It’s been a crazy couple weeks for Shane Shepherd, Director of Business Development for Dinger Bats.
Last night, Chicago Cub Kyle Schwarber hit a double off the wall in game one of the World Series – with a Dinger bat. Chris Coghlan, left fielder for the Cubs, has been swinging Dinger bats all year, ever since Shepherd met Coghlan while he was rehabbing an injury in Tennessee earlier this year.
But the story leading up to Schwarber’s big hit last night still has Shepherd shaking his head.
Every year, “Shep,” as he’s known to the players, travels from his office on Second Street here in downtown Owensboro to the Arizona Fall League (Major League Baseball’s off-season showcase league) to let MLB prospects swing Dinger bats.
So last Monday, Shep headed to Arizona as usual with 144 bats in tow.
But then the phone rang.
He had to play it cool, but on the other end of the line was Kyle Shwarber’s agent telling Shep that Kyle was on his way to Arizona. Which was a big deal because Kyle was originally expected to be out the rest of the year following a surgery to reconstruct his left knee.
Last year Schwarber slugged 16 home runs in 232 at bats – all with a Dinger – plus five more HRs during the playoffs. But during the second game of this season, he injured his knee in an outfield collision. Doctors said he’d be out until spring training.
So that phone call sent Shep on a top-secret mission to find Kyle a Dinger to use in Arizona. You know, “just in case” the Cubs made it to the World Series.
“It just so happened about a third of the bats I brought with me to Arizona were Kyle’s model,” Shep told Owensboro Living this morning. “And they were all the best wood we had, so I had several for (Kyle) to choose from.”
The issue was that no one was to know about it since the team hadn’t announced that Kyle was back. Now cleared by team doctors, Schwarber was just supposed to be hitting live pitches to see how it felt. 1,300 pitches later, it was announced Schwarber would DH (designated hit) a couple games during AFL.
But first, he needed bats. And Shep was charged with getting Kyle some Dingers. “It was like a top-secret mission. The media couldn’t know Kyle was there at first. Kyle’s strength coach escorted me into the stadium and into the locker rooms. I had reporters asking me what I was doing there and what was going on. It was pretty crazy.”
The team Operations Manager even used a pseudo-name to receive a package of bats that Shep overnighted from the Dinger warehouse so Kyle’s name wouldn’t show up on the package.
In his second game in Arizona, Schwarber hit a double. Then packed his bags for the World Series when the Cubs officially made it in.
“It was a very exciting time,” Shep admitted. “First it was ‘Kyle is coming out to Arizona.’ Then it was ‘Kyle is gonna hit’ – for the first time in 6 ½ months. Then it was ‘Kyle is going to DH’ and then he was sent to the World Series and started in game one last night. To come from major knee rehab, to Arizona, to the World Series, that’s never happened before.”
Amidst the buzz of the players swinging Dinger bats in the World Series, and all the happenings of AFL, Shep is still finalizing details for “Dinger Fest,” an event Shepherd is modeling after Don Mattingly’s “Night of Memories” event.
Dinger Fest will take place Saturday, January 7, 2017, at the Owensboro Convention Center. More names will be added, but so far Kyle Schwarber is confirmed to be there, along with Owensboro’s Stewart Ijames and Cole Sturgeon and four other minor league players who swing Dingers.
Plans include an afternoon autograph session that will be free and open to the public.
That evening, there will be a VIP social hour from 6-7pm followed by a dinner with QnA with the players starting at 8 pm in the main ballroom which will include a live and silent auction.
Tickets will be available at owensborotickets.com.
Owensboro Living will bring you more information as plans develop.
Read our previous post about Dinger Bats here.