Isokazu Kubota

Inside a block of raw wood, the perfect bat may be hiding. It takes artistry to know how to find it and draw it out

Geoff Johnson for TIME

Isokazu Kubota, the master craftsman of sports-equipment manufacturer Mizuno Technics Corporation, holding baseball bats (belonging to Hideki Matsui,#55, and Ichiro Suzuki, #51) in a private workshop for VIP customers.

Correction Appended: March 25, 2008

BATMAN In the past, a katana, a Japanese sword, was a samurai's soul. The warriors may be long gone, but the samurai spirit lives on--particularly among Japanese professional baseball players. Take the Seattle Mariners' All-Star center fielder Ichiro Suzuki. Between games, Ichiro gives his bat the katana treatment: keeping it protected in a sealed aluminum case. After every game, he takes it to his locker and shows his gratitude for its service by going through the ritual of cleaning it.

Ichiro's reverence for the bat came to him during a 1992 visit to...

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