A line of Salpointe Catholic softball players take cuts in the school’s mesh-enclosed batting cage, lugging in their gunmetal gray practice bats with them.
The bats these aspiring players are sporting may look like some run-of-the-mill hitting tool, but are the result of thousands of hours of research and labor.
Being carried by the Lancers, along with other Tucson clubs like those from like Catalina Foothills, Flowing Wells and Tucson High School, the bats were donated by FollowThru.
Based in Tucson, FollowThru’s Pro Training Bats are the creation of CEO Klaus Axen.
The training bats look like normal equipment but feature an active weight inside which slides through the swing, clicking when it reaches the end of the barrel.
The purpose of the click is to allow hitters to hear and feel whether their swing timing is on-pace or not, which allows them to time their cuts better.
Axen and his team decided to donate $5,000 worth of bats to local schools last month so the squads could get the training they need to excel on the field.
The company’s CEO said the decision to donate the equipment stemmed from a belief that doing so would spur others to follow suit. Axen believes the company’s revolutionary training bats, which are the only ones on the market that can be used both in live batting practice, will attract other programs in the future.
He sees the initial donation as a seed program, spreading throughout the region as more and more players and coaches get their hands on the bats, which range in price from $204.99 to $219.99.
“We felt that it was important to allow our own area schools to lead the way with this new training tool,” Axen said.
Axen’s product, which took the Best of Show Award at the 2018 Indianapolis American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, has won over users, such as longtime Salpointe Catholic softball coach Amy Rocha.
Rocha said she’s already seen a huge upgrade in her team’s hitting abilities this season as a result of the training bats.
She said her players have been able to put the ball in-play with greater frequency this year, which she attributed to the work they’ve put in with Axen’s product.
“I think the biggest growth I’ve seen in my hitters is the consistency of hitting a ball on a line,” Rocha said. “The line drives that we are hitting now in the gaps, I feel are just escalating. I have so much gratitude to be able to have the opportunity for our young ladies to swing these bats because the results are showing.”
Mike Coyle, one of Axen’s eight employees at FollowThru, believes the success that teams like Salpointe Catholic have with the equipment speaks for itself.
Coyle believes other programs will be encouraged to purchase the bats for themselves in coming years, so they can try to achieve the level of success that Rocha and others have reached since accepting the donations.
“We’ve gotten great feedback from all the players that we’ve had try it and pick it up. It’s something like you haven’t really felt before,” Coyle said. “But you really just swing with your normal swing, and it kind of does the job for you.”
Rocha said implementing the training bats has been second-nature to her program, given how hard they train throughout the year.
“I feel it’s been extremely beneficial to have [the bats] added to our daily routine,” she said. “As a team, I feel our athletes take everything seriously. They are asked to do everything at 110 percent, and the results are showing. It’s been so amazing for me to sit back and watch them on this journey, with these bats being utilized into our daily routine.”
Longtime Tucson resident and FollowThru employee Joe Contando has seen the company’s growth from fledgling to supplying bats to teams across the globe.
He’s proud that Axen and his fellow employees have stepped up to the plate to deliver their product to local schools, allowing the next generation of baseball and softball stars to have the products they need to excel.
“Tucson has been a good baseball and softball market for a long time, and it comes just from how we support our community,” Contando said. “I don’t know how often you get to watch a game, but I’ve got to tell you, we’ve got some great young athletes here in Arizona. And it’s just fun. It’s a great opportunity to work with kids, which I’ve done for a long time.”
It’s that altruistic vision that drew Rocha in after her longtime friend George Arias recommended the bats during the offseason.
Rocha is proud to support Axen’s business, which she believes to be at the forefront of the baseball and softball equipment industry. She’s also proud to support a budding local business, giving them real-time data during practice so they can expand their business throughout the region.
To Rocha, Axen’s invention represents the best of what Tucson has to offer the rest of the nation and world as a whole, with brilliant products that fill niches that have been overlooked for years.
“I think it goes to show the amount of intelligence and talent that we have here in Tucson for the sport,” Rocha said. “To be able to combine that, I feel it just shows that Tucson does grow amazing athletes that come back and give back to their own community. I think it’s so important.”