Recreation

Recreation: The chime of bats ring in a Chapel Hill spring

March 3, 2014 

While the chilly air may linger, take heart. With daffodils popping up through the cracks in our artic “permafrost,” and with sportscasters are already debating “bracket-ology,” there’s no debating that spring is on the way.

It’s in the pockets of occasional warmth out of the shadows and out of the reach of stinging north winds. Its prospect lurks in the piles of wintry woolens piling up at donation docks at the PTA Thrift Shop and Goodwill stores. And it’s also in the peal of aluminum bats on balls, echoing across recreational and school baseball diamonds across Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

But some of those looking to hone their swing for spring are traveling a bit longer to find that magic long ball swing, at least temporarily. With the return of management of Chapel Hill’s Homestead Skate Park and Batting cages to Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation, pitching machines and cages will remain idle. But fear not: the local cages should reopen in just a few more weeks, and there are some alternatives available in the meantime, if a bit farther afield.

Until this year, the Homestead Skate Park facility and batting cages were operated for Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation by Vertical Urge, which also operates Project 58, an indoor skateboarding facility in Raleigh. Recently, Chapel Hill began operating the facility once again. The skateboard park is opened each day for free-skating at skaters’ own risk, and the batting cages are scheduled to be opened later in March.

“We still have to do some maintenance to get them up and running,” Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation athletics specialist Michael Troutman said. “I think there’s one batting stall that wasn’t working properly. The rest of the stalls were at least working when we shut the cages down last fall. We don’t have an exact date when they’ll be open yet, but it should be sometime in March.”

Located at 100 Northern Park Drive at Chapel Hill’s Homestead Park, the complex overlooks the Homestead Aquatics Center, offering open-air baseball pitching at varying speeds as well as several softball pitching machines.

With the skateboard shop and concession stand closed, however, those interested in using the cages will need to go to the Aquatics Center to purchase tokens.

“We’ve got helmets there in the cages,” Troutman said, “but people will need to bring their own bats. It’s the same rates as before.”

Pitching machines deliver 25 pitches upon activated with a token, which costs $2. Three tokens cost $5, and seven cost just $10.

The cages will be open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, Troutman said“They’ll turn the pitching machines on in the morning and then keep the motors running.”

For those looking to get some hits in over the next couple weeks however, there’s always perfect weather inside Base Hits, Incorporated, an indoor baseball / softball batting and pitching training facility. About 10 minutes south of Chapel Hill and a few hundred yards north of Northwood High School on Route 15-501, this Pittsboro facility remains a hit among baseball and softball enthusiasts alike.

At Base Hits, Inc. indoor batting cages, baseball and softball players of any age and skill level can improve their skills in a controlled environment offering four full length cages, two tee cages, dirt mounds, training aides, and a pro shop.

“Our pro shop is full of stuff, and I guarantee (our products) will be cheaper than anywhere they want to buy it,” Base Hits owner Scott Oldham said. “We’ve also added Under Armour and All-Star products, as well as Wilson and DiMarini.”

Oldham said prices are 70 cents a minute for the cages, with special rates for teams.

“That rate is for as many pitches as you want to feed,” he said. “We set the pitching speed to accommodate each individual that walks through the door. It’s not the same speed for everybody. Plus, we have team rates, which are $30 an hour per cage, and it would (otherwise) be $42 an hour at regular rates.”

Base Hits, Inc. is open weekdays 3:30 to 8 p.m., on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., and on Sundays from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.

Oldham was particularly proud of the level of instruction available at his facility.

“We’ve got Clay Council giving hitting lessons,” he said. “He’s really special: he’s worked with Josh Hamilton, and he’s worked with Bryce Harper a little bit. He’s actually the one who pitched to Josh Hamilton in the old Yankee Stadium (for the 2008 All-star Game Home Run Derby) when he hit 28 home runs.”

To the west of the Triangle, Partin Performance Training Center, co-owned by Chapel Hill High School Tigers coach Lee Land, offers expansive space for all kinds of training, including baseball hitting and pitching.

“We’re on Church Street, Highway 70, just about two miles from Elon,” Land said. “It’s about only 30 minutes from here. It’s all indoor, and we’ve got a full weight room, two 70-foot cages, a couple portable mounts, plus 6,000 square feet.”

PPTC’s website ( www.partinperformance.com) stated that it offers specialized weight and strength training as well as sport specific instruction in baseball and softball, using state-of-the-art equipment and a highly trained staff.

“We’re $40 per half-hour for individuals,” Land explained. “The guys that give lessons all have professional baseball experience.”

The PPTC facility is open Mondays through Thursdays 3 p.m. through 8 p.m., on Fridays from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m., on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., and on Sundays from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.

So roll down the car windows and get ready to get into the swing of spring, to the beat of the sweet chime of baseball bats on balls, wherever it may sound.

Ring in spring. We’ve certainly earned it.

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