By Nathan Rubbelke – Reporter, St. Louis Business Journal
Apr 23, 2020, 7:03am EDT
St. Louis entrepreneur Grady Phelan didn’t set out to create new grip technology for baseball bats. He stumbled upon the idea more than a decade ago in his backyard hitting hickory nuts with an aluminum bat.
“I accidentally threw a bat, nearly hit my son and kind of thought ‘wow, I think I can come up with a better solution for gripping a bat.’ I realized the knob of the bat had caused compression in my hand,” he said.
What resulted was a patented angled bat knob technology. The innovation came after extensive research, which included consultation with hand surgeons and medical professors. Soon enough Phelan found himself on a plane to Florida in 2006 to see former Cardinals infielder Aaron Miles, who was recovering from a hand injury.
“They wanted to put one of my bats in his hands,” said Phelan, founder and president of St. Louis-based ProXR.
In 2010, Mike Hessman of the New York Mets became the first Major League Baseball player to use a bat featuring the bat knob technology. In 2014, Phelan founded ProXR, a startup focused on developing grip technology for baseball and other sports.
ProXR said Wednesday it has recently signed license agreements with five MLB-approved baseball bat companies: Tennessee-based Old Hickory Bats, Minnesota-based MaxBat, Ohio-based Phoenix Bats, Illinois-based Dinger Bats and Maine-based Dove Tail Bat. Financial terms of the agreements were not disclosed. ProXR said the five firms represent 15 to 20 percent of the professional wood bat market.
“This moment is what we’ve been building (toward) for years,” Phelan said.
The deals follow several years of persistence by Phelan, who faced a curveball in his initial sales pitch.
“Players and coaches would look at this and say ‘that’s nuts.’ You’re dealing with 135 years of history and tradition in baseball. The minute you change something like the baseball bat, people are going to be skeptical and they are going to line up to say ‘no way, that’ll never work,’” he said.
That led Phelan to rely on data to validate his technology. He says that all MLB players who used his bat knob technology in the 2018 and 2019 seasons recorded a hit that marked their career high exit velocity. That group includes St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong.
“If you watch what happens with a conventional bat, they’re actually hitting a speed bump in that knob to complete their swing. ProXR resolves that by reducing those compression forces in excess of 25%. When they swing through the ball, they are not getting that resistance at and through contact,” Phelan said.
The new licensing agreements announced Thursday mark a major milestone for ProXR, but the company is now targeting additional growth. It plans to expand to the aluminum bat and youth bat markets. Baseball also isn’t the company’s sole focus. It created a hockey stick knob and has plans to soon enter the golf sector.
“The biggest market could be golf for us. We’re in the process of doing product development in our pipeline with that right now,” Phelan said.
Phelan self-funded his grip technology venture until about five years ago. He then brought on investors and is now considering additional financing.
“I’m happy to talk with investors anytime. I don’t think we’re in any big rush, but certainly it would benefit us to have a nice size infusion of capital to help bring on the horse power to focus one person on one sport and one person on another,” he said. “I think that would be a tremendous improvement and certainly something we’re always talking to folks about.”
ABOUT ProXR, LLC
ProXR, LLC is a St. Louis-based grip technology company specializing in improving athletic performance through ergonomic innovation. ProXR’s knob works with athletes’s hands to increase protection, precision and power. Its patented ProXR ergonomic design is in The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, as the first angled knob bat ever used in regular season MLB games. ProXR also markets the TORCH hockey knob for hockey sticks.
Grady Phelan, President, ProXR, LLC