Stone Column

Stick to baseball, Matt

April 12, 2007
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Every spring, Major League Baseball heads to Arizona and Florida for Spring Training. And while much of the talk there is obviously about baseball, the ritual also gives rise to “human interest” stories about the ballplayers - particularly the non-superstars, who get enough press during the regular season.

This year, one of the stories was of particular interest to the natural stone industry. It appears that a pitcher named Matt White - in camp with the Los Angeles Dodgers - purchased a parcel of land in Massachusetts a few years ago, and it contains a deposit of mica schist that has been estimated to be worth an unbelievable amount of money. The story was carried by the Associated Press and other major media outlets, and this morning as I drove to work, I almost careened off the highway when I heard ESPN Radio report that the quarry is estimated to contain $2.4 billion worth of stone. (Some of Matt White’s Dodger teammates have already nicknamed him “The Billionaire,” by the way.)

Now, I’m a huge baseball fan (as evidenced by the New York Mets jersey hanging in my office), and I love the idea that ESPN is talking about a stone quarry, but I’m not sure that Matt White should hand in his spikes and glove just yet.

According to the Associated Press story, a geologist estimated there were 24 million tons of the stone on the land. It went on to report that since the stone is being sold for upwards of $100 per ton, there is well over $2 billion worth of material that can be used for sidewalks, patios and similar applications.

I shared these figures with a geologist friend of mine, and his reply was, “That is like tapping into an oil reserve with a million gallons and multiplying that by the per-gallon price of gasoline.” In other words, it’s going to take a lot to turn this raw product into hard cash.

The fact of the matter is that quarrying in the U.S. is a very tricky business. Between Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulations, acquiring the necessary permits and meeting environmental standards, simply opening a quarry site is an expensive and difficult proposition. And it may be near impossible if the potential quarry site is near a residential neighborhood. (This is also true in many other countries, by the way, but since Matt’s quarry is in Massachusetts, I will limit my discussion here to the U.S.)

In my time here at Stone World, I have met many owners of American stone quarries, and while most of them truly enjoy what they do for a living, none of them will tell you that running a quarry is “easy money.” It is a labor of love, and even large investments of money, time and dedication will not necessarily result in success; there are just too many variables when it comes to stone quarrying.

Just last week, I met with a long-time stone industry veteran who has conducted research on over 20 different quarry sites in the Rocky Mountains of the U.S., and despite many intriguing prospects, none of them were ultimately economically viable for commercial quarrying. That’s none; as in zero.

I should note here that Matt White has gone on record as saying that he has no intention of turning in his baseball uniform and becoming a stone quarrier. “There are a lot of questions,” he told the Associated Press when asked about operating a stone quarry. “It takes time, it takes money, it takes machines. There are professionals who handle that stuff.”

Rather, the ballplayer and his father may sell the property, and one University of Massachusetts professor estimated that the site may be worth several million dollars. Now, that’s a steep drop from $2.4 billion, but if I’m Matt White, and I’m offered several million for an unproven quarry site for mica schist, I take the money and run - quickly.

Again, this is not a knock of Matt White’s “good fortune.” (As I said, I am a huge baseball fan.) Rather, it is a testament to the existing quarriers in the U.S. that have found success in this industry. For all the reasons outlined above and more, their achievements are realized through hard work, commitment and perseverance - even if the vast majority of quarry owners out there can’t throw a decent curveball.

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