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Former Mets Star Goes to Bat for Norwalk Shop

Howard Johnson knows a good bat when he feels one. And the former Mets slugger, who hit 228 home runs in a 14-year playing career in the Major Leagues, likes the feel of the bats turned out by a Norwalk-based company owned by Pete Tucci Jr.

"My son [Glen] played baseball at Pace University ,'' Johnson said at the grand opening of Tucci Lumber on Strawberry Hill Avenue on Saturday. "He used bats Pete had made. I was struck by the quality of the workmanship. Just the feel of it. When you picked it up for the first time, you could tell it feels right. I was impressed by the quality."

That's quite a testimony coming from Johnson, whose best days came with the Mets in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1991, he led the league with 38 home runs and 117 RBIs. He thinks there's a market for the bats Tucci's produces.

"I don't think you have to have been a player to know what makes a good bat,'' Johnson said. "But you have to know the difference between [any bat and] a major league-quality bat. It's hard to explain. People want quality. I don't care if it's a major league hitter or not. They want to swing a quality bat."

Tucci has his own professional background to draw on. He played six years in the pros and was a first-round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1996. After an injury forced him to retire in 2001, Tucci worked in the heating and air-conditioning business before starting his bat company a few years ago. He had been making the bats in the garage of his Norwalk home. Tucci dedicated himself full-time to the bat business and moved his business in April. He remodeled the retail space and opened his doors Saturday.

"Honestly, I didn't think I'd see this day for a long time,'' says Tucci, 35, who still plays recreational softball in Norwalk and with the Monroe Tophats in the Connecticut Senior Baseball League. "I thought it'd be something I'd do out of my garage. "

You don't need to be a major leaguer to enjoy Tucci's products. He's making bats for the Cranbury Little League team to take to Cooperstown, N.Y., for a tournament later this month. Best of all, he's back full-time in the game he grew up playing at Norwalk High.

"It's different, and there will be some growing pains,'' Tucci said. "It's just a matter of getting used to something new. I love what I'm doing now."

It certainly doesn't hurt Tucci to have a former baseball All-Star like Johnson in his corner. "The caliber of player he is, to say it's a quality product, that's when I knew I was on to something,'' Tucci said.

Players can purchase bats online or by visiting the store at 318 Strawberry Hill Ave. in Norwalk.

Have you used a bat made by Pete Tucci Jr.? What are your impressions? Start the discussion below!

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