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Ceremony to celebrate merger of Osborne, SwingAway firms

By Brenda Sexton, The Courier-Herald

From two separate garages, miles away in distance and in time, Frank Osborne and Larry Cripe started major baseball equipment businesses founded on the principle that they could make practicing the sport more enjoyable.

Thursday, the two will meet in Enumclaw to celebrate the merger of their companies.

The public is invited to help Osborne Innovative Products and SwingAway celebrate the teaming of the two companies, along with celebrating Osborne's birthday, from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday at the Enumclaw office, 2221 Second St. There will be cake, refreshments, historical displays and product demonstrations.

Company leaders believe this is a merger that is going to be getting plenty of attention in the future.

"Louisville, Kentucky, will take notice of Enumclaw, Washington," said SwingAway inventor, founder and CEO Cripe.

The Osborne story is a familiar one to many Plateau residents.

In 1982, a year after he retired as a teacher and coach at Enumclaw High School, Osborne started Osborne Innovative Products, which turns out protective screens, batting cages and other baseball and softball equipment, out of his downtown garage.

During his years of coaching, Osborne thought of many things he could develop to help coaches and players be more successful and make the game safer. He also saw a need for equipment that could be easily stored and transported. Those ideas became the backbone to a successful business with a national reputation for quality. OIP equipment is now in most major league parks, and at minor leagues, colleges and high schools.

Cripe began his company eight years ago in his garage and parlayed it into a nationally-known name in a short time. A pilot for Alaska Airlines and former minor league player, Cripe took the batting aid he created to Mariner spring training camp and Lou Piniella.

Cripe said he knew he was on to something when "Piniella told me I solved two of his biggest headaches, loading a tee and picking up the balls."

After that Cripe got serious and raised money to start the company with 91 stockholders. The company has continued to grow and SwingAway products are now in all 30 major league ball parks.

Cripe said Osborne took him under his wing in SwingAway's early stages and helped him develop his product and his business.

In February, Osborne sold his company to Rebound Sports Technology, the umbrella corporation for SwingAway. The Kent company moved to Enumclaw in June and is ready to deepen its roots here and look at expanding.

"I felt Rebound was a company that would continue to make the commitment to quality products for the baseball industry," Osborne said.

Both companies will run as OIP and SwingAway.

"We don't want to lose the identity of both," Cripe said.

And Osborne is not exactly retired. He will continue to work as a consultant on products and other business without getting involved in the day-to-day operations.

"He's a legend in town," Cripe said. "We've encouraged him to stay active with the business."

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com

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