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We Are Tater - E1: The Origin Story

I'm Matthew Batten, and I am Tater.  
I'm Luis Quiñones, and I am Tater.  
Yo soy Luis Marte, y yo soy Tater. (I'm Luis Marte, and I am Tater)
Freddie: Welcome to the We Are Tater podcast. This is your host Freddie Vargas, with my brother Jeremiah. Six years ago, I started Tater, a baseball bat company, now baseball brand. With my family. And we're going to go on the ins and outs of how we did it, why we did it, and we just wanted to give you genuine content for you. A lot of you have been asking us for this so here we go. Let me introduce my brother Jeremiah. 
Jeremiah (From here on out, Miah): Hey everyone, Jeremiah, nice to meet you guys. I run Tater alongside my brother my parents. Six years ago we started Tater together, in our shed. Now we're uh six years into it, and in the big leagues with a bunch of guys using our stuff, both at the professional level and amateur level all across the country in the world so. It's been quite a journey and this is really just a start so we're excited to talk to you guys about everything that we have going on. What's happened? What's led us to how we started Tater? And then what else is to come.
Freddie: Yeah and this is really to give you guys, whether you're in high school, college, pro player, playing independent, whatever or you may not even play baseball but this is gonna, you're gonna see how the lifestyle that we have lived starting this company is very similar to the lifestyle that you almost have to constantly prove yourself in baseball. Whether it's the joining the varsity baseball team, or getting recruited to play college, or getting drafted, playing professional, or getting released and trying to find your way back into professional baseball, or even make it to the big leagues and staying there so. There's going to be a lot of life lessons in this and I guess we'll just start with, I'll just start asking Miah couple questions and we'll go. Miah how do you how do you, how would you say when we started the company, what was your perspective in the whole outcome of in that you know in 2015?
Miah: Yeah so when we started Tater I was 16, 17 years old, so I was still completely new to life in general. So, I was still trying to find my way, going to play college baseball, training to hopefully play pro ball one year. But, things change, and at the time when we started Tater, I was more on a product development base where I still hadn't known how serious Tater would be five or six years from now cause I was still so young. I was really just testing all the products we had and bats and pretty much the guinea pig throughout the process and my perspective is a lot different than Freddie's because Freddie was the one you know just laying the foundation. So assisting as much as I could but, the dream and everything else that came with Tater was a culmination of what my brother has done, thankfully, and all the hard work.
Freddie: Yeah and reflecting back now that you bring that up, I still remember the times when we were in the living room. Bats all over the floor. We would call Manny and you and we'd have you guys swing unpainted, unbranded, bats in the in the cage which is kind of crazy when you think about it. We've tried everything, I mean we we took the lawnmower and the trimmer out of the shed to make space for this $200 cheap lathe, that would jump every couple rotations so we would make lopsided bats and you have you guys swing them which is kind of crazy. I feel like we can talk about Tater's conception for hours but I guess, you know I would love to keep this a little bit more on the short form so I'd kind of, you know, really give you guys the nitty gritty.
Miah: I guess I can jump in and say, pretty much the reason we started Tater's podcast the We Are Tater podcast is because what we've noticed throughout the course of the six years of doing this and even happened when we're still doing stuff in our basement up to now is, everyone loves to hear the stories that came with us building the brand and everything that has come forward throughout the years and experience of us going forward with everything. That's something that, you know, sometimes you guys come in and spend an hour or two with us at the shop whether it's we're talking about bats, or talking about family stuff, and having and building a personal relationship with everyone I mean, it's cool that we get to start doing this and let everyone know the stories that people come to Tater in Waterbury for.
Yeah so I got to talk about where I was when we started Tater really briefly. I know it's not too much detail but, my situation was completely different than Freddie's and I'll let him talk about where he was. His head space when we started the company.
Freddie: Yeah you know to be honest, I was actually, I actually quit baseball in 2010. So we started the company in 2015 so there was a five-year gap where you know like many of you, or many baseball players that want to play professional. They sacrifice their entire youth in high school and social life to practice and to the craft of baseball. And I ended up playing college ball, division two in Atlanta, Georgia and kind of got a slight tear in my ucl and really thought to myself and said, since I could remember I've been playing baseball maybe since I was four or five years old and every weekend dedicating to baseball, I think it's time for me to move away. You know I think every baseball player has to go through that. Where they decide where they want to quit the game, and you either stay in it or you you cut out completely.
So 2015, I moved back home. That was when Miah was in high school and I just finished graduating from UConn. I had my first job, and uh I kind of actually walked in on Miah and my father working on improving his baseball game with all these funky training bats. Darren Bragg was a hitting coach that Miah went to. He played big leagues for quite a few years; Yankees, Red Sox so on and so forth. Tons of accolades, but he used to use all these crazy sledgehammers and different tools that my father felt like he can create something that was better. Something that could be utilized in a better way. He's an engineer, so creating something was pretty easy to him. So I actually came into that. I can actually still remember the day where it felt like I reintroduced myself into baseball because after this day, it was almost like I'm back to grinding on baseball every day.
So just kind of set the tone I, and for you guys to get my mental space, I was working at a job as a marketing analyst believe it or not, about 45 minutes away from home. I think we were eating dinner, and my dad and Jeremiah were talking about how they can make this training better. They made it out of wood, and I guess uh you know actually was actually somebody made it for us, yep, out of metal, out of metal right and we're they were trying to find an alternative because the metal was too heavy for them to swing it. It was like 20 pounds, like you know when you're doing one-handed drills, and it's too much weight? It was like 20 pounds. It was like definitely not effective when we when we started so yeah we had to go a different direction, at 16 years old that's like,16,130 pounds, come on. We we're trying to find you know ways to, well they were trying to find ways to kind of improve that and I was looking and you know Tater at the at the start was really, I just wanted to make more money because I wasn't I was unhappy with how much money I was making at my job. I helped that company make a lot of money through their e-commerce sales, and I felt like I could do it on my own. So you know, I was always entrepreneurial. I ran a lot of side gigs and side hustles when I was growing up. I was a DJ for high school parties and high school dances. I found odds and ends to do. So that entrepreneurial spirit was always in me. So I kind of, I don't know what I said exactly to you guys I think I said, "I could sell that," right? Exactly.Then we kind of try to do the proof of concept. We found a lathe off of eBay for $200 bucks and put in the shed in the back. Moved all the lawn mowers and all that that we had, and started buying some cheap wood to kind of make out of to make a shape of  something that reflected what you guys were doing.
Miah: Yeah definitely. I mean those first couple months when we were making those bats ourselves, those training bats, was super unique because obviously when you're starting to make bats and even let's just say training bats in this instance, it's not easy and we just kind of went all in and started learning. At the time I was in the opposite space of Freddie. I was all in on baseball. So I had transferred schools to go to a prep school, to play and pursue college baseball and life after that. Hopefully play pro ball like I said earlier but, I was training every day you know waking up, doing that grind that a lot of you guys are doing now. Waking up, 6am, to go work out so, I was all in and ready to use whatever  we ended up creating to hopefully make it something that was tangible and usable that was effective to use on a daily basis for baseball players whether you're 6, 10, 12, 18, pro ball, college you know anything, so it was pretty cool.
Freddie: And to be fully transparent, I know that I wasn't even part of the creation of the training bat. I think I could almost cared less what the training bat was. I just wanted to prove that I could sell a product online. It really was, and I think this is the natural progression somebody goes through when they either quit baseball, is that they either have to be competitive at something else and I think that's what it was for me. The training bat I'm trying to think of the day that I really, I know was, May 1st is when I registered the LLC for Tater. So probably a couple months before that, we were really trying to figure out how do we make the logos and put them on. I think that was the first time I actually made this a real thing for me was when I created the logo and put it on a bat.
Miah: Some of you who end up watching this will remember our first logo, but a lot of you probably will never see it because the logo was really good for when we started but, the Tater assets and logos have changed so much since then. I guess we can talk about how we created the logo and came up with the name of Tater. It's funny it's a question we're asked almost every day so let's let's talk about it now.
Freddie:Yeah, I mean it's like we actually didn't even have bats yet like game bats we were still doing the training bats. The concept was being a training bat company. There was nobody in the space at the time that really embodied a training bat or training baseball, company, brand, whatever you want to call it. So that was the whole, when I did my swot analysis; strengths, weaknesses, so on and so forth. I actually didn't even have any competitors really listed out for us. We actually started a group message between me and my dad and my brother where we would just shoot back and forth some random company names, and I know I can still remember the days where I would send something and it would be an immediate no and my dad or my brother would say something like no that doesn't flow. I think Papi was the first he said "Tater Bats" and then we the first time we never responded until we got home and we're like yeah that's the name.
Miah: Yeah that was it because I guess when we're talking about the name is  so many other baseball brands are, come from a last name, or the city that  they're created. That was one direction that we didn't want to go. It was just, it never worked for us. I mean our last name is Vargas. Vargas bats, Vargas baseball, just it doesn't flow for us it didn't, never hit so once we heard Tater, it was monumental I guess into now we know what we're going to call it. This is what we're going to do next.
Freddie: Yeah and I know I was pretty adamant on creating a name that was  embodied baseball. Whether it's old school baseball, with the new school or modern athlete because that's when the modern athlete really started coming about for baseball. Where guys you know pitchers are actually working out under brolic and stuff like that. So creating something that was kind of easy to remember, and still had some meaning behind it was I mean it hit all the points. That's when we started making the logo. The logo, for those of you who don't know what it was, it was a home plate but it was like the outline silhouette of the top left corner as one piece and then the bottom of the other side of the home plate. It's actually very hard to kind of explain it, and it's very open and the inside had a cursive TB. But the t and the b were one letter. I still remember where people would say "j 3 bats"? That was the most infuriating thing  because it was supposed to be TB for Tater bats, and people call it j 3.
Miah: I still remember the days when we were making the logos on our own  vinyl plotter. Laying the transfer paper on the vinyl and trying to peel it off and  hopefully those pieces of the logo, of the home plate would stick because  they're so thin and they would just easily peel off and it was the most frustrating thing at times.
Freddie: And we had no space in the house so we were doing it literally on our family floor, family room floor I guess. On the hardwood floor which is kind of kind of crazy when you really think about it. We could have done, you know,  there was no tables or anything that we could have really used for that.
Miah: Thankfully we had a lot of people who helped us in those years that really stood by what we were doing who believed in us when not a lot of people were. Who would come to our house and at any time during the night and help us do whatever we need to do that day, whether it's packing bats or engraving and it was a cool little operation. It really brought the family aspect in terms of not only was our immediate family doing it but everyone who came in was family doing stuff with us in our home.
Freddie: Yeah, I don't even remember where you were at. To be honest when we got our first lathe. The real lathe. And moved to the garage.
Miah: I was in college, freshman year at Stonehill.
Freddie: So to give you guys a little timeline of things. So Tater started 2015 in the summer and we started making training bats. But then we started quickly making regular game bats because we figured out how to make these training bets that wouldn't break so we had a couple of folks and players on my brother's aau program, team, or travel ball, whatever you want to call it. They wanted us to make them a couple bats because how could we make a  24 or 26 inch training bat that would be used on front toss and live and it wouldn't break but  you know players were buying quote unquote MLB grade bats, but they were  snapping in a weekend. So, I guess we made a couple bats and took off. Some of your teammates like went off right?
Miah: Yeah, I mean that summer I was playing for Baseball U. It's a travel ball team based out of Connecticut and a lot of the guys who were playing with me at the time were extremely serious about baseball as well. So everyone was looking for the edge. The edge in terms of how can I use this bat or how can I use this piece of equipment to help me perform better and hopefully get seen by more college scouts or college coaches I guess and and MLB scouts. We're going the course of driving from Connecticut to Florida, play games and tournaments. You know a lot of those guys are still using the bats now which is cool. Or using some sort of equipment from us who are still playing.
Freddie: Yeah and some of them are actually playing pro, double a, triple a, which is kind of incredible if you think about it. At that time I think I think that's I think September 2015 is really when I took Tater over right? Where I really wanted to run it as a business or a company, even though we started the LLC. I used to set up at these tournaments and sell bats. And what was happening for us is that we weren't making bats fast enough because we were making them in a shed and this is no cnc or this is literally a hand lathe that we were cutting the bats ourselves and then we weren't even painting the bats, like I still remember the times where we would hang the bats and I'm gonna bring up a couple names here and there and I'll try to give you guys a little um context to the to the people who are involved.  I mean so my obviously my dad, and my mom, but we had, JC who was a guy that honestly I can't even remember how I met him but he became like we became best friends after like a week it was like as if I knew him forever. And he would come over and we would  literally try to figure out how to do stuff we would, he would wear the batting gloves like 2015 I was already getting sample batting gloves like September I was all in. Like the snowball effect was pretty real. I mean there's companies that I've been in bat making for 20 years and still don't have a pair of batting gloves and look and us in a shed, no money invested really, like no outside but nobody put money up except for my my first credit card. My first big boy credit card. And I was getting samples of batting gloves being made and he would wear them and we'd kind of try to take our own product photography.
Miah: I still remember the first picture of the batting those because we legit did not know how we were going to take pictures of batting gloves on hands and for those who don't know the way people take pictures of batting gloves is like this right here. This is a mannequin hand, and the batting glove gets placed right on there and that picture of JC, he was laying on the grass with his hands spread
out like this an iconic picture.
Freddie:  With my iPhone 6 I think, you know to be honest. So JC, and my dad really were kind of doing the production side for the most part. When I say production, is more of like cutting the bat, sanding it, painting. I was really doing the orders, sales, social media, marketing, website development, I learned how to code. It was kind of like just going all in. I think that's how we grew because we segmented the company where where our dad was really kind of his, focus was making the highest quality product and then for us it was kind of everything else. We actually put staples on the bottom of the bat so, only a few of our customers have ever been to our house but we have a batting cage in the back. We literally hung the bats in the batting cage, off the top of the net with like these hooks, and we're spraying bats with some cans from home depot or whatever. And it was funny because we were spraying them and spraying each other because we didn't realize like how, what we were doing. We had no idea. Well, ultimately we ended up never doing that ever again. That lasted about minutes and we never did that but we ended up meeting Mark. I was just about to bring him up. Mark Ferrino. He's the he's the goat, he's really the goat because he was probably the first person that actually besides the kids on Baseball U that believed in Tater. For you guys, Mark is our first guy that painted our bats. Master craftsman, been painting wood furniture, cabinetry for years, 20 plus years and his brother, I mean his son, played baseball with Miah in high school. Yup, Nick. Nick and I guess my dad, poppy had to reach out to him somehow.
Miah: We were in a space that it was one of those days that me and poppy were coming home from working out or from a game or something like that and we were so hung up on how we're gonna create and paint this bat. So not only is it a unique finish, looks really good, and it isn't dipped, because that was a big thing for us was we did not want to dip any bats into a bucket of paint and let them hang. We tried that once and we hated it, so we you know we went all the other direction and then I played with Nick my first two, three years of high school. And we became really close friends and Nick's dad, Mark, who Freddie just brought up, was finishing and my dad just had that light bulb switch I guess as you can call you know when you're thinking it's like, oh, I'm gonna call Mark. Immediately we call Mark. I still remember we're right next to CVS on the exit getting home and and he was like, "yeah I could do it." The next day we dropped off a bat and it was pretty and I'm almost positive the first bag he painted was from Manny.
Freddie: It was for Manny. Manny Cruz, actually is our first ever pro baseball player. He's from Waterbury. He, it's funny because we talk about baseball families, we've been a baseball family since I was born and Manny's family's the same way where him and Julian were have been playing baseball since I could remember. So Manny ended up getting picked up by Cincinnati, but concurrently while we're getting, having Mark paint his bat we were actually selling bats out of Sportsplex and kind of just trying to grow the brand organically through there.
Miah: Yeah and for those of you who don't know who this what the Sportsplex is, Sportsplex is a big tournament complex in Connecticut that's in North Brantford. There's about eight to ten fields there, and if you still play there or if you have been there you've probably seen us because even though we're still into six years or seven years into Tater, we still go pretty much every weekend so we uh have a lot of love for the Sportsplex.
Freddie: Yeah and I and I hope this you know as we continue, I just had this thought, I hope this inspires you guys to keep on working hard at what you guys are doing. Whether it is playing baseball or you quit baseball and you're trying to find something else, but because I will say starting this company has been the hardest thing we've ever done it for me personally and as a family it's very, it tests you. So just, just wanted to give that point to you guys. But chiming back, we ended up selling a bunch of bats at the Sportsplex where we where we would just literally reinvest into the company and Mark did that, well Mark's first bat was a black handle, natural barrel. And we showcased it at a ziti dinner, so it wasn't Manny's bat, it was uh but Manny's bat was in the group. I think he ended up painting like five or six because we were bringing more bats and we showcased the bats. I don't even remember if, it was a ink thought that was this small right like this small, yeah the ink that should be about it like the circle should be about an inch. The size of the size of a water bottle cap really. Yeah and it was almost, you barely saw it yeah but and I know I ended up giving that bat to Serrano to use it you know. So Serrano, Lewis, he's actually one of my good friends that we, we actually grew up playing baseball together and he was the person that actually introduced me to JC. So when we, when we started making these bats, Louis was actually the first person to reach out and kind of say "hey I want to help you out whatever you need if you if you need me to help or sell bats or go to a tournament or whatever" and he actually used to run and get the wood for us because we couldn't, we didn't we didn't have a uh a trucking company that would pick us pick up the wood for us. So he would drive like six hours to pick up the wood for us in his...
Miah: Cause there's no loading dock in a home. I'll tell you that right now, there's no loading dock in a home and no truck is gonna fit on that street that we live on so.
Freddie: No, absolutely not. so that he he was coming in clutch yeah back in the day, and I don't even know we're really you know, 2015, I felt like moved so quickly because, with so much learning and digesting
Miah: And failure too at the same time. Just learning from our failures and progressing from it.
Freddie: We didn't really even sell that many bats I don't think. Probably a couple like 20 grand worth of bats more or less I don't even know. And that was really our 2015, like and nothing really, I don't think anything really stuck out besides, obviously there was folks that kind of told us that we weren't going to make it. Like everything else so you do something new and people don't see the vision but that was 2015 in a nutshell and, and I'm really excited to kind of really dive in. I think this is, the next couple episodes is really where you get to understand the mentality of Tater and who we are, and why we do the things that we do.
Miah: Yeah definitely. And then I guess the one recurring theme that everyone will see throughout the episodes or learn about is that there's a lot of people who helped us along the way, whether it's someone who's listening now or, or someone who was there from day one, or someone who came three years later. I mean, we wouldn't be Tater if other people weren't involved so we'll be name dropping a lot of people who have been instrumental to our growth you know.
Freddie: And this is why We Are Tater.