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A Perfect Pitch : Batting Cages a Big Hit with Boys (and Girls) of Summer

May 02, 1991|Maureen Brown | Maureen Brown is a writer and mother of four.

"Yes! Yes! Yes!" screams the 8-year-old when I announce the impending trip to the batting cages. It is a favorite family outing. "We need to buy batting gloves first," he remarks.

"What happened to the ones I purchased last year?" I query.

"Can't find them," he responds.

I deliver an abbreviated lecture on responsibility and lost articles and instruct him to get in the car with his sister.

The batting cages are in the Escondido Family Fun Center, 830 Dan Way.

Fortunately, it is an overcast afternoon with the threat of showers, so the center is not inundated with players. As always, there is some confusion as to how one goes about scheduling playing time.

We are told that we must first see if a batting cage is available for our speed limit (which is 40 m.p.h.). The 11-year-old bobby-sox softball player wants to use the softball cage but this is not ideal as the arc of the slow pitch softball machine is approximately 10 to 12 feet high. Bobby sox does not utilize this form of pitching. Some discussion ensues. We head for one of the 40 m.p.h. cages and determine that the young boy using the cage will soon be finished.

Back to the office, and we arrange a 30-minute time slot for $14.50 and receive helmets and bats.

Daniel Nicora, 25, of Escondido, who has been working at the center for six months, cheerfully accompanies us to the cage and organizes our time slot. In addition to organizing the cages, he repairs malfunctioning (or temperamental) machines. We are ready. The 8-year-old takes his place next to the plate in the cage. The first pitch whizzes by.

"Stand back," his sister instructs.

The second pitch whizzes by.

"Hold your bat back," she further instructs.

The third pitch leaves the machine. "Crack." He has made contact with the ball. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" this Tony Gwynn protege wails. Twenty-five pitches later, he relinquishes his spot to his sister.

Her first pitch whizzes by.

"Stand back," her brother instructs.

The second pitch whizzes by.

"Hold your bat back," he instructs.

The third pitch whizzes by.

"Mom, can we try the softball cage, instead," moans the 11-year-old.

The fourth ball leaves the machine. "Crack!"

Twenty-five pitches later, she relinquishes her spot to me.

Before going on, I will interject the tale of our family's first encounter with batting cages.

Several years ago, our oldest son, then 8, was in a batting slump. Suspecting that a trip to the batting cages would bolster his morale, we made it a family outing. He was somewhat apprehensive about the machine, but after several misses, he was successful in meeting the ball.

After he tired, my husband took his position in the cage. To our son's utter astonishment, my husband was not skilled at this endeavor. Nor was I. For several weeks, our family's favorite line was, "Hey, Dad and Mom, how about a trip to the batting cages?"

My husband and I have personally always wanted to ask offending parents at games who ridicule players if they would be interested in a little trip to the batting cages with us.

To continue, I position myself in the cage after first donning the helmet. I watch the ball leave the machine and make its way toward me, but it goes by with lightning speed. I am certain that they have speeded up this machine since my children left the cage.

After several wild swings, people within a 10-foot radius commence suggesting different stances, swings, or handling of the bat. Even the young male adult in the adjacent cage, working with the slow-pitch softball, turns his attention toward me to see if he may be of some assistance. At last, I have a hit. After 15 hits, my hands hurt, and I let my son take my place.

As I leave the cage, rubbing my hands together, my children say, "Now can we go get batting gloves?"

While my children continue their quest with the pitching machine, I turn my attention to other cages. Coach Monica Ward, of Escondido, has brought her team of 8- and 9-year-old girl softball players.

"If only they could hit like this in their game," she comments, noting their exceptional batting skills inside the cage. She distributes lollipops as rewards to good hitters.

Jill Swift of Escondido has brought her son Riley, 13, that afternoon with a friend, Charlie Hoffman, 14. The boys play in the Pony League in Poway and usually come twice a week. They are batting in the 70 m.p.h. cage.

"It helps you to see the ball," notes Riley. "Plus, it's right in there every time!"

Wendy Gonzalez of Rancho Bernardo has brought her three children--Derek, 10; Jennifer, 8; and Nicole, 2 months. While Nicole sleeps and Jennifer hits away within the cage, Derek comments that "the pitching machine helps my game a little bit."

When asked how the batting practice affected Jennifer's game, she replies, "Me? I don't play baseball."

I return to the desk to check our remaining time. While there I overhear Ryan Boomer, 12, explain the saga of his lost No. 28 baseball jersey, which he mistakenly left behind at the cage the previous Saturday. I commiserate with his mother.

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