SBJ/19980629/This Weeks Issue

Can’t afford a jet fighter? Buy this bat

Worth Inc. hopes the promise of aerospace technology will entice buyers to try its $299 Copperhead bat

Technology developed to reduce vibration in fighter planes is behind a recent innovation meant to take the sting out of aluminum baseball bats and propel offensive numbers to even greater heights.

Worth Inc., the Tullahoma, Tenn.-based bat and ball manufacturer, debuted its new Copperhead ACX baseball bat at the College World Series, pitching it as a high-end product that offers a larger sweet spot than other models thanks to an electronic “brain” within the bat.

The brain, provided by Active Control Experts (ACX) of Cambridge, Mass., uses electronic shock absorbers that convert the energy created when bat strikes ball into electrical energy, dampening vibration and thus keeping the energy at the point of contact. It’s similar to the technology ACX is marketing to the U.S. Air Force for use in the tails of fighter planes.

That reduction of vibration, the manufacturer says, translates into a larger sweet spot and a better chance at a solid hit.

“When we saw what ACX was doing, we saw a great chance to apply it to bats,” said Dan Pitsenberger, vice president of research and development for Worth. “We’d done a lot of work in the area of vibration. The strides they’ve made really catch your eye.”

So will the price tag: a suggested retail of $279-$299 that makes it clear the company is targeting bulk sales to colleges and some elite high school programs, rather than over-the-counter sales.

Worth says it’s convinced that the bat’s performance will bear out the price, which is more than $30 higher than its competitors’ top-of-the-line products, the Redline by Easton and the Air Attack by Louisville Slugger.

If previous uses of the technology are an accurate indicator, they may be right.

ACX’s first foray into sporting goods was a line of “smart skis” by California-based manufacturer K2. That product, the K2 Four, went on to become the No. 1 selling ski in the U.S. in 1995-97, its second season on the market.

ACX, founded in 1992 by an MIT aeronautics professor, began approaching sporting goods manufacturers as a means of finding a quick way to market for its dampening innovations. The aerospace uses can take more than 10 years to make it to market, while bat makers typically turn technology around in 18 months or less.

“We’re taking a look at anything that vibrates,” said Brian Mulcahey, senior marketing manager for ACX. “We called Worth and said, ‘Hey, bats vibrate, don’t they?’ That was the start of it all.

“Sports is an ideal place for us to look for uses. As a consumer, I can buy a top-line baseball bat. I’m not going to go out and buy an F-18.”

Though Worth hasn’t revealed its plans for further use of the technology, Pitsenberger said there will be derivatives. The technology fits nicely with current attitudes in amateur baseball. Citing safety concerns, the NCAA has set a maximum resilience for bats, limiting improvements that manufacturers can make by using new alloys.

There is no legislation governing the size of the “sweet spot.”

“We’re out to continue to introduce new products,” Pitsenberger said. “The limits have forced us to focus on other features that consumers desire. They want enhanced performance. That’s what this bat should give them.”

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Related Topics:

Baseball, Worth Inc., UFA, Ping, Target, Colleges, ATT, Esso, NCAA

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