Home Of The Game
By: Marty Winkler
[2/01/2020]: Over the last 30 years, baseball has seen changes at breakneck speed. With the dawn of the analytical age, speed has been replaced with power. There has been more of an emphasis on velocity than ever before. Talk of how a ball sounds off the bat has faded in favor of a ball’s exit velocity and its spin rate out of a pitcher’s hand. Infield shifts have transformed how we think about defense, frustrating many batters as what used to be sure-fire hits, are now simple groundball outs.
But even as the game has evolved, at its heart, baseball is still the same game it has always been. It’s a game of patience, anxiousness, high drama, and emphasis on the individual as much as it is the collective. But ultimately, the game has always been about one thing: Coming home.
Since 1990, Baseball Express has been helping ballplayers find their way home and excel at the game they love by providing the latest equipment and apparel needed to play the game at the highest level. While its customers have changed over the years, the baseball store still sees some familiar faces from those early years.
“The kids that bought bats and gloves from us back then are now bringing in their own kids,” says Inventory Manager, Miranda Miller. And she would know. She has been with the company since May of 1998. “The game crosses generations, so its only natural that Baseball Express would cross generations as well. We are intertwined like that.”
Baseball Express started out as a small baseball specialty store in 1990 in San Antonio, Texas under the name Southwest Baseball Supply. The fledgling business only employed three full-time people. In a letter addressed to customers, company founder and then president, Howard Duckworth stated, “This has been the key to our success, having a staff that, just like you, loves the game of baseball and will keep working hard to make your baseball fun and enjoyable.” Since then, a passion and expertise of the game became the cornerstone of the company and it is a tradition the company carries on today.
In those early years, the company grew its footprint by conducting baseball training camps and selling baseball products through regionally focused flyers and its single retail outlet in San Antonio. Growth was gradual, but slow.
To speed up growth, the company began mailing out a seasonal product catalog in 1992. The first catalog featured Hall of Fame pitcher, Nolan Ryan standing firmly in the center of the cover dawning traditional cowboy garb while walking the streets of an old Western town. It was the first issue of many more to come.
“People loved that catalog, and still do,” stated Miller. “Our customers, even to this day, were the high school kids waiting for the catalog to come in like it was a Christmas Catalog. They would hang on to it until the next one came in, earmarking the pages.”
That first issue had a circulation of 30,000 and reached every high school and college baseball coach in the United States and Canada. It would expand to 800,000 just two years later in 1994, when the company officially changed its name to Baseball Express after a change in ownership. At its height, it had a circulation of 5.5 million. The company still produces a catalog every season, with the newest edition scheduled to come out in March of this year.
The catalog fueled growth throughout the rest of the 90s, turning Baseball Express into a major power hitter in the baseball world.
The cover of the first Baseball Express catalog, in 1992. Back then, they were called Southwest Baseball Supply.
The first iteration of BaseballExpress.com,
circa year 2000.
"That first site, it wasn't much."
- Inventory Manager Miranda Miller.
In 1996, the company entered the digital age with the creation of BaseballExpress.com, becoming one of, if not the first, online retailer for baseball equipment and accessories.
“That first site, it wasn’t much,” said Miller. “My first couple years here, it only accounted for 1% of the business.”
While BaseballExpress.com may have been early to the party, the company was certainly on the right track. In 1999, the e-commerce site only accounted for 5% of revenue. Five years later it was nearly 40%. Now, the site is the primary business.
“Times have certainly changed,” Miller said.
BaseballExpress.com turned the company into THE source for baseball equipment and apparel. Today, the site is the oldest continuously operating online baseball retailer in the country.
While the website certainly put the company ahead of the curve, Baseball Express still had to keep up with the changes to the game as the analytical age lead to changes in how products are produced. “There is a lot more technologically advanced equipment that is being used now,” explained Miller. “Specifically, with the wood and aluminum/composite bats. You really have to work hard to keep up with the newest changes and the newest regulations.”
Miller did not exaggerate. In 2012, high school and college baseball changed their standard from the former BESR rating to the current BBCOR model, which made companies start producing aluminum or composite bats that performed more like a traditional wooden bat. Even this year, USA Baseball introduced new limits on bat sizes across all their approved leagues.
And, as Miller points out, baseball equipment isn’t the only thing that has gotten smarter over the last quarter century.
“Players are a lot more advanced and more tech savvy,” observed Miller. “They are more aware of the technicalities of baseball equipment. They are not only looking for the basics, but also at how to improve their game with the latest and greatest equipment.”
To keep up with the needs of today’s ballplayers, Baseball Express has entered agreements with some of today’s top analytical baseball companies. Most recently with Rapsodo, whose radar technology helps measure the spin rate of a baseball out of a pitcher’s hand to help develop new pitches, as well as measure a ball’s exit velocity as it leaves the bat. Rapsodo’s data is currently used by all 30 Major League Baseball clubs and is also being used in Baseball Express’ own batting cage at their San Antonio store.
Aside from serving athletes, Baseball Express has also remained committed to giving back to the communities they serve. Never was that more apparent than after Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.
Baseball Express ran advertisements during the 2007 Little League World Series. Kevin Udell, Vice President of Team Sales (left), continues to be the company's longest tenured employee.
Baseball Express has worked with several famous athletes over the years, including Olympic Softball champion Michele Smith, who worked as a company ambassador for over 15 years.
“I spearheaded a donation of baseball equipment for three high school baseball teams in Mississippi that lost all of their equipment in the hurricane,” recalled Miller. “The donations came from our major vendors and totaled more than $60,000 worth of product. We went down there to one of the high schools, and the kids, the coaches, you could see the smiles from ear to ear. Just happy to see what they had lost.”
Baseball Express charitable efforts continue as they recently partnered with Turn 2 For Youth to donate refurbished baseball equipment to underprivileged areas and with Autism Speaks and Wilson Sporting Goods last April to help promote Autism Awareness Month.
The game and Baseball Express have both grown over the last quarter century. So, the question is, what will they both look like over the next 30 years?
“Robot Umpires!” Miller exclaimed with a laugh. “But I think baseball will still be the same great game that it is today.”
And Baseball Express?
“We’ll be bigger and better, but still have the same fanatical love for baseball and the athletes we serve.”
And what’s next for Miller?
“I’ve enjoyed working with some amazing people at Baseball Express. And I love the game. Those two things will continue to make coming into work every day feel like coming home.”
Afterall, isn’t coming home what the game is all about?
As Featured On