Holy innovation, bat man! Small entrepreneur scores big with hitting tool

Rusty Greer and players with the RBI Pro Swing on their batsFrom brainstorming to patenting, Rick Miller followed the book in getting his RBI Pro Swing batting aid into production. Then he swung for the marketing fences: he got a former Major League hitting star and the New York Yankees to check it out. Now his small business is a hit, helping players from Little League on up.

"There are people out there, be it celebrities or regular business professionals, that are available to you as resources," Miller, 49, told WalletPop.

Miller was just another dad trying to help his kid improve at the plate when he began to develop the RBI Pro Swing. He started with duct tape. It evolved into a plastic bat collar with steel beads that make a sharp hiss when you swing the bat properly. (A prolonged swooooooshhh indicates a poor swing.) The device encourages a compact motion with the power released at the point of contact. Miller had the capital and the manufacturing wherewithal. What he didn't have were big-time folks to get the word out.

One day as Miller watched his son, Brady, practicing with a pre-prototype in the front yard of their Colleyville, Tex., home, neighbor Bobby Witt, a retired longtime pitcher for the Texas Rangers, drove by. Miller encouraged Witt to take a few cuts, and Witt was impressed enough that he promised to tell former teammate Rusty Greer about it. Greer, a career .305 hitter, had sons playing baseball and was interested in youth training devices.

A short time later, Greer tried out the RBI Pro Swing with Miller in a restaurant parking lot. That led to a handshake endorsement deal.

"He saw this as an opportunity to reach out to players and give back," Miller said. "There's a lot of people out there who are willing to help entrepreneurs and don't only have their own interest in mind. They have the interest of others as well. I would consider Rusty to be one of those people."

That wasn't the only time Miller was able to recruit high-level involvement. An acquaintance knew Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long. Before long, Miller was flying to Phoenix to show Long his invention. Long warned him that he had seen hundreds of supposed swing enhancers that turn out to be junk, so he would be brutally honest in his assessment. In another parking lot session, Long tried out the RBI Pro Swing, and regarded it highly enough enough to take six back to the Yankees. He sent Miller a positive note weeks later saying that "the guys" had liked it, Miller recalled. The Yankees have not used the devices in the on-deck circle, but they're in the organization somewhere, he said.

The RBI Pro Swing comes in 9-ounce, 12-ounce and 16-ounce sizes for baseball and softball, and is available at its website plus 400 dealers nationwide, including the internet merchant Baseball Express and the Dunham's Sports chain. Retailing for $29.95, the batting improvement gizmo should reach the million-items-sold mark by 2013, Miller told the Dallas Morning News. Thanks in part to some heavy hitters.

"When I reached out to these players and some friends of mine in the business world," he said to WalletPop, "I tried to get as much input as I could prior to jumping into the whole water."
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