The crack of a wooden bat is a quintessential part of baseball. But shattered bats also pose a danger to players and fans. This spring, in an effort to cut down on bat breakage, Hillerich & Bradsby, the maker of Louisville Slugger bats, introduced its hardest line of bats yet.

MLB Prime bats are hand cut from maple or ash so the grain runs lengthwise in straight, consistent lines. Next, they are vacuum dried, compressed, and covered with three layers of water-based topcoat seal in the company's Louisville factory. "A bat breaking will always be part of the game," says Bobby Hillerich, director of wood bat manufacturing for Louisville Slugger. "But these changes will help keep the players and fans safer."

His company customizes the bats, which retail for $120, for hundreds of major league players, including Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (shown here swinging a large-barrel I13 model made of northern white ash).

J. Frederich Hillerich, Bobby's great-great-grandfather, started making bedposts and other lumber products in 1859. Today, Hillerich & Bradsby has 300 employees and makes 1.8 million bats a year. It sells bats, gloves, and other baseball accessories worldwide.