"You make baseballs? How did you get into that?"
- Nearly everyone
Hey there, I'm William. I'm a baseball nut. Here's the story of how Huntington Base Ball Co. came to be. Get comfy.
Memories and emotions work in strange ways. Looking back as an adult, I couldn’t tell you the name of almost any teacher I've ever had who didn’t teach an art class, or something hands-on. Sad but true. For me, the best times were spent learning how to make something. Anything, really.
My fondest memories, and many of my friendships, are an intermingling of art and baseball. People who have shaped my skills, on and off the field, or in the studio.
Like most kids, my first experiences with baseball were simply learning to play the game. Pretty much every day. If we didn't have a league game or practice, we played at home. Got a patch of grass? We can play on that. We improvised to play wherever we could. Home plate was a bare spot of grass, first base was the side of the house, and second base was a tree. Stealing third required careful sliding to avoid the raspberry bush. The orange sky of a summer sunset was our visual reminder that we had just enough time for one more inning before heading home to read the back of our baseball cards. Those elementary school and junior high days were pure joy.
Then, somewhere around 10th grade I began to realize that Vladimir Guerrero could have used my plateauing abilities as a batting tee (he was a low ball hitter). When the incoming fastballs made a hissing sound as they flew past me, and the curve balls were actually curving, and anything I did hit quickly turned into a defensive stat - that was about as clear a sign as I (should have) needed to hang it up. That, and being cut from my high school team. As life works, when one skill fades, another develops. For me, those skills were developing in art class, and it was pretty much all I cared about studying in high school. If it was an artistic skill, I wanted to learn it. Plain and simple. It was all creative, all the time. Except for Opening Day. I skipped school for that.
Eventually, my calling for artistic exploration led me to the Industrial Design department at Massachusetts College of Art. It was there that I took all of my interests in materials and processes from a curiosity level to a functional knowledge. The most transformative moments were when I realized I could now look at an object and immediately translate the lessons I learned into a clear vision of how it was made. That was an awakening for me. I was hooked.
Naturally, it was only a matter of time before I attempted to make a baseball. *Note - I'm using the word "attempted" very loosely. Around 1999 I read an article in Smithsonian magazine about vintage baseball being played around the country on grass fields by regular, work-a-day guys. Somehow, they were playing through the summer in wool uniforms, swinging huge bats at homemade baseballs. This was mind blowing to me. Homemade baseballs? I had to try my hand at it.
The result was bad and I moved on. For a decade.
I've often called baseball an escapist passion. But at a certain point, your interests become defining characteristics. That point was reached when I attempted to make my first baseball in 1999. Even though the result of that first ball was not something you'd expect someone to build a business around, it stuck with me. Mostly because I really wanted it to work and I failed so miserably at it.
Flash forward to 2009. It's been a decade. Let's try this again. And again. And again.
Eventually, I got the geometry of the cover correct. Then I got the seams and stitches to line up. Then I went absolutely crazy and spent 8 months of sleepless nights studying vintage baseballs from the 1850's to the 1920s. Whoa. This IS crazy. But it's actually coming together quite nicely. I decided at that point that this venture needed a name. There could be no more of "daddy working on his anonymous baseball project". Oddly enough, I didn't think about the name for more than a few minutes. The very first ball I made in college was on Huntington Avenue in Boston. Just down the street from where the very first World Series was played in 1903. It was a perfect blend of location, history, art, and baseball. All of which remain very meaningful to me to this day.
Thanks in large part to my friends, who not only supported this nuttiness with encouragement and commissions, but they also spread the word to their friends, who told their friends, and eventually a guy with a blog...... this "thing" went from being a curiosity, to a personal challenge, to a thriving business. All fairly quickly. What I initially thought was an interesting way to spend an afternoon in college in 1999, ended up being the first step in a decade-long personal journey of reflection on what it actually meant to "find the thing you love to do, and do it better than anyone." It just took me a lot longer than I ever thought it would.
When I formed the Huntington Base Ball Co. in 2009, my goal was not just to make baseballs, but to re-create the look and feel of a bygone era. I love the visual and tactile characteristics of the early game and the attention to detail in the items that were created for it. The rawness of the materials and the telltale signs of hand craft. Those vintage pieces that I sought out as a collector, were not only relics of baseball's past, but were also beautiful objects that were made by hand and made to last. In our shop, we continue that tradition.
Baseball meets Research meets Craftsmanship. Hello again.
Let's play some Base Ball!