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Alumnus Keenan Long Hits a Home Run with Innovative Baseball Bat Design
August 25, 2015
Power Hitter: Keenan Long, a former NCAA Division III honorable mention All-American catcher, has become an advanced concepts engineer for Easton Baseball/Softball, the sports engineering market leader. He is a 2010 mechanical engineering alumnus. (Photo provided)
One engineer’s curiosity about the biomechanics of the baseball swing has opened the opportunity for a new era in baseball that’s hit a home run for 2010 mechanical engineering alumnus Keenan Long.
The former Rose-Hulman baseball player inspired Easton’s innovative line of composite and aluminum bats that are allowing baseball and softball players of all ages and genders to produce more power from their swings by taking advantage of an intuitive concept: allow the hitter’s hands to move independently so they can keep the barrel of the bat on the plane of the pitch.
As the advanced concepts engineer for Easton Baseball/Softball, Long has combined his love of baseball with the problem-solving skills of engineering for an exciting career in the competitive sporting goods industry.
His revolutionary Mako Torq bat allows the bottom four to five inches of the bat handle to rotate 360 degrees. A simple, robust, and durable system encompasses the rotating handle and knob while retaining the same dimensions as a standard bat. To the hitter, it looks and feels like a normal bat except that the hands are allowed to rotate independently to maintain a mechanical advantage throughout the swing. The system, called TORQ Technology, promotes the natural rotation of the hands allowing the hitter to square up more pitches with more power.
Long discusses the technology behind the new Torq bat in an Easton promotional video.
The concept came after Long injured his hand’s hamate bone (the small wedge-like bone in the outer part of the wrist) after taking hundreds of swings for a bat durability test in HitLab batting cages. He then started working in the company’s machine shop to develop a crude form of a rotating bat knob mechanism.
Now, TORQ Technology is generating power for hitters, as well as keeping the hamate bone safe, while being used at all levels of play from Little League to NCAA baseball and softball. In fact, more than 40 percent of players at the 2014 Little League World Series trusted Long’s new TORQ Technology in their hands. Even more young baseball players–the future of the sport—are expected to use the bat in years to come.
As in any other industry, there were many steps in the two-year development cycle to introduce this new product to the baseball world. Long had to prove the validity of his concept in the HitLab, convert colleagues into believers, and obtain development support from the leadership team. Then, there were production considerations and, most importantly, marketing to a skeptical consumer base. After all, hitters are comfortable with the general feel of their favorite bats.
Keenan Long (Photo provided)
“Change is the biggest challenge against the backdrop of arguably the most traditional sport in America,” says Long, an honorable mention NCAA Division III All-American during a record-setting baseball career (2008 to 2010) for the Fightin’ Engineers. “Sometimes it is easier for players to dismiss new disruptive ideas than to open themselves to them. When they get to experience what it feels like to swing a TORQ bat, they start to realize how the standard bat has constrained their hands preventing them from having an optimal swing path. Then they begin to have that same ‘aha’ moment that I had in the batting cage a few years ago. That's what I live for. Then, after comparing their personal cage test results of the two bats, they are usually begging to keep the TORQ bat, and give us their old standard bat.”
In his role with Easton Baseball/Softball, Long is looked upon to come up with new and usually wild ideas, like the TORQ concept, for future products that focus on providing a performance advantage to athletes. It is a new department that’s expanding research and development beyond bats to include batting gloves, ball gloves, helmets, and catcher's protective equipment—ideal for a former catcher.
“I am never more than an arm's reach away from a bat. I show up at Easton every day with a sense of indebtedness to the world of sports for allowing me this opportunity,” he says. “It is not only my vocation, but it is my responsibility to have a positive effect on the world of sports. It is the joy of my life to work in the world that Jim Easton created.”
Long hopes to be a trailblazer for Rose-Hulman students wishing to enter the sports science world. “Easton has a strong history of sports engineering. This industry will benefit greatly from people whose experiences overlap athletics and engineering,” he states.