From little league to small business, teammates Dan Watson and Zak Fellman started Pillbox Bat Co. Creating their first bat as kids, their new venture based out of Winona, Minnesota features handcrafted and painted bats that pay tribute to all those hometown teams out there.
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting story behind it?
Yes! Our name “Pillbox Bat Co.” pays tribute to the old Downtown Park in St. Paul, Minn. So small that, nicknamed the “Pillbox,” it is said that hits over the left and right field fences were only awarded two bases. Being pressed into service in 1903 by the new owner of the St. Paul Saints because he didn’t think folks wanted to walk two miles from downtown to the nicer Lexington Ballpark, the Pillbox was not a thing of beauty. It serviced the Saints until 1909 when they moved back to Lexington Park. It was also home to the St. Paul Colored Gophers and even hosted a series in 1909, billed as the “world’s colored championship,” in which the Gophers beat the Leland Giants of Chicago.
You may find it an odd choice of stadium to pay homage to with our company name. But to us, the story of the Pillbox Ballpark, is the story of what baseball is all about. It’s like that sandlot place out back of your house that is just big enough to throw down a couple of mitts and a hat for bases, anoint someone all-time pitcher and strike up a game of stickball. It’s that place that folks would go to after work to grab a beer and get into a fistfight during the seventh inning stretch. It’s that place that everyone could take pride in because even if it was a sorry excuse of a ballpark, at least it was your sorry excuse of a ballpark – “and don’t you dare say otherwise, you hear!”
Have you always been passionate about design?
Yes. Pretty much forever! Growing up I was always drawing or painting. I followed that to an art degree and ever since have been making things. From printmaking to canoe paddle-making to woodworking to oil painting to baseball bats. Most of my crazy random hobbies have been around the outdoors and woodworking. Pillbox Bat Co. has brought those interests together with my lifelong love of baseball!
Why did you start working in this particular craft?
Well, we like to say it all started 20 years ago when we were in little league and made our own baseball bats out of tree limbs for home run derbies in the backyard. We even painted them. Yeah, kinda crazy that it has now over the past year turned into almost exactly that!
How does the city you live in influence your work?
We’re based in small town USA (Winona, MN) which is quintessentially baseball to us. Small towns and sandlots and back alley baseball games, where the bases were made from someone’s extra glove and a dirty hat and score was pretty much an afterthought. Baseball should be played in small town USA if you ask us!
What are some inspirations for your work?
Vintage baseball is ripe with inspiration for us. We love everything baseball, but vintage baseball from the 40s, 50s and before. All of the vintage baseball advertising and logo design and just everything! We love the old Wiffle Ball packaging and Kansas City Monarchs logo from the Negro Baseball League. Pretty much if we could relive the era from the The Sandlot every day we would!