When asked why he decided to open his custom-engraved baseball bat store, Johnnyville Slugger, on W. 25th Street in Ohio City, owner Johnny Smatana naturally employed a sports metaphor.
“If you go to the Yankees and bat .280, they’ll hate you,” he says. “If you go to a little place where you can do some good, they’ll still like you.”
Smatana, whose career includes a stint playing football for the Miami Hurricanes and 27 years moving freight for Estes Forwarding Worldwide, says he spent a month looking at different locations, but felt most at home here.
“There’s so much happening here; Ohio City is the most up-and-coming part of the city,” he says. “Also, this part of the street was in dire need.”
The new Johnnyville Slugger — which will include a glass-partitioned workshop in the rear of the store where customers can watch the bats being made — is slated to open this month near the corner of Bridge and W. 25th.
Smatana, who made bats in his Sagamore Hills barn for three years before venturing out to look at storefronts, specializes in making bats that people display in their offices or homes. “They’re more art than anything,” he says.
Some of his favorite bats include the pearl-white Elvis slugger, studded with seven rhinestones, and the Troy Polamalu bat. “The key is putting your signature on it,” he says. “The guys flip out over this stuff. I call them ‘man sticks.'”
Smatana will make almost every part of the bats in his W. 25th St. shop. “I’m a cradle to grave guy — we sand the bats, dip them, stain them and engrave them,” he says. “People tell me what they want on the bats, and I do it.”
Smatana, who discovered Ohio City when he and his wife began frequenting the restaurants there, is looking forward to making it his home away from home. As evidence of his commitment, he cites his unusual 30-year lease agreement.
“It’s like a bacon and eggs breakfast,” he quips. “The chickens are involved but the pig’s committed.”
Fresh Water Cleveland, 7/21/11