J-Town Resident is Leading the Product Development for Louisville Slugger
Writer / Shannon Siders
Since producing the first Louisville Slugger bat in 1884, Hillerich & Bradsby Co. has continued to churn out hundreds of thousands of bats each year. Leading the way in product development for the iconic brand is Jeffersontown resident Matt Bynum.
“We’re always looking into how we can differentiate ourselves from all the competitors out there,” Bynum says of H&B. “Because we have a relationship with Wilson now, we work with them to introduce new manufacturing methods, things nobody has really looked for in a wood bat.”
The Louisville Slugger brand was bought by Wilson Sporting Goods in 2015, and H&B continues to own and operate the official production facility. Along with a team of coworkers, Bynum is at the forefront for all product development each season.
“Right now, we’re in the middle of developing what all the wood bats are going to look like for next year’s catalog line,” Bynum says. “There’s a lot of work involved with that, so I have a lot of responsibilities right now.”
Bynum has had a range of responsibilities at the company, stemming back to the co-ops he completed at H&B as part of his college experience with the University of Louisville’s Speed School of Engineering. After graduating, he joined H&B full time in October 2002. Bynum topped off the month by marrying his wife, Catherine, and the couple moved into their first house in Jeffersontown.
Following the Wilson acquisition, Bynum now handles all of the facility engineering projects internally for H&B, as well as for Wilson. On any given day, he’s spending time working in product development and figuring out ways to make the factory and processes more efficient. Along with a team of coworkers, Bynum is at the forefront for all new product development for each season.
Keeping things fresh for a brand that is over a century old can be tough, but Bynum looks forward to the challenge.
“We pride ourselves in producing a lot of color mixes,” Bynum says. “Most of the other competitors stick to fairly basic color configurations, so black or natural colors. They don’t vary a whole lot from that. Slugger products stand out from them, because we have reds and blacks, blue with flame temper, flat finishes paired with high gloss finishes, all sorts of different graphics and details.”
Bynum expressed excitement for the future of Louisville Slugger, saying Wilson offered a “breath of fresh air” to the legendary brand. In addition to new colors and designs for bats, his team has also been exploring various species of wood. Typically companies stick to ash, hard maple and birch when making major league quality bats. Because of the emerald ash borer that has wreaked havoc in ash forests, it’s becoming more important to find other viable options.
“There’s all sorts of other species that are approved materials to use for MLB players,” said Bynum, noting hickory, red oak and beech as some alternatives. “It’s just that nobody’s really ever reached into that bag yet.”
One of the best parts about the job for Bynum is that he can share it with others. Nearly every visitor to or resident of Louisville is familiar with the larger-than-life bat that marks the entrance to Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory downtown. Tours of the production floor are offered seven days a week, during which visitors can take in the actual process used to make Louisville Slugger wood bats.
“It’s fun to see people come in here to visit the facility and get as excited as you see them,” Bynum says. “I don’t think a lot of other companies have the ability to offer that type of experience to the outside person.”
In addition to the factory tour, visitors can learn more about the history of Louisville Slugger bats and get some swings in at the batting cages.
The museum and factory has had its fair share of famous visitors throughout the years, and Bynum noted superstar Josh Hamilton was one of his favorites to meet. He has also enjoyed attending the annual Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory Living Legend Award ceremony, which has honored some of the greatest in the game.
When he’s not shaping the future of Louisville Slugger bats, Bynum is coaching his 12-year-old daughter Hannah’s Derby City Crush traveling softball team. Catherine also coaches their eight-year-old daughter Sophia’s team through Jeffersontown Youth Softball. With rare free moments, they visit some of their favorite local Jeffersontown establishments such as Mussel & Burger Bar, Chubby Ray’s and the movie theater. The family currently resides in the Monticello Park neighborhood and enjoy the overall central location of Jeffersontown.
Keep your eye out for a Louisville Slugger bat the next time you’re at a baseball game, and know that a Jeffersontown resident had a big part in making it happen.