Antigo-Based Zelazoski Crafts Baseball Bats for President Obama’s Cuba Visit
Janice Teal doesn’t get nervous much around her high-speed lathe.
“I was when I first started, yes,” Teal laughed Wednesday morning. “But now you just get used to it and you just do it.”
After more than five years of programming and running the machine and nearly 20 years total at Zelazosky Wood Products in Antigo, Teal could pretty much turn baseball bats in her sleep. Which is why when a special request came late on a Friday in mid-March she didn’t bat an eye.
“We had one hour to get them turned and done and sent,” Teal said.
At the time, the assistant production manager only knew the six bats were an express order. It wasn’t until later she found out the bats would be on Air Force One headed for Cuba.
“That was pretty cool,” Teal said. “How often does somebody in the small town of Antigo get to make something for the president of the United States?”
President Obama and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack brought the Wisconsin-spun (and Pennsylvania-grown) bats on Obama’s historic trip to Cuba in March. The trip marked the first time a sitting president went to the communist-run nation in nearly 90 years.
“We finally found out they gave them to some people and they were a hit,” Zelazosky co-owner Ben Zelazoski said with a smile.
Zelazoski says the USDA’s Forest Products Lab in Madison worked with the Antigo company before and knew Zelazoski could get the job done quickly.
“Put them in a package and shipped them next-day air Saturday,” Zelazoski said.
Since the Cuba trip, Antigo-spun bats went with Secretary Vilsack to Japan in late April.
“There’ve only been two small little orders that we’ve done for them, but it’s another one of those things you’re going to get some recognition for and it feels kind of good,” Zelazoski said.
None of the bats made for the Cuba trip actually say Zelazoski anywhere on them, but workers at the plant say that’s OK. They just like knowing they played a small part in history.
“My father was never really one to be out in the public much,” Zelazoski said. “He liked to do his work and get things done and I guess we have kind of been brought up that way… We do what we can for anyone… I think they’d be very proud. ”
Pride a few dozen workers in Antigo will keep with them forever waiting for the next special order to come down.
“Oh yeah, it’s all up here,” Teal laughed, pointing to her head before going back to work.
Zelazoski used to make bats for Major League Baseball players, including former Brewers outfielder Corey Hart. These days, Zelazoski only makes a few hundred bats a year, but the company is always open to special projects.