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by Erica Bauwens

A few local baseball fans are taking their hobby to the bank, with a new company that has all-stars all across the country looking toward South Jersey.

Turning a lifelong passion into a full-time career is no easy task, especially when that passion involves the cut throat competition of professional baseball. But the owners behind Victus Sports are proving they have what it takes to make it in the big leagues.

The brainchild of 27-year-old owners Allan Donato, Ryan Engroff and Jared Smith, Victus Sports sprung from the three friends’ passion for the sport. “We wanted to do something in baseball. Why we did baseball bats? I don’t know,” explains co-owner Allan Donato. “It started as a hobby and got better and better.”

Victus began in a garage in their hometown of Harrisburg, Pa., but moved to Blackwood after meeting Ocean City investor Gregg Balin.

“Essentially Jared, myself and Brian had been doing this as a hobby for a few years and we were a smaller company trying to make something of it,” says Donato. “We realized we needed to take on an investor to make this bigger and go into the Major League market, so we got a hold of Greg.” Since that decision about seven months ago, Victus has exploded, producing an average of 100 maple, ash and birch bats a day for Major and Minor league clients all across the country.

“We decided if we were going to do it, we were going to jump in and move near Philly so we could be closer to the heartbeat of sports, so we could hop into the city and meet the players and be around the game,” says Donato.

With their convenient location, Victus provides lumber for a number of East Coast big leaguers, listing players like Yankees’ first baseman Mark Teixeira and Baltimore Orioles’ centerfielder Adam Jones. National clients like Kansas City Royals’ first baseman Eric Hosmer and the San Francisco Giants’ Hunter Pence have also taken a liking to Victus bats. Pence first swung his Victus as a Philadelphia Phillie, after teammates Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco—who used his Victus to crack his 2,000th career hit—saw improvement.

But what does it take to get these bats into the hands of some of the biggest names in sports? According to Donato, a little bit of luck, but mostly extensive attention to details and lots of networking.

“It starts out with us getting in touch with them,” he says. “Sometimes a player will reach out with you if they use someone else’s bat and like the results, but unless they’re struggling, you have to get in touch with them. We see players that are struggling and those are the guys open to trying new stuff. You go after the guys that are open minded. There are 28 pro bat companies that are trying to build these relationships, and so you have to be on top of it or there are 27 other guys willing to step in and do the job.”

Victus’ relationship with their players is what Donato and the other owners value most, even above their rapidly growing business. “I see this getting bigger and bigger. I really hope that we can temper our growth, not outgrow anything too quickly. … We want to keep growing but keep our relationships and constantly be in touch with our guys. I want to say that we want to have hundreds of players, but we would rather keep our individual relationships. As much as we want to be the biggest, we have to keep track and put out a product that we feel strongly about.

“We enjoy what we do every day, and it’s the reason why we started this. At the end of the day, if we’re still making bats and surviving, then that’s OK with me.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 2, Issue 8 (August, 2012).
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