ROARING SPRING - To most folks at Graystone Court, Karl Diehl is simply known as Bat Man.
Diehl's hobby is making bats. Wooden baseball bats. For kids, teens or adults.
If you want a bat to use or as a souvenir or gift, just ask Karl and he'll make it. Just don't offer to pay for it, though. The bats are free. He won't take money, so don't insist.
(Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich) Karl Diehl of Roaring Spring displays some of the baseball bats he has carved.
Karl Diehl is 94 years old, but you'd never know it when you see him running the lathe in his workshop in the basement at Graystone. He's a real craftsman with his tools, cutting and sanding and finishing the bats to perfection.
After the death of his wife, Almeda, in 1993, Diehl began making the bats as a hobby.
"I retired [from New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co.] in 1990," he said. "As a hobby, I started doing woodwork in the basement of my home. I made stools and repaired chairs. I wasn't too good, but it was good enough for me.
"When that became too much work, I looked for something easier and decided to make ball bats."
A friend, Herm Ritchey, who used to work with Diehl, gets him the wood from a sawmill in Woodbury.
Diehl uses both ash and maple woods to make the bats, but he's partial to ash.
"[Professionals] make a lot from maple today, but ash is still better, in my opinion," he said, laughing. "I'm an ash man. They don't break as easily."
Diehl said he "makes all kinds" of bats. He's made almost 1,200 bats to date.
"I number every bat," he said.
Most of his Graystone neighbors have one or have had them made for children or grandchildren.
"That's where most of them go," he said. "When I started, I just made small ones, but then I started making big ones. I can make one in a day's time."
His big bats are usually 32 ounces in weight and 33 or 34 inches in length.
"Garrett Jones [Pirate outfielder] told me his bat was 32 ounces and 34 inches, so that's what I usually make," he said.
Diehl's love for baseball began years ago.
"I was a baseball man as a kid," he said. "I played a lot of ball in the 1930s. I played high school ball ... I was a catcher ... for four years at Morrisons Cove."
He also played for Newry Borough, the Roaring Spring American Legion and Hollidaysburg in the Blair League, and recalls playing a couple of games at Cricket Field in Altoona.
He's given bats to youngsters, college kids and professionals. He's given them to Altoona Curve players and to major leaguers with the Pirates and Mets.
Diehl has attended spring training in Florida since 1993, and he's always taken bats with him.
"I used to go by myself," he said. "But then my daughter said I was too old to go by myself, so her and her husband [Nancy and Richard Dick] started going down, and they take me every year.
"Anybody who asks for a bat, I'll give them one," Diehl said. "I've got bats all over the country."
Diehl and his family usually stay in Fort Pierce (to see the Mets and Dodgers) and visit Bradenton where the Pirates train.
Born in Newry, Diehl lived most of his life in Brookes Mills.
"When I got married, I built a house on top of the hill - between the Vicksburg Church and McKee Tavern - and lived there 50-some years," he said. "When my wife [Almeda] died, I lived there for awhile before moving to Hollidaysburg. When this [Graystone] was built, I came here."
That was seven years ago, and thanks to owner-builder Jeff Long, who included a workshop in the basement of the facility, Diehl has continued his hobby.
He usually applies the label by hand in his apartment. It reads Diehl Slugger made at Graystone Court in Roaring Spring, PA. Each bat includes an engraved bird and a Bible verse.
"When you hit the ball with one of these bats, it just flies away," Diehl said of the reason for the bird.
The Bible verse - "It is more blessed to give than to receive" - says it all about Karl Diehl.
Diehl still follows baseball closely, and has thrown out a first pitch at a Curve game on his birthday every year since he was 90.
"Big Pittsburgh fan," he said. "The Curve, too, ever since they started."
His favorite player?
"Neil Walker now," he said. "Alex Presley, too. I like him. I talked to him at spring training, and I knew him when he was in Altoona, because I took bats to those guys.
He also has autographed bats from performers at Branson, Mo., and Dollywood in Tennessee.
Besides bats, Diehl's apartment has photo albums from Florida and other trips. His most prized book is filled with thank you cards and notes from youngsters who received his bats.
Diehl's other hobbies are collecting license plates, cups and Betty Boop dolls.
"I don't have a dull life," he said.
And his family is close by, too. His daughter, Nancy and her husband, Richard Dick, live in the Graystone as does his other daughter, Beverly Tinsley.
"It's a family affair," Nancy Dick said.
"It's great. It keeps him out of trouble," Nancy said of her dad's hobby, laughing. "If I can't find him, I just go to the workshop."
"I'm not famous, but my bats suit me," Karl Diehl said. "As long as I can make them, I'm going to make them."