Julie Jacobson, Associated Press
Derek Jeter

So where do baseball bats come from?

The history of the best-known brand of bat — the noted Louisville Slugger — can be traced to a 17-year-old named John A. (Bud) Hillerich. Hillerich's father, J. Fred, owned a woodworking shop in Louisville, Ky., in the 1880s.

Legend has it that Bud Hillerich, an amateur baseball player, slipped away from work one day in 1884 to watch Louisville's major league team, the Louisville Eclipse. Star player Pete Browning, stuck in a hitting slump, broke his bat.

Hillerich invited Browning to his father's shop to make him a new bat. Hillerich crafted a bat from a long slab of wood, and Browning got three hits with it the next day.

Browning told his teammates, which began a surge of pro ballplayers to the Hillerich shop. Hillerich realized his future in bats.

In 1894, the name "Louisville Slugger" was registered with the U.S. Patent Office. By 1923, Louisville Slugger was selling more bats than any other company in the country. Baseball was the country's most popular sport, and stars such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig all swung Louisville Sluggers. Louisville Slugger has sold more than 100 million bats, and 60 percent of current major leaguers use the Louisville Slugger.

Bats begin their lives in the mountains of New York and Pennsylvania — the finest ash rising near the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., but any cluster given 40-50 years to mature and with northeastern exposure has a chance.

The chosen ash or maple, usually 12-15 inches in diameter, is cut into lengths of about 3 and a half feet, then split into pie-shaped billets. After six to eight weeks of drying, they are manicured to specification. The best bats are then sent to major league ballparks, and if they meet the players' standards, they might make it into a big-league game.