Monett batting cages are set to re-open

Thursday, April 15, 2010
Jonathan Hawkins, a fifth grader at Monett Intermediate School, practiced his batting at the Monett North Park batting cages, back this season under management of the Monett Youth Baseball and Softball League. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]

Baseball and softball players at North Park will see the return of the automatic pitch batting cages this season under new management.

The automatic pitch batting cages, located at the east end of the park on the far side of the Skate Park, opened in 2008 as a private enterprise. The cages were not open last year.

"Parents must have asked me two dozen times last year, 'When will the batting cages be open again?' We saw a real need to get this to open up," said Kirk Verhoff, president of the Monett Youth Baseball and Softball League (MYBSL).

The league approached Preston Lauderdale, the previous owner, and reached an agreement to run the service on a temporary lease through MEA Financial. Verhoff said the goal is to make the service pay for itself. Cost is $1 for a token, which gets the batter 10 pitches.

Verhoff said the batting cage's 10 different pitching machines deliver both slow and fast pitch softballs as well as baseballs pitched at different speeds for different age groups, all the way up to professional speeds for high school teams.

"We've got 450 kids in the league," Verhoff said. "It's the largest youth program in Monett. We wanted something to help develop the youth and provide a summer activity. With the number of tournaments the program has brought to Monett, we felt we needed a draw to keep teams coming."

The MYBSL sponsors a Cal Ripkin baseball program for boys 12 and under, a Babe Ruth softball program for girls and a Babe Ruth baseball program for older boys. Each has drawn tournaments to Monett. The league has recently become certified with the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSA) to host tournaments for the association's traveling Babe Ruth girls softball teams. Verhoff said there are four or five traveling teams in Monett now and hopes to have more of their games in Monett in the coming season.

"This [the batting cages] is a big project," Verhoff said. "It will take some dedication. The previous owner was instrumental in getting the system back to par, donating his time and labor. Joe Hawkins has agreed to manage it."

The league plans to hire around three high school boys to help run the service during the season. Verhoff believes the batting cages will provide an additional activity for visiting players waiting for their games as well as players trying to improve their game.

Regular hours for the batting cages will be 4 to 8 p.m. on Monday to Friday and 4 to 9 p.m. on Saturday. The MYBSL will hold opening ceremonies for its season on May 1.

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