When the Long Island Ducks take the field at their home opener Friday, players will be swinging the team's official bats from The Beaver Bat Co., a tiny Long Island outfit born from a favor to a neighborhood teenager.
Peter Curti, 55, founded the company six years ago after working as a construction supervisor, running a company that builds cellphone infrastructure and serving as an executive of a company that developed electric cable conduits.
He considered himself a retiree in 2009, but these days you can find Curti working at Beaver Bat's workshop and showroom in an industrial section of Oceanside, taking orders from local coaches and players and fashioning bats used by players from the Little Leagues to the Major Leagues.
Though the bat business had a long learning curve, Curti said he is more than happy to be counted among the dwindling number of industrialists in the region.
"I'm the last of the happy Long Island manufacturers," he said. "You're never going to hear a complaint from me."
The company started after a neighborhood baseball player at Kellenberg Memorial High School asked Curti, who had a lathe in his garage, to make a bat. The bat was a hit, so to speak, and the player's teammates at Kellenberg in Uniondale began using it, too, Curti said. The coach ended up ordering 140 more and a business began.
Beaver's production has ballooned from 900 bats per year to 15,000. "It's a lot for a retired guy," said Curti, who enlists help from a few family members and part-timers. "I'm here at 6 or 6:30 and I stay till 5."
The company primarily supplies youth leagues, travel teams and colleges, including Dowling College, Adelphi University and LIU Post, a campus of Long Island University. Curti also provides bats for the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League, a summer spawning ground for players including Nick Ahmed, shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Beaver posted revenue of about $400,000 in 2014, Curti said, after rebuilding from 2012's superstorm Sandy, which destroyed the company's tools and turned his stockpile of billets -- the wooden cylinders from which bats are tooled -- into flotsam.
Those billets come from the Adironack Mountains in upstate New York and the Allegheny region of eastern Pennsylvania, where maple, ash and hickory trees grow ramrod straight, producing a grain that makes the bat strong and durable.
"This stuff is like gold," he said of his Major League Baseball quality billets. The top MLB grade billets account for about 30 percent of the roughly 3,500 billets he stockpiles, and each one costs about $25.
When Sandy struck, he found his prized, kiln-dried billets adrift. "The wood floated," he said. "It was something you could cry about."
Though many youth leagues, including New York City's public high schools, are migrating from metal to wood, wood bats remain a niche market.
Michael May, spokesman for the Sports & Fitness Industry Association based in Silver Spring, Maryland, said that in 2013 wholesale revenue from wooden bats was $18 million worldwide, a fraction of the overall wholesale bat revenue -- including metal and wood -- of $240 million.
Two heavy hitters in the wood bat business are Marucci Sports, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Louisville Slugger, a century-old brand that was sold by Louisville, Kentucky-based Hillerich & Bradsby Co. in March to Chicago-based Wilson Sporting Goods Co. for $70 million. Family-owned Hillerich will continue making the bats for Wilson, a unit of Amer Sports Corp., based in Helsinki.
Michael Pfaff, president of the Long Island Ducks, said that unlike the bigger companies, Beaver offers local-company service. A few years ago, when the Ducks got a player from the Mexican League who used a nonstandard bat size, Pfaff made an urgent call to Beaver.
"The next day, they supplied major league wood," Pfaff said. "You're dealing with people who make wood on Long Island and drive it out to the ballpark the next day."
Though he has sold bats to major leaguers as a supplier to another brand, Curti cites mandatory insurance and licensing fees as too high a financial hurdle to sell direct under the Beaver name.
"I'm $22,000 in the hole and I haven't sold a bat," he said.
In any case, Curti said, he tries to keep his eye on the ball and connect with his primary demographic. "My target market is kids starting out."
While Louisville Slugger and Marucci sell Major League quality bats for about $130, Curti said that he offers similar quality, but at about half the price.
The company's slogan: "MLB grade wood at minor league prices."
Pfaff said that in addition to competitive prices, Beaver wood may offer some intangible benefits. In 2013, the last time the Ducks used Beaver bats, the team won the Atlantic League Championship. "So they must have brought good luck."
At a Glance:
Name: The Beaver Bat Company
Annual revenue: About $400,000
Number of wood bats produced per year: About 15,000
Wood used: Maple, 80 percent; ash, 10 percent; birch, 10 percent
Official bat of: The Long Island Ducks