Much like W.R. Hayes brought his dream of harness racing to Du Quoin, Kyle Drone used his love of baseball to carve out a niche for himself in the small town of Ridgway.
That dream is putting Ridgway on the map and bats in the hands of dozens of Major League Baseball players.
Kyle, who owns Dinger Bats with his dad, Randy, began his business in 2002 during his final year at Lambuth University in Tennessee, where he played baseball.
The duo's success over the past 15 year led to them being chosen as the Grand Marshals of the 2017 Twilight Parade that kicks off the Du Quoin State Fair at 6 p.m. on Friday.
Even with all their success, Kyle was stunned at the Grand Marshal announcement.
"It was completely unexpected," he said. "There's joy and appreciation."
Du Quoin State Fair manager Tibretta Reiman had nothing but accolades for the pair.
"We are thrilled to have Dinger Bats as part of the 2017 Du Quoin State Fair Twilight Parade," she said. "They are making a huge splash in Major League Baseball and we are proud to say they are made right here in southern Illinois."
How it began
"There was a AA Cubs affiliate in Jackson and I worked as a bullpen catcher," Kyle said. "I would give the guys rides to pick up supplies and they would pay me with bats."
Kyle developed an interest in bats.
"I just got fascinated with all the different models and sizes," he said. "In my mind, I said, 'Why can't we do this?'"
Kyle said he got his dad to "buy into it," and "that's how it started."
Montreal Expos player Brad Wilkerson was the first Major League player to use a Dinger.
"When the team moved to Washington and became the Nationals, Brad got the first single in Nationals' history with one of our bats," said Kyle.
Dinger bats earned a place in history during last year's World Series when Chicago Cubs player Kyle Schwarber rejoined the team for the series after being out a major portion of the season due to an injury.
"He hit .417 for the series," said Kyle, "all with our bats."
Dinger is the sole provider of bats for the Southern Illinois Miners as well.
Dinger Bats, which Kyle says has grown by "80 to 100 percent" over the past five years, now provides bats for a number of MLB players including Jason Heyward of the Cubs, Starling Marte and Sean Rodriquez of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Matt Adams of the Atlanta Braves.
From its humble beginnings, Kyle said he hopes to top 45,000 bats this year. Those bats will come from a staff that includes him, his dad, seven full-time workers, three part-time summer employees and one marketing specialist.
Kyle and Randy also give back to the community, providing equipment and funding to community baseball teams. They hold auctions on their eBay page of various items, many donated by their clients.