Randall Thompson got the idea for a million-dollar business while sitting in a dugout.
Thompson, the pitching coach at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, was listening to hitting coach Matt Mercurio give a lesson to the baseball team. Mercurio was using a bat with the top half, or barrel, cut off, which makes it easier for hitters to watch their hands during a swing.
Thompson picked up the barrel and wondered: Could you drill that out and drink from it?
Three years later, in 2017, the Thompson Mug Co. sold more than $1 million worth of baseball bat mugs, which retail for $49 apiece. One order came from the Toronto Blue Jays, which asked for 4,600, a gift for the team's season-ticket holders, he said.
Thompson's connections to baseball run deep. A self-proclaimed "grass picker," he started playing T-ball when he was 5. Thompson moved on to Little League, travel, high school and college baseball at Florida Tech, a small Division 2 school in the Sunshine State Conference. "I had this crazy growth spurt in high school, and I started throwing the ball in the mid- to upper-80s. So, I was like you know, maybe I'll try pitching."
After college, Thompson - a right-handed pitcher - signed as a non-drafted free agent with the Blue Jays and reported to Dunedin. He played in 2011 but was released after extended spring training in 2012. "You literally wake up one morning, and then somebody tells you you're not good enough anymore. And then that's it."
Still, he was not worried about life after baseball, he said, pretty confident that he would one day run his own business.
Starting was the easy part. He bought a miter saw from Lowe's and a wood-burning kit from Michaels to make prototypes. "It didn't turn out very good. I didn't even know what a wood lathe was when I started."
Living in his sister's converted garage apartment, Thompson launched his company while working full-time. He also got jobs on the side, including one where he dressed as Spiderman for kids' birthday parties.
Last February, Thompson quit everything else to focus on mugs. He also partnered with Kris Dehnert, a social media and marketing specialist. Dehnert handles relationships with the Major League Baseball Players Association and was instrumental in getting licensing for individual player mugs, called the "Signature Series."
"He's the guy who starts making things work," Thompson said. "It's kind of like fire and ice."
Raw mug-blanks are shipped to the Thompson Mug Co. warehouse in Bartow, where workers apply two coats of food-grade sealant and let them cure for a month. The 10-inch tall, 12-ounce mugs then move to one of three laser engravers for intricate logos and designs. Team and personalized logos are the most popular, along with a Field of Dreams-themed mug with the saying, "If you pour it, I will drink."
Thompson expects sales to pick up even more in 2018. He's coming out with a shot glass that looks like the handle of a bat. He calls them Knob Shots. He also is prototyping a bottle opener made from the handle of a bat and a home plate-shaped tray.
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His goal is to hire more staff, including ex-baseball players, and increase revenue to $6 million this year.
"There are so many parallels in business and baseball," he said.
Each is a journey, with highs and lows.
And baseball taught him that "you keep throwing pitches, and everything averages out."