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ISU professor presents the making of a Major Leaguer's bat

Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Owen Miller hits a run-scoring single against the New York Mets during the second inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 5, 2023, in Milwaukee.
Jeffrey Phelps
/
AP
Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Owen Miller hits a run-scoring single against the New York Mets during the second inning of a baseball game Wednesday in Milwaukee.

An art professor at Illinois State University has created hundreds of wood baseball bats and his skill is being showcased by the Wonsook Kim School of Art and the Alumni Association.

Mike Wille is a 23-year veteran of the university, and a self-proclaimed baseball lover. As a “baseball guy, not just an art professor,” he’s been involved in the sport in many aspects, from scouting, to coaching, and now cutting and painting his own bats entirely by hand.

Wille, the founder and owner of Razorbill Bats in Bloomington, got his start in the industry by making a bat for his son, then for the rest of his Little League team. Now he’s designing bats for some of the top amateur baseball players in the country, including former ISU and current Milwaukee Brewers infielder Owen Miller.

That bat will be showcased in a video created by the ISU Alumni Association. While Miller won’t use that bat in his time in the Major Leagues, Wille is still excited by the opportunity.

“When I got this thing started, shipping bats to a guy that was almost on the cusp of being a big leaguer was kind of a big deal, but it’s not like I’m now making bats for half of the Milwaukee Brewers,” Wille said.

Mike Wille bats
courtesy
A row of bats produced by Mike Wille are stacked against a wall at his Bloomington shop Razorbill Bats.

Miller used the bat during a spring training batting practice while playing with a minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Guardians two years ago.

Wille makes each bat by hand in his studio. He begins by cutting the wood down to the proper length and weight, whatever is specified by the player ordering the hardware. He sands it down and paints it to be “pretty much any unique color scheme." After the paint dries, it’s coated with three to four layers of sealant and uniquely engraved with an identifying number and the player's name.

Wille said the hands-on portion of the process takes a little over an hour for someone experienced like him.

Although Wille knows his bats likely won’t see the Major Leagues (Wille said MLB will not likely use handmade bats and there's a lengthy certification process), the real win for him is the life moments built into the sport he loves, like watching his son hit one of the first home runs with one of his bats. However, if given the right opportunity, he said “there would be nothing cooler than flipping on the television and half the Chicago Cubs are swinging your bats.”

The university alumni association will present a video of Wille making Miller's bat on April 28. Registration for the free event can be found on ISU’s website.

Erik Dedo is a reporting and audio production intern at WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.