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If You Build It, They Will Come – Opening Day Musings From a Baseball Fan

Baseball ball in a grass of baseball arena stadium
Credit: iStock/Bet_Noire

Baseball’s Opening Day brings with it both nostalgia and excitement. You don’t have to be a die-hard fan to appreciate the dedicated folks who leave work early, grab a cold beer and a hot dog, and feel the buzz of excitement as the players take the field for the first game of the season. Everyone is brimming with hope for what the season might hold. On Opening Day, every fan and every team are on the same level. And no matter what, it’s a fun time with family and friends. Many of my favorite memories come from America’s pastime.

Everything has to be made

When I joined the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership program a few years ago, I had a pretty superficial understanding of manufacturing. It wasn’t until my mentor simplified it using a baseball analogy that I grasped the importance of manufacturing. He said, “If there were no manufacturing, then if you went to a baseball game, you would just see 10 naked guys standing around on the field.” Beyond baseballs, gloves, and bats, I am most grateful to those who manufacture uniforms, buttons, and zippers.

What’s more, I’m amazed to now realize how much manufacturing contributes to the game I love. The more I learn about the manufacturing industry, the more I realize that it’s intricately woven into all aspects of our lives. The baseball analogy made me want to learn more about how manufacturing is intertwined with baseball. 

I reached out to some folks in the MEP National Network™ to see if they worked with clients that serve the baseball industry, and I was introduced to Forre Sports Accessories Inc. This company produces various baseball essentials and is a vital component in Major League Baseball’s supply chain. But coming out of the pandemic, the company needed help. FASTLANE, part of the Ohio MEP, stepped up to the plate and helped this family-owned operation to round the bases. 

60 years in the game

Forre Sports has a rich history dating back to 1964 when its present President and CEO James Reynolds’s grandfather transitioned from dairy farming to crafting baseball products. Its success story began with the simple strategy of including contact information on its products. It caught the attention of a major national brand, which sparked a lucrative partnership. 

Today, Reynolds, along with his lifelong friend Eric Yeaple, a business development manager, are leading the company into its third generation. Forre Sports now offers a diverse lineup of baseball essentials, including eye black, pine tar sticks, glove butter, rosin, and glove conditioners for major national brands and critical players in Major League Baseball.

In 2021, Yeaple stepped in with a mission to cut down on the company’s lead times, a task complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. What used to take 4-6 weeks pre-pandemic stretched to 10 months post-pandemic, testing customers’ patience. Realizing the urgent need for efficiency, Yeaple thoroughly reviewed the company’s processes. However, with only six employees, Reynolds and Yeaple found themselves stretched thin and needing more bandwidth. Fortunately, Kathy Sherman from the local Piqua Area Chamber of Commerce put them in touch with FASTLANE.

Leaning into the curveball

FASTLANE introduced them to lean manufacturing using the 5S system, a cornerstone of this practice, revolutionizing Forre Sports’ operations. This shift from batch processing to one-piece flow increased production and reduced upfront inventory purchases. Upgraded machinery and conveyors further enhanced output, leading to a remarkable 30% boost in productivity within three months.

Particularly noteworthy was the company’s improvement in its powder process, such as making rosin bags. This previously labor-intensive task involved sewists filling bags with rosin powder and sewing them shut a handful at a time. The 5S system streamlined this process, significantly increased line efficiency, and acquainted the workforce with lean manufacturing concepts. 

Witnessing tangible improvements and newfound efficiency in their day-to-day tasks, employees embraced the changes. Reynolds says, “We’ve been doing the same thing since 1964. We did what we had always done and could not see the forest for the trees. FASTLANE showed [us] a better way with automation, inline processes, and not wasting movement.”

A league of their own

This story about Forre Sports made me realize how important manufacturers are to baseball. And, of course, how important the MEP National Network is to those manufacturers. It also made me realize that my job, in some small way, impacts the game I love! After I realized that literally everything has to be made, I couldn’t help but see the footprint of manufacturing everywhere I looked at the ballpark. 

For Washington Nationals fans like me, the 2019 season was an unforgettable year – from the optimism of Opening Day to the euphoria of our World Series victory. While I enjoyed every minute of it, my new perspective about manufacturing’s importance to the game I love led me to wonder things like – was that bat grip used by Juan Soto made by an MEP client like Forre Sports? What about the rosin bags used by pitcher Stephen Strasburg?

Of course, I have other baseball memories to be nostalgic about. The whole 2019 season has a special place in my heart because I took my dad, who passed away last October, to a World Series game. I surprised him with tickets and was acutely aware of how great this memory would be. The Nationals didn’t win that night, but I did. I don’t think anything can top watching my dad dancing and busting loose at a World Series game! Remember to enjoy these moments with your loved ones – they’re the ones that truly matter.

Since dad won’t be joining me for Opening Day this year, it will be a little different. As the new season approaches, I look forward to grabbing a hot dog and creating new memories (remembering that a manufacturer made the hot dog, the bun, the mustard, the dispenser for the mustard, the counter where I buy it, and it goes on and on). Anyhow, this Opening Day, I hope you create new memories, too. And if you’re lucky, maybe your team (and mine!) will make it to the World Series this year.

Editorial note: NIST has been intertwined with baseball for many years. Nowadays, we take the curveball for granted, but in the early 20th century, many baseball players thought the curve’s sideways movement was an optical illusion. In the 1950s, director emeritus and baseball fanatic Lyman Briggs stepped up to the plate to settle the curveball question once and for all. Watch this video from NIST to learn more:

About the author

Andrew Nobleman

Andrew Nobleman is a Resource Manager for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program. He enjoys taking in the extracurricular activities offered at NIST's main campus, volunteering for the NIST blogs, and finding new ways to challenge himself. In his free time, Andrew and his family are attempting to visit all the National Parks in the United States.

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