By John Murphy
One day about three years Mario Vazquez’s son, Aidan, broke his bat.
“Can you make me a new one?” the boy asked his father
“I said, ‘Uh, no.’” Vazquez remembers.
But that event became the impetus for the Humba Bat Co. Now Vazquez, an attorney for the city and county of San Francisco, is a bat-making artisan, churning out homemade wooden beauties from the shed behind his Half Moon Bay home.
Apparently he was paying attention during woodshop class at Cunha Intermediate School so many years ago.
“I also learned a lot from YouTube and from the people at the Trinity Bat Co. in Fullerton,” Vazquez said. “They were really nice.”
The reviews are in and Coastside players — and those from points beyond —love Humba bats. (Humba is Vazquez’s nickname for his lifelong home of Half Moon Bay.)
“Just got my new Humba bat,” Brayden Cleland says on Facebook. “Mario Vazquez with another masterpiece. Can’t wait to swing it when the rain stops.”
“Top quality. First-class, handmade to smash baseballs,” says Matt Frediani on Facebook. “A great product from the coast.”
Vazquez is a 1987 Half Moon Bay High School graduate who played football forformer coach Jack Coolidge and baseball for Jim Junge. He also took an all-important woodshop class or two at Cunha. His bats are made from maple, ash and birch sticks and are lovingly made in his well-equipped work shed.
“I’ve used one in a game just for an at-bat and they are weighted really nicely,” said Half Moon Bay High School slugger Max Jenkins. “I got a single, and it felt great off the bat.”
Every year Half Moon Bay Little League has wood-bat week and Humba bats are all over the field. This year the week runs from April 16 through 23 and Vazquez’s team will play three games in that span for which he’ll make three different bats.
Vazquez crafts the bats one at a time. They range from pro grade A which could be used in professional games to lesser but still formidable sticks.
“The pro grade A have a minimum of 18 inches of perfect grain,” Vazquez said. He describes ash bats as “flexible,” maple as having the “most pop” and birch as the “hot new wood.”
Home run king Barry Bonds used maple Louisville Sluggers. And older baby boomers fondly recall the feel of a wood bat and the sound that comes from hitting the ball squarely on the barrel. But since the mid-1970s, when high schools made the switch to metal and youth leagues followed suit, wood has been as dated as disco music.
Now wood is making a bit of a comeback, and Vazquez is a true believer, spending much of his free time crafting masterpieces, each emblazoned with the logo of a bat (cave-dwelling variety) chomping down on a baseball.
“Aluminum bats are light and mine are not as light as aluminum,” Vazquez said. “But they’re good, light bats for kids.”
The Coastside man has three lathes running at 2,500 rpm in what he describes as his “dungeon-like” shed. He uses a contraption called a “roughing gouge” to cut the wood into shape.
“It’s very therapeutic bringing dead wood to life,” he said.
The bats cost $100 and he makes them for Coastside kids as well as semi-pro and college players competing in offseason wood-bat leagues. Some buyers are from out of state. Some kids get discounts, and he’s also donated his creations for raffles and fundraisers.
He also makes fungos, such as the one Half Moon Bay assistant coach Tony Magagnini wielded at a recent Half Moon Bay High School practice. A fungo is a long, slender stick specifically made to hit grounders or fly balls during infield or outfield practice.
Magagnini, a former Half Moon Bay head coach, wanted to replicate a fungo made for him years ago that had a thicker handle and knob than found in a typical fungo. He wanted one much like the bat he used when he played at Sacred Heart Cathedral in the mid- 1960s.
“He did a real nice job on it,” Magagnini said.
While son Aidan and daughter Emma dig their dad’s bats, wife Avril (also an attorney) merely puts up with the sidelight.
“She thinks I bring too much sawdust in the house,” Vazquez said with a laugh.
Vazquez says he’s not exactly making money on Humba bats, but profit is not the incentive.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s great to see a kid smile when you hand him his bat. Besides, what are you going to do when it’s raining at Smith (Field), but make bats?”