- Associated Press - Sunday, June 14, 2015

UNIONTOWN, Pa. (AP) - It all started with stickball.

Jack Marucci and his siblings played stickball with broom handles in the parking lot of their parents’ North Gallatin Avenue restaurant in Uniontown, Shady Side Inn, and he’d walk with his younger brother Jerry to Nickman’s Drug to buy baseball cards. Then Jack would play Strat-O-Matic, a simulation baseball game in which players strategize for their respective teams based on their athletes’ real-life statistics.

Now Marucci is founder and part-owner of Louisiana-based Marucci Sports, which now makes baseball bats for more than 30 percent of Major League Baseball players, including all-stars Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, Devin Mesoraco and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen.

He’s also been the head athletic trainer at Louisiana State University since 1996, overseeing athletic training for two NCAA national champion football teams at LSU and a third while serving as an assistant athletic trainer at Florida State University in 1993.

But the groundwork for Marucci’s life in sports started with the golden age of Pittsburgh sports while he grew up in the 1970s.

“If the Steelers lost, we didn’t want to eat,” Marucci said of his family, which includes his parents, sister Marisa Brnardic and brothers Jerry and Jim.

“We grew up in a rich sports tradition which I loved and to this day love,” said Brnardic, who later played softball at Penn State University.

“Players are burned in my memory from playing Strat-O-Matic all the time,” said Jerry, who as a writer in advertising has written several Super Bowl commercials.

Marucci said his father, grandfather and aunts built Shady Side Inn and his family ran the business from 1937 to 1987. His parents wanted Jack and his siblings to “get out and experience the world” rather than take over the family business.

So after graduating from Laurel Highlands High School in 1982, Marucci took off. He graduated from West Virginia University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in athletic training, and worked in the NFL in training with the Cleveland Browns in 1985 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987, also working as a graduate assistant trainer at the University of Alabama from 1986 to 1988, earning his master’s degree in athletic training there.

“You don’t realize how great it is until you move away,” Marucci said.

Three national championships later, Marucci now supervises a three-year rotational program for athletic training students at LSU modeled after WVU’s.

But he’s just as well known for crafting wooden baseball bats.

When Marucci’s son Gino, who was 7 at the time, asked him for a wooden bat with his name on it in 2002, Marucci failed to find any bat companies that made bats small enough for his son.

It was then that a shop class that Marucci took in ninth grade at Laurel Highlands came in handy.

He bought a secondhand lathe for $80 and carved Gino a 27-inch bat. It wasn’t long before Gino’s teammates and opponents wanted Marucci-made wood bats too, and what had started as a hobby for Marucci quickly became a burgeoning business.

Marucci was in contact with current and former baseball players at LSU as the school’s head athletic trainer, and LSU alum and former MLB pitcher Kurt Ainsworth persuaded Marucci to launch a company in 2002 that crafted handmade bats for major leaguers.

Marucci Sports bats are made from wood cut from Pennsylvania forests by an Amish lumber company in Pennsylvania that the company purchased in 2008.

In setting up his company, Marucci oversaw a unique business arrangement - allowing MLB players to own part of the company and give feedback on the design of its bats.

McCutchen, Utley, Pujols, David Ortiz and Jose Bautista all serve as Marucci partners.

“He’s really one of the best young players, and it was a no-brainer for us to get him to be a part of (the company),” Marucci said of McCutchen.

Marucci’s sports life has come full circle in recent years. His company now produces replica bats for the Clemente Museum in Pittsburgh preserving the legacy of former Pittsburgh Pirate Roberto Clemente, and he meets up with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert every year when they come to Baton Rouge to watch prospective NFL athletes from LSU work out.

And last summer, five of Marucci’s nephews got to attend Pirates’ batting practice and meet McCutchen.

“It was really special for them,” Marucci said.

Marucci’s mother still lives in Uniontown, and Marucci visits Uniontown once a year. He says a lot of his family’s work ethic came out of its western Pennsylvania roots, which he has to thank for a memorable life in sports and beyond.

“You always go back and appreciate what you have,” Marucci said.





Information from: Herald-Standard, https://www.heraldstandard.com/

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