In a tucked-away Hampton Road lot, Peter Curti walked from his trailer office to a neighboring forest-green shack. As he entered, a hidden speaker began blaring Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “I Love Paris.”
“We have to enjoy ourselves,” he shouted over the 1953 Cole Porter-written hit.
Curti, 57, who “retired” a decade ago and later opened Oceanside’s Beaver Bat Company in 2010, is doing just that, while also sending hitters of all ages and levels into the batter’s box with MLB-quality wood.
“For me, this isn’t work,” Curti said, as he watched his nearly $100,000 computer numerical control lathe sculpt a six-pound billet of wood into a hitter’s weapon. “After awhile, it’s like making doughnuts.”
Curti, who formerly ran a telecommunications company in Oceanside, said he was looking for a gig to help pay for his medical benefits. The hobby of sorts took off from his garage about eight years ago after a neighbor, who was the starting catcher for Kellenberg Memorial High School at the time, asked if Curti could make a bat no longer on the market.
With a hand lathe, Curti fulfilled his request, and soon, he had a reason to expand. “One day the coach comes walking down my driveway,” Curti recalled, “and the only thing in my head was, ‘Oh no, are you telling me that somebody got hurt with this bat and I’m going to get sued?’”
But the coach of the Uniondale squad had a different problem.
“He goes, ‘I’ve got seven guys in the lineup using the same bat,’” Curti said. “‘If it breaks…they don’t even know what to do.’” The coach put in an order for 130 bats, and Curti bought more advanced equipment and got to work.
In its first year in business in 2010, the Beaver Bat Company made about 900 bats, Curti said. Now, it produces 15,000 per year, supplying bats for local Little League and travel teams, the Long Island Ducks and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs — both in the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball — as well as hitters across the country who order through the company’s website.
The business is named for nature’s most skilled woodworkers. “I started playing with ‘Wow, that’s a dam good bat,” Curti said. His mind wandered to cartoon beavers taking down wood in the forest, bringing it to a log cabin and, while perched on a piece of steel, making bats with their teeth. “Gotta have a little humor,” he added, smiling.
Working seven days a week, Curti, along with his son, Mike, who works part time, and a few volunteers, have helped the business grow. Curti uses hand-split straight grain maple, ash and birch wood that comes from upstate New York and Pennsylvania. Though his bats are MLB-certified, and he has previously made models for pros like Robinson Cano, Marco Scutaro and Elvis Andrus through another brand, he has since taken his focus toward providing young players with affordable bats good enough for some of the game’s biggest stars.
“It’s just not my cup of tea,” he said of servicing the pros. “I’d rather hang down here with the little guys.”
Curti has played baseball throughout his life, he said, and coached travel baseball for decades. He is a former vice president for Oceanside Little League and now provides bats for its travel teams, as well as the eight- and nine-year-old teams, who are beginning to transition to a more traditional style of play.
Beginning next year, USA Baseball, the governing body for the sport, plans to implement a new standard that would create wood-like performance in youth baseball bats. Tom Collins, president of Oceanside Little League, said with the changes coming, the Little League is migrating toward wood to “stay ahead of the curve.” He hopes that within the next few years, the entire league will be swinging wood.
“Having Beaver Bat in our hometown and Pete being a former board member, it was a perfect fit,” Collins said. “He’s always had a good relationship with us, and he’s always there in a pinch when a guy needs a bat in a hurry.”
The bats range from $59 to $69, about half of what the industry’s biggest players, like Louisville Slugger, charge, Curti emphasized. The Oceanside business allows customers to customize handle and barrel color, and even add logos and engravings. “The only thing we don’t do is swing the bat for them,” he said.
Clad in a leather Pittsburgh Steelers jacket, Curti once again entered the shed outside of his storefront while juggling three bats — already lathed — some printed-out order forms and a coffee in his wood-worn hands. He had picked out the models a customer had just suggested online, and it was time to add some color.
He walked over to a paint-splattered wall, where about a dozen vats of different pigments sat. First stirring the paint, Curti dipped each bat’s handle into the tall and thin cylindrical containers, and hung them up to dry. In about two hours, he would flip it to color the barrel, he explained, eventually coating the bat with a sealant.
The bat is then sent to Curti’s son, Mike, 23, a former pitcher at LIU Post and current head coach for East Rockaway High School’s junior varsity team, to be engraved. The intricate customization is one of the finishing touches added to the bat before it is sent out to its new owner.
“It’s good to give back to the community to give affordable bats to everyone,” Mike said. “Not too many people can say that they make bats for a living, or can just be in baseball as long as we [have] because of this.”
The father and son are opening the Batter’s Box this fall, a small shop on the property that will sell other baseball and softball supplies. Though Curti has jumped from business to business over the years, he said he is happy to continue his current craft.
“As long as people are swinging wood, we’ll never go out of business,” Curti said. “We enjoy it too much.”