Chad Hickman has experienced how easy it is to get lost in a deep conversation while playing a game of catch, he shared.
“When your only goal is to throw something back and forth, you can really open up in a conversation and focus on the now. You’re not worried about other things. I used to play catch almost every day at lunchtime with my brother who used to work for me. We wanted other people to join, but most people don’t have a baseball glove in their car,” said Hickman, the founder and co-owner of Sandlot Goods — a Kansas City-based manufacturer known for its hats, wallets and now, the Yardball.
The Yardball is a baseball-esque ball sewn by hand with a soft, premium leather, Hickman explained — noting that the product is so lightweight that there is no need for a glove.
Sandlot Goods and Made in KC (which owns a minority stake in Sandlot Goods) launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for their Yardball on Monday, June 11. The Kickstarter campaign immediately gained traction, quickly selling out of the limited edition “Founders Yardball” and the Super Early Bird specials. In fewer than six hours, the campaign hit its goal of $15,000.
“The Kickstarter site actually went down about 10 different times for 15 minutes after we launched, so who knows what more we could have done if it didn’t do that,” Hickman mentioned.
“… Regardless I’m really excited we’ve hit our goal,” he continued. “Before we hit ‘go’ on the campaign at 9 a.m., it felt like a lot of people weren’t on board. We were getting Facebook comments from people thinking we were trying to kill the baseball glove. But it turns out we had a lot more people who were also excited and on board.”
With 32 days still to go on the Yardball Kickstarter campaign, individuals from across the world have pledged more than $29,000. Although the majority of pledgers are from the Kansas City metro, the campaign has attracted consumers nationally and globally — with individuals from Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Europe and Africa.
Click here to support the Yardball kickstarter.
Wanting to ensure that enough consumers were interested in the Yardball before purchasing mass amounts of the premium leather, Hickman and his team decided to go the crowdfunding route, he said. They consulted with several marketing firms that specialize in crowdfunding and ran with the opportunity.
“Kickstarter has a lot of food gadgets or tech products, and live game products don’t have a track record of doing all that well — but when they do, they do really well,” Hickman noted. “The marketing firms felt like we had something, so we trusted them.”
Individuals who pledged the now-sold-out Super Early Bird and still-available Early Bird deals will receive their Yardballs in September. The second batch of orders are set to be delivered in December 2022.
RELATED: Click here to read about Sandlot Goods’ recent partnership with Royals infielder Nicky Lopez.
Tapeball, Catchball, then Yardball
The Yardball’s inception didn’t come from a brainstorming session on new products to sell — rather, it came from a ball of used tape, Hickman recalled.
“Made in KC did a painting project at one of their spaces and rolled up all the tape; it was this perfect, no-sticky-side tape ball that weighed probably four ounces,” he said. “It just became this brainstorming tool that we would throw around the office to open up conversation. We’d throw it in the parking lot to get a break from our desks; we started to bring it to tailgates and weird places like that. It sparked this idea of, ‘How could we sell something like this but that had a more nostalgic feel to it?’”
The “tapeball” was soon nicknamed the “catchball”, and the Sandlot Goods team started designing a logo and product. About 50 catchballs hit Made in KC stores by the end of 2021 before Hickman and his team realized they had bigger goals for the product.
“We pulled our stock off the shelves, which hurt, and started down this Kickstarter path,” Hickman shared. “We had to change our name from catchball to Yardball because there was already a trademarked product in the U.S. called catchball — it’s a hockey goalie training tool. It was hard for us to switch the name, but now Yardball just rolls off the tongue.”
Each Yardball is a labor of love, Hickman said, noting that it takes between 13 to 18 minutes to assemble and hand stitch each one. For those who want to catch their own Yardball, Hickman encouraged checking out their Kickstarter campaign — especially with the second order coming just in time for the holidays.