When Ian Kinsler broke into the big leagues a decade ago, he never thought he’d become business partners with Jack White. To be honest, he wasn’t all that sure who Jack White was.
But after being traded to the Detroit Tigers in 2013, the sweet-swinging second baseman found himself face-to-face with the Third Man magnate; and, eventually, the two even struck up a friendship that has grown to include a partnership in Warstic, an independent sporting goods company that manufactures gear, apparel and, of course, baseball bats – the latter of which Kinsler has used with great success this season.
“It’s all been pretty random,” Kinsler laughs. “I met Jack a couple years ago during Spring Training – he came to Florida to check out some games, he was out on the field and I got to meet him then. Our first conversation was like, ‘Hey, how’s it going? Why are you a Tigers fan?’ Because, honestly, I didn’t know a whole lot about Jack White outside of his music.
“But then the next year, he came and played some music for us in the clubhouse, so we got to talk a bit more about music, Bob Dylan and all the people that he knows in the business,” he continues. “He would come to the games in Detroit every once in a while; he came to Yankee Stadium one time and we let him take some batting practice in the cage. I gave him a pair of batting gloves and he jumped right in there.”
And while Kinsler is diplomatic about his new business partner’s skills with a bat – “He handles it like a guitarist,” he laughs – he raves about his commitment to Warstic, the company founded in 2011 by Ben Jenkins, a minor leaguer turned graphic designer.
“Well, Jack doesn’t have a cellphone, so we email a lot. Ben and I communicate mostly about the baseball side of things, whereas with Jack it’s more about the promotion and those aspects,” Kinsler says. “But Jack is really involved; eventually, he would like to put a bat factory in Detroit, or in Dallas. Both he and Ben are really good with design, so I kind of stay out of that side of things – but if they have a baseball question, I’ll help with it.”
Kinsler says his main responsibilities are trying to convince his fellow major leaguers to start using Warstic bats – no small task, considering how most ballplayers are creatures of habit. But he says once guys take a few cuts, they’re hooked.
“For me, it’s about the backstory, and knowing the people who make your bats, and knowing what the brand is all about. Usually, guys just order bats – but for me, it means a lot more to know where they came from,” he says. “Now, I’m trying to get other guys to understand that. It’s great to watch their faces when they receive a dozen bats; they’re like, ‘Wow, these are beautiful.’ It’s almost like you don’t want to use them, because they’re really cool looking. But obviously, you want to swing them for as long as possible.”
And as for what’s next for the fledgling company, Kinsler says he’s focused on lining up a team of major leaguers who will use Warstic bats exclusively – but he says there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be seeing them outside of the batter’s box, too.
“We had a little launch party at Third Man Records in Detroit the other night, and we were smashing records with the bats, which was fun, and I know Jack and Ben have a bunch of ideas about what to do next,” Kinsler says. “Jack is interested in the bats aesthetically, because these bats aren’t necessarily just for baseball players; they’re so cool looking that they could be hung in a sports bar or an office – or a record store.”