Mike Fitzgerald surveyed the dozens of downed pine trees in his neighbor’s yard on Cape San Blas following Hurricane Michael and one thought came to his mind.
Fitzgerald spends summers along St. Joseph Bay not far from the Ovation subdivision.
After Michael, he had visited to see the damage to his property and that of his next door neighbor, who will be moving permanently to Gulf County this spring.
The neighbor’s house had taken a beating, losing roof tiles, flooded by the storm surge and the wind toppled a virtual arboretum in his yard.
In addition to 10 lemon and other fruit trees, Hurricane Michael had brought down 64 pine trees.
“He has like an acre and all that timber was down,” Fitzgerald said from his St. Louis home. “I decided to take some the timber home with me.”
His idea was to create commemorative baseball bats.
“I took the straightest and longest I could find that would work,” Fitzgerald said.
Big problem: Fitzgerald is a pharmacist by trade and knew not a thing about crafting a baseball bat.
However, he is from St. Louis, a baseball hot bed if ever there was one outside of New York City.
In addition, as a youngster of 5 or 6, his family lived next door to Hall of Famer Stan “The Man” Musial, a St. Louis Cardinals legend.
Saturday mornings became punctuated by a Saturday morning ritual of eating Corn Flakes with Musial.
“He was just a super nice guy,” Fitzgerald said. “He was a perfect gentleman, always calm. I would just walk in the door of his house. A great guy. I could tell you stories you wouldn’t believe.
“So, baseball is in my blood.”
Fueled with the passion Fitzgerald had to learn the mechanics of making a baseball bat.
Fortunately, his next door neighbor in St. Louis had a lathe, provided some pointers and directed Fitzgerald to Google videos providing basic lessons in using a lathe.
“I had thought ahead and brought a couple of extra limbs in case I messed one up,” Fitzgerald said. “I was also wearing a hockey helmet so I didn’t get any splinters or pieces of wood in my head.”
But, Fitzgerald got the knack pretty quickly and in time he turned that pine victimized by Hurricane Michael into baseball bats.
Each was emblazoned with the date of Hurricane Michael, the slogan, “Enduring, Restoring, Rebuilding” and the GPS coordinates for where Michael landed.
“I gave all of them to my (Cape) neighbors,” Fitzgerald said. “They are smooth as silk. They came out well.”
But, Fitzgerald said, he is not done.
He will be back in the spring and intends to continue to collect pine limbs suitable for transforming into baseball bats.
His goal is to finish 100; he can complete up to two per day so it is an undertaking.
“I’d like to make 100 bats and give them to anybody who would want a piece, a keepsake, to remember Michael,” Fitzgerald said. “I mean, I can find the wood here, but it is not the same as wood from Michael.”