Ali Knowles '10 Swinging for the Fences with New Business
Louisville Slugger has become synonymous with baseball. With a brand name closer to home, former Christ School standout Ali Knowles '09 is looking to make some inroads as well. "Caribbean Sluggers" launched in February 2018 with Knowles filling orders for custom-made bats out of his garage. Looking to the future, he has aspirations to not only increase production, but expand into gloves, and then be able to provide all the equipment to players he represents as an agent. Knowles came to Christ School from Freeport, Bahamas. He was an all-state player for the Greenies as a junior and senior before going on to be a starting outfielder at Troy University. Knowles remained in Alabama after graduating college and now lives about a half-hour outside of Birmingham with his wife, Carmen, and their two daughters, Paisley and Amelia.
Question: What inspired you to start Caribbean Sluggers?
Answer: I had just played in the World Baseball Classic (for Great Britain) and it was near the end of 2016. I was working odd jobs and just trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I am a man of faith and wanted to stay close to baseball. I got the idea a few weeks later and did all the research. So I went to Lowe's one day and bought a block of wood. After that, I started buying better wood and giving the bats away to local kids before I took it a little more serious.
Question: What goes into making a baseball bat from scratch?
Answer: First, you have to find a block of wood. It's called a billet, and you have round it off from a square piece. You can use woods like Maple, Ash, Birch, or European Beech. You put it on the lathe and then it goes through the roughing gouge. Each bat has its own specifications and there can be different sizes, it depends who you are making it for. Once you cut it and sand it down, you get (the bat) ready to be embossed with your logo and painted.
Question: How long does this whole process take you?
Answer: It used to take me 5 to 6 hours. Now I can do it in 1 to 2 hours. I do everything by hand in a little garage area that I have. I've gotten good at it. The goal is to have customers contact me directly through Instagram (@caribbeansluggers) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). I will call them, we can talk over the phone, and they can explain what type of hitter they need a bat for.
Question: How has the response been to the bats?
Answer: Really positive. (Professional outfielder and Christ School teammate) Champ Stuart '10 was my roommate my senior year. I sent him a few bats and he liked them. I have some other friends who have tried them, too. They won't be able to swing them in a game unless I become certified by Major League Baseball. There is a $14,000 application fee, and once you do that, you have to have insurance in place. You have to send sample bats to MLB in the winter, and after that they give you a trial phase. That is one of my goals. Right now, I'm working on getting approved by the European Baseball Association.
Question: Have you always been handy and liked to make things?
Answer: I actually wanted to be an architect. I was always good with my hands. I worked side jobs for a construction company in the Bahamas. When this idea to make bats came up, I jumped right into it. I shocked my wife and shocked my parents. They were hesitant at first, but when I showed them the final product, they said "we get it now."
Question: Where do you see Caribbean Sluggers going from here?
Answer: The biggest hurdle right now is funding. It is one of the biggest hurdles that all businesses have to get over. I want to become certified as a (player) agent to keep the overhead costs down. Next year, I have a line of gloves coming out and hopefully I can get into batting gloves and more. I spoke to my former coach at Troy and he is spreading the word. I've still got to get the word out and find more (investors).
Question: What are your memories of attending Christ School?
Answer: I miss the teachers and professors. They are there for you after hours whenever you need them. It's a big family. Even when you leave, the mentality never leaves, the discipline never leaves. I remember just being around all the guys. Going to an all-boys school was good for me.