Like many American boys, Cade Griffis grew up dreaming of playing Major League Baseball. “Baseball was my life,” Griffis, now 40, says. “My dad thought I was crazy. I used to go out in the yard and play catch with myself.”
If this didn’t work out, he had another dream: to create a baseball academy, a place to train indoors year-round.
Today, Griffis—or just “Cade,” as everyone calls him—is CEO of Carrollton-based D-BAT Sports, a multimillion-dollar baseball training franchise with 24 academies open, three under construction, and five already sold and on schedule to open by this fall.
D-BAT got hot during the Great Recession and, when the economy tanked, investors saw D-BAT academy franchises as good prospects, at $350,000 to $500,000 per location. Since 2009, D-BAT is more than halfway to reaching Griffis’ initial goal of opening 50 locations nationwide. (He’s now upped that number to 100 locations by 2020.)
“Our original model was Southwest Airlines,” Griffis says. “Develop Dallas as home base, expand to Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Tulsa, Arizona, New Jersey, Atlanta, Florida. We can hardly keep up.”
Griffis’ alumni roster includes three-time Cy Young Award Winner Clayton Kershaw, the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher who hails from Highland Park, and more than 30 major league baseball players. But he tells his instructors that their goal isn’t to develop MLB players: “We are here to make the game just a little bit more fun for each kid and for the parent. It’s what drives our business.”
Griffis himself was an All-American at Dallas Baptist University, then was signed by the Kansas City Royals and played for two-and-a-half years before finally quitting due to a knee injury. In 1998, he opened the first baseball academy alongside his brother Kyle, who serves as vice president, and investor Craig Penfold, for $185,000. Griffis initially wanted to call it “Yard Rats” or “Sweat Box,” but the team agreed on “Developing Beliefs, Attitudes, and Traditions,” which was shortened to D-BAT.
That first D-BAT location was “mother-friendly,” Griffis says, with air conditioning, clean restrooms, and well-lit batting cages. Dads would show up at 8 a.m. to talk baseball.
To save money, Griffis began importing D-BAT-branded baseballs from overseas. He added gloves, batting gloves, and apparel to the D-BAT brand, which he sold in the pro shop.
In April 2001, D-BAT built its own wood bat factory in Mount Pleasant, Texas. The business took off and has become so successful that it’s now selling to more than 250 dealers, 20 private labels, major leaguers, and other buyers in Australia, Korea, Mexico, and Europe.
When gas reached $4 a gallon, Griffis created the Metro Scout League, which allowed dozens of college and pro scouts to visit and watch hundreds of high school players showcase their athleticism. The strategy appealed to parents who wanted to put their athletic children in front of scouts without having to travel around the country.
These days, the D-BAT chief executive is still playing catch with new ideas and dreaming up ways to tap into different revenue streams. “Softball is becoming huge,” he says. “We’ve added a whole new customer.”