Wilmette Doing ‘Wonder'ful Things For Baseball, Environment

WILMETTE, Ill. -- Damaging trees throughout the Midwest, emerald ash borer has forced states like Michigan and Ohio to burn millions of ash trees. In Wilmette, there's a new approach to bat-making that will leave Little Leaguers with more than 100 new bats next spring.

With the Wonderboy bat salvaged from a lightning-struck tree, Robert Redford's character Roy Hobbs inspired baseball fans everywhere in the 1984 classic "The Natural."

Fast-forward 22 years period The story inspired the president of Wilmette to make some Wonderboys himself.  

"Last year, the ash borer was found in Wilmette, and when we first met with federal officials, the only thing that can be done is to bur and chip the ash trees. I said, 'That is unacceptable,'" recalled Chris Canning.

Instead, Canning teamed up with two local companies, and the Wilmette Wonderboy was born.

It turns out that wood from ash trees infested with the emerald ash borer can be used for Little League bats -- if treated properly.

"You take the bark off, mill down half an inch past the bark, 'cause you're taking off what the larvae lives in," said Erika Horigan, owner of Horigan Urban Forest Products.

 From the lumberyard to Bats By Buck, simple billets are crafted by sight, sanded, painted, and engraved.

 It does more than put lumber back in baseball. "I think along with business, there's a community responsibility," said Tom Royce, owner of Bats By Buck. "There's a duty to try to help solve some problems if we can."

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