The Louisville Slugger is the most recognized wooden baseball bat in the world over a century after the first one was made. Today, downtown Louisville boasts the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory as well as Louisville Slugger Field, home to the Cincinnati Reds’ AAA affiliate Louisville Bats.
The Bats first hit the field at LSF in 2000 and are continuing Louisville’s tradition with the game of baseball. From 1982-1997, Louisville’s franchise was affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals, and joined the Reds after two years with the Milwaukee Brewers.
“This team has had the same ownership group since 1987,” Bats general manager Dale Owens said. “I’ve run the team since then, and my assistant has been here longer than me. We’ve had consistent management, and the team is owned by community leaders. It’s something fun for them to do on the side, but they also know it’s a jewel for the city of Louisville. We’re the stewards of baseball in this city, and we’re proud of that.”
That long-time local connection has made it easier to have a successful franchise in the city, Owens said.
“We established a mission to be part of the entertainment fabric of this community, and that’s what we are,” Owens said. “If we had to rely just on the average baseball fan, we’d be in trouble.”
Owens said fans regularly drive from hours away to attend Bats games.
“People will spend a few days here and make a Bats game part of their trip,” Owens said. “The museum is certainly a huge attraction, as well as Churchill Downs, the Muhammad Ali Museum and other sports-related things to do, in addition to our wonderful stadium.”
Most minor league teams can’t focus too much on marketing talent because there’s no telling how long any one player will be at any specific level, but Louisville’s proximity to Cincinnati gives Reds fans a chance to see the future of the organization without having to drive too far.
“We really can’t fall in love with any individual player here, even if we are Reds fans,” Owens said. “We may get guys like Jay Bruce, but they’re not going to be here long. Right now, we’re loaded with a roster full of top Reds prospects, but most of them won’t be around long. It does help draw fans that are interested in the Reds and want to see their future now, and we’re only 90 minutes away from that home plate in Cincinnati, but we can’t sell a player here like Major League teams can. We sell everything around the players.”
Louisville Slugger Field is built to cater to baseball fans as well as those interested in getting outdoors and having a good time with family and friends.
“I love the Memphis Redbirds’ stadium, but I wouldn’t trade ours for theirs,” Owens said. “The great part about minor league baseball is that intimate experience with the fans. We want that sense of excitement that you can’t get with a stadium that’s too big. This stadium is in its 10th year and it looks like it was built yesterday.”
Owens said he feels the Bats give fans traveling from a distance a great entertainment value for their dollar.
“We keep things light,” Owens said. “When we market the Bats, baseball is about the sixth thing on our list because we know not everyone is a baseball fan. I got the cutest letter from a grandfather recently and it talked about his grandson getting to ride a monkey, free bubbles, ate ice cream out of a Reds helmet, won a toy airplane ... it was maybe the greatest day in his four-year life so far. That sizes up what we try to do, and I think we do it well.”
The team: With so much local interest in teams in St. Louis and Cincinnati, Louisville Slugger FIeld is a great place for fans to reminisce about past Cardinals while watching future Reds. Cardinals stars of the past like Vince Coleman, Andy Van Slyke, Willie McGee and Terry Pendleton made names for themselves in Louisville, as have current Reds players Jay Bruce and Joey Votto.
The Bats play in the International League’s West Division and, as of Tuesday, were in first place, 9.5 games ahead of Toledo.
The game: Thursday, July 2, the Bats kicked off a three-game sweep of Indianapolis with a doubleheader victory, winning 2-1 and 3-2.
In game one, Chris Heisey scored on a Kevin Barker double in the first and Daniel Dorn scored on a Chris Valaika single in the second to give the Bats their runs. The Indians scored in the top of the seventh but couldn’t mount more of a comeback.
The Bats trailed 1-0 after the top of the second in game two but scored single runs in the second, third and fourth. Valaika knocked in two of the runs for Louisville.
Attendance for the doubleheader was announced at 10,768.