–5–0.
Photographs by Kyle Ludowitz
Earlier this month, Cody Silveria and Gary Malec were watching the Los Angeles Dodgers take on the Milwaukee Brewers when Yasiel Puig strode to the plate. With the distinctive logo of a half-man, half-bat (the winged, mammalian kind) emblazoned on Puig’s handcrafted slab of lumber, he sent the ball into the stratosphere — his first of two home runs that night.
“We were sitting there cheering and screaming at the TV,” said Silveria, a Half Moon Bay native who helped launch Birdman Bats alongside Malec and fellow baseball aficionado Timothy Cusick. “It was like we were little kids again.”
The burgeoning bat makers are having a moment right now. Since opening their company’s warehouse in June 2016, they’ve seen their bats used by some of Major League Baseball’s most prominent players including Puig, Hunter Pence, Kris Bryant, Todd Frazier and Alex Blandino. And they say that list is still growing.
But how does a two-year-old company get its fledgling bats into the hands of some of the world’s best hitters?
“I had been making bats since 2010, by hand, here and there,” said Malec, who first started spinning them out of his garage for his brother, Mark, another member of the Birdman crew. “Then I was making them for my friend that plays with the Red Sox. Every year I’d make him one to take to spring training.”
That friend was none other than professional baseball player Lars Anderson. Malec started a Kickstarter campaign to take his hobby to the next level. With $26,000 raised — and Anderson making a personal contribution of $20,000 — they were able to buy the equipment and wood they needed to get started. Birdman Bats had taken flight.
“Lars kind of knows everybody,” said Malec, explaining how they were able to leverage Anderson’s connections among Major League players. “I think that, in and of itself, was a humungous push in the right direction for us. If it was just us, who knows how we would have gotten out there.”
Puig was one of those connections. So was All-Star player Manny Ramirez, who took to the bat brand when he and Anderson were teammates in the minor leagues. Others soon followed.
“Lars’ last two years were with the Dodgers,” Malec explained. “So, we have a lot of connections with them. They welcome us like we’re family when we go to spring training.”
The San Francisco Giants are a recent addition to the Birdman family. “Hunter Pence just ordered six bats,” said Silveria. “We’ve been trying really hard, but ironically, it’s (been) hardest to get the guys in our own backyard.”
“And Chase d’Arnaud just wrote us back,” said Malec with excitement, holding up his phone to show a text exchange with the Giants’ player. “He wants a 33 and a 3/4 (ounce bat).”
Despite their big-league ambitions, the bat makers relish their status as one of the little guys.
“That’s where we stand out,” said Silveria. “You could compare us to a small craft brewery. In Half Moon Bay, people are spending all of this money going to their local brewery — they’re not going to get their Coors or Budweiser anymore. Just like Major Leaguers aren’t buying Louisville Sluggers anymore.”
Silveria remains proud of his small-town roots. After getting his start in Half Moon Bay Little League, he went on to play as starting right fielder for the high school varsity baseball team. “With most of the (local) kids that buy bats from our website, I’ll try to knock on their door and hand-deliver it,” he said. “It’s cool to see a face behind the actual bat.”
At the company’s South San Francisco warehouse, Silveria rifles through cylindrical pieces of maple and birch to find the perfect specimen. “There can’t really be too many blemishes in it,” he said. “It’s like the needle in the haystack.”
After marking up the wood, Silveria walks it over to the computer-numerical-device machine that precisely sculpts bats from the larger pieces. A code dictates the exact dimensions for the machine to carve. Whirring with precision, it only takes around five minutes.
“Cody’s a savant,” said Malec as Silveria turned the bat over in his hands. “He has the database in his mind of every weight of every bat model. He can pick it up — he doesn’t even have to look at it — and he knows if it’s right or not.”
Finally, Silveria sands away any rough edges — one of the few parts of the process that Birdman does entirely by hand. Flecked with wayward bits of sawdust, he runs his hand across the wood before stepping back. “Smooth as a baby’s bottom.”
The people behind Birdman Bats will be coming to the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. on Oct. 4 as part of the “Brews and Views” speaker series. Learn more at Hmbbrewingco.com.
Interested in buying a baseball bat? Birdmanbats.com
This article was originally published by the Half Moon Bay Review on August 8, 2018, and is being republished here as part of a content collaboration with The Six Fifty. See more of the Review’s Coastside coverage here.
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