For The Love Of The Game And The Grill
Baseball and BBQ certainly go together at a pre-game tailgate or a summer cookout, but one company has put the game and the grill together and established a unique line of products that have become a true hit. Baseball BBQ has taken two of America’s favorite pastimes — baseball and barbecue — and turned them into a line of patented baseball-bat handle BBQ tools and accessories so fans can step up to the plate like Big Leaguers. While the business is headed toward major league success, the story behind the brand had its origins with a bunch of guys who never made it to the majors, but never stopped playing the game they love.
Mike Mullen, Brett Mandel, and their Baseball BBQ partners have played baseball for decades, never giving into the temptation to settle for softball or walk away from the sport completely. Each year, they enjoyed making a trip to the Men’s Senior Baseball League World Series where they competed against other aging ballplayers at major-league spring training complexes for a week in the Arizona sun. They also had lots of time to drink beers and grill steaks in between games.
While recuperating after a game, one of their teammates told them about how his father had sawed off the handle of a cracked baseball bat and used it to repair a broken grill fork. The final product felt familiar in the hand and served as the perfect grilling tool. That moment gave rise to an idea that fused together two lifelong passions into one common goal for the aging ballplayers — to share the love of the game and the grill. So, the old guys who never gave up playing, along with the youth-league teenage grandson of the creator of the original bat-handle BBQ fork worked to secure the patents for a line of bat-handle BBQ tools, paired them with a stunning set of home-plate shaped cutting boards and other accessories, and launched Baseball BBQ just in time for Father’s Day 2020.
“We played baseball all our lives and we live and breathe the action and the camaraderie of the game,” said Mullen. “Whether it’s still trying to capture our former glory on the diamond or touring ballparks around the country, baseball is part of our heart and soul.” That appreciation for baseball is built into Baseball BBQ. The bat-handle tools are crafted to big-league specifications and made to last a lifetime. The cutting boards – in the shape of home plate or a baseball jersey – are infused with the spirit of the game. The Baseball BBQ warehouse could double as a ballpark clubhouse and partner meetings inevitably involve fond memories of time on the field, questions about arcane baseball rules, or arguments over which of partners’ favorite teams will win the next World Series.
Off the field, the guys behind Baseball BBQ come together around the grill, the staple of the American backyard for all seasons. Steeped in the same camaraderie and tradition as baseball, the barbeque is the gathering of friends and family to share stories, laughter, and great food. It is the perfect setting for winter conversations about the Hot Stove League or summer banter about the pennant races. Baseball BBQ now brings those two great pastimes together, building tools for fans of the game and the grill with a mission to bring the big-league feel to every barbecue so that fans can share the love of both.
That certainly does not mean that the company did not endure significant growing pains during its start-up phase – especially as it prepared to roll out its first offerings just as COVID shutdowns upended everything from global shipping to spring training. In 2020, while the guys behind Baseball BBQ were getting set to test their business model, the world had other ideas about what would happen next.
“Just like every big-league player, we had to work our way up through the minors to succeed and our road to the bigs started off rocky,” said Mandel. “We launched our efforts during the pandemic, when the Major League season was delayed and baseball was the last thing on most people’s minds, but, happily, when people saw the quality of the products we were producing, they took notice.” A brief feature on Fox News: The Five helped fill the company inbox with orders and a mention by Baseball Writers’ Association of America Career Excellence Award winner Jayson Stark helped draw needed attention to the brand.
The company found some initial success making keepsake personalized gifts for baseball fans – including personalized cutting boards for Cape Cod League teams’ host families and bat-handle bottle openers engraved for each attendee of the Phillies Phantasy Camp. The well-made products turned some heads and helped Baseball BBQ acquire licensing for Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association, and more than two dozen colleges and universities. The combination of high-quality products and the connection to favorite teams was a hit and the licensed products drove higher and higher sales volumes.
Baseball BBQ doubled revenues in each year of operations and has had to grow its production capacity many times, expanding from a garage to the back of a workshop to a full warehouse. Pop-up events like a tent at the College World Series, a booth at the Field of Dreams Beyond the Game festival, and a tailgate at the Philadelphia Phillies home opener allowed the Baseball BBQ team to have some fun while meeting fans of their brand. In addition to its starting lineup of old ballplayer pals, the Baseball BBQ team has added a few bench players to fulfill its orders and has called upon creative talent to make sure the look and feel of everything from its product designs to its advertisements look clean and sharp – and authentic to baseball aesthetics.
Baseball BBQ products are now for sale online at www.BaseballBBQ.com as well as a growing number of Major League Ballparks, Minor League team stores, campus bookstores, and other retailers. While much of the company’s growth has been driven by baseball fans and those who love the game, Baseball BBQ sees tremendous opportunity in the world of serious grillers. Products such as their home plate cutting board with a juice trough were the direct result of feedback from grillers. The company worked with pit masters and BBQ aficionados to expand its offering of tools to include well-made tongs and a pigtail flipper that is ergonomic and durable. They worked with a chef to create a tasty Diamond Dirt Rub (https://baseballbbq.com/collections/all-apparel/products/big-rubes-diamond-dirt-rub) and has plans to release a High Heat Sauce this coming spring. “We’re baseball guys, but we made sure our tools and food products would be enjoyed by major grillers as well as major leaguers,” Mandel said.
Year three for Baseball BBQ promises to be their biggest year yet with plans to offer products licensed for additional colleges and universities and to expand partnerships with Fanatics, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and other major retailers. Because the game is global, fans of beisbol can now browse the ¡Baseball BBQ en Español! collection (https://baseballbbq.com/collections/baseball-bbq-en-espanol) to find products for all Major League teams. After offering rolling out the “Baseball BBQ and the Bambino” collection full of products engraved with the signature and number of Babe Ruth, licensed by the family of the Sultan of Swat, the estates of a number of other legends have expressed interest so a “Legends of Baseball” collection is in the planning stages along with a “Long Gone” collection that would feature the logos of teams like the Brooklyn Dodgers and Montreal Expos.
So, what guides the Baseball BBQ guys as they plan the future and what would they tell others who are trying to follow a similar path to success? “Be true to your brand,” Mullen offered as advice for budding entrepreneurs seeking to start a business. “If you keep your eye on the ball and focus on the reasons you went into business in the first place, you will find success. A lot of people have asked us to compromise our quality or our mission to make more sales or achieve some fast gains, but we have worked to build this brand right and it has paid off.”
That counsel seems to have worked in many ways for Mullen, Mandel, and their company. What pairs best with business success for Baseball BBQ? A championship ring or two, of course. Not only have the guys behind Baseball BBQ enjoyed growing sales and notoriety, but their old-guy team — the Baseball BBQ Forkballers — won the 2021 and 2022 Men’s Senior Baseball League 40+ World Series Championships with southpaw Mullen on the mound for the championship games and Mandel managing the squad to their back-to-back victories. At the grill or on the field, the Baseball BBQ team has hit it out of the park.
Baseball BBQ Forkballers celebrate their back-to-back Men’s Senior Baseball League 40+ World Series Victory (L to R – Bret Binder, Michael Mullen, Brett Mandel, Charles Lovell)
Brett Mandel and Mike Mullen showing off the Baseball BBQ line
Baseball BBQ’s patented bat handle tools
Baseball BBQ Products on Display
Baseball BBQ (@baseball_bbq) • Instagram photos and videos
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