Red Sox bat grips a symbol of the Nation’s hold on us all

The reach of the Boston Red Sox is quite extensive. So much so that a comment on bat grips from Lizard Skins shows how far Red Sox Nation stretches.

Some BoSox Injection readers are aware that I’m also a high school English and Business teacher. While meeting with parents on Grade 9 Night, I noticed a particular couple make their way over to me. They were the Barkers, smiling as they approached me. I wondered what questions they would have for me about my business course that their son Brendan was taking. Instead, my attention shifted to the husband pulling out his cell phone.

What he had to show me was nothing I expected to see.

It was a man who looked similar to him standing next to legendary Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. It was not a typical picture one would see of a fan getting into frame with one of their baseball heros. The picture was inside a facility where the two men were smiling together with one of Ortiz’s bats being wrapped in a special substance around the handle.

The man next to Ortiz was Brad Barker of Lizard Skins, Brendan’s uncle. The Barkers heard that I wrote about the Red Sox and wanted to show me the picture to reveal how small this world can really be.

I got in touch with Brad Barker about this amazing coincidence. Lizard Skins has been in business since 1993, manufacturing bicycle accessories and distributing their product to 84 countries around the world.  In 2009, Lizard Skins developed a new and unique handlebar tape for road bikes that redefined that category.

Brad stated, “I started to use this handlebar tape on my baseball bat and hockey stick and realized that we had an opportunity to create something new in these two markets.”

Brad went on to explain that the reason for the product’s sudden popularity with professional baseball players is the “three different product thicknesses” that allow players to customize their grips to the type of bat and each player’s comfort level.

The connection to Ortiz was, at first, one of business strategy:

In May of 2013, I started to target certain MLB players who were using either trainers tape or athletic tape on their bats.  David Ortiz had been using trainers tape for a few years so I sent a package of Lizard Skins bat grip to him and the day that he received the product, used the bat grip that night and every at bat since.

During the 2013 World Series championship season, seven of the nine starters for the Red Sox ended up using the same grip technology: Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Xander Bogaerts, Stephen Drew, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jonny Gomes. Hard to argue with success, as Big Papi Ortiz went on to become the World Series most valuable player that year.

Oct 10, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (34) at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Ortiz taught his young students of the game many things in 2016, but it was the Lizard Skins bat grip that also made its way to Mookie Betts and his bat, which almost won this year’s American League Most Valuable Player award.

What was so incredible to me was the fact that I’m Canadian and felt that being a member of Red Sox Nation in a sea of Toronto Blue Jays fans was difficult. I couldn’t help but feel like my Bostonian voice was drowning in a very crowded area of people who all become vocal Jays fans again when Toronto makes it to the postseason.

Funny how I never heard them much since 1993; however, that is for another time.

Now, I had randomly stumbled upon a student whose uncle just so happened to work with Ortiz and provided him with a product to help Big Papi swing a mighty stick to win the World Series that I watched with bated breath. Ortiz put the team on his back during the 2013 championship run, and here I was emailing the man who contacted Big Papi on a hunch that he may want to do business.

Barker said that Ortiz “has been amazing to work with and has been a major influence with teammates and players within MLB using Lizard Skins bat grip.” He added:

In 2015, as David Ortiz was approaching 500 home runs for his career, Lizard Skins made a custom grip for Papi highlighting 500 Home Runs.  In June of 2016, I had the privilege of hand delivering another custom grip that we made for Big Papi that highlighted his career.  We made a custom walnut box to hold all of the special grip and David used this grip the rest of the season.  It was awesome for Lizard Skins to work with David Ortiz and have him endorse our product for the past few years.”

Which brings me to the point: when one speaks to a member of Red Sox Nation, it’s like working with family. Brad has many big-name clients from several other MLB teams, which for obvious business reasons makes himself and Lizard Skins unbiased. Yet, the joy in his words about working with Ortiz was undeniable.

That’s the attitude that I’ve tried to bring to my professional world, as well. Whether it be my  hard-working Grade 9 business class or my very talented Grade 11 English class, we set the standard for excellence but it’s done with joy in our hearts and a great, big belly laugh of family working together on a common goal. That’s what it means to be a family; that’s Red Sox Nation, no matter who they cheer for.

I want to thank Mr. Brad Barker and Lizard Skins for the interview information, Brendan for his help in inspiring me to write about this story, all of my students (past and present), and Red Sox Nation itself. You all are what have kept me going, through good times and bad, for so long. You all are why I got up in the morning every day at 3:30 a.m. and wrote about what Red Sox Nation meant to me. It’s been about life itself, and how family gets you through it. Like Brad, I took a chance on talking to someone about the job at BoSox Injection, and I was successful. And, I’m sure neither Brad nor I will ever forget it, either.

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