Batter Up: Mini-Golf and Go-Kart
October 30, 2010
Facilities Score with Batting Cages
Mini-golf and go-kart facilities often feature batting cages to add an extra layer of fun for their guests, as well as a way to bring in more money to the facility. Don Coleman, owner of Ride-A-Kart Family Amusement Park in Estes Park, Colo., said that the presence of batting cages at his center adds an extra element of fun for the guests by encouraging group participation. “People love to go in to the cages together and watch each other try to hit the balls. Sometimes they have the best time making fun of and taking jabs at their friends when they swing and miss. Watching your friends strikeout is often more fun than watching successful hits. They have a great time and it is nice to see everyone become animated,” said Coleman about his batting cages, which are most popular with ages 8 to 30.
Along with ensuring a good time for all, Coleman also must guarantee a safe environment for all batting cage users. “We maintain the batting cages every morning before we open,” said Coleman. “Additionally, we remain vigilant about watching our guests during their time in the batting cages. We let them know that they must follow our rules, and every person must wear a helmet.”
At Putterz, in Ypsilanti, Mich., the batting cages are often a spur of the moment activity. Remarked owner, Bill Chrysan, “The batting cages enhance our facility. They add an extra dimension of fun, as teams come in to practice for games and other groups come in to enjoy working on their swing. It is fun for all ages, especially those aged 10 to adulthood.”
Like Coleman, Chrysan said safety is the biggest challenge with the batting cages. “There is a risk factor,” began Chrysan. “The baseballs come out at 75 miles an hour and our guests need to understand this and take precautions, like wearing a helmet at all times.”
Even if batting cage rules are evident, they still must be monitored, according to Jim Abdu, creativity coordinator for Cartland of Cape Cod, in Wareham, Mass. “Some guys see the signs about wearing helmets and think it applies to everyone but them,” said Abdu. Keeping an eye on guests ensures that everyone does comply with the safety rules.
Aside from the issue of safety, Abdu said a separate challenge is that their batting cages are not sloped, like most cages are. Therefore, the balls have to be manually pushed onto a trough so a conveyer can send them back to the pitching machines.
Challenges aside, this facility’s batting cages are a popular attraction, drawing in mostly teenagers and young men. Little league teams and girls’ softball teams also enjoy this feature. Said Abdu, “Our batting cages add variety, competition and fun. They give our guests an opportunity to show off. They like to see if they can get a piece of every pitch and hit them high into the nets. It is truly an activity that is fun for anyone, no matter the age.”
The 13 batting cages at The Infield Fun Center in Ellisville, Mo., are a big draw to customers from 7 years old to adults. The younger set prefer the seven baseball machines, while the older crowd tends to use the slow pitch softball machines and high school girls use the fast pitch softball machines.
“Our batting cages simulate a real game situation,” said owner, Jeff Sher. “The balls are pitched at real speeds, enabling great practice for ball players. This makes it really fun for those who come in to use the machines. It can get really competitive if a group of guys come in together, which is really exciting and fun.”
Safety is number one for Sher. “We have hard and steadfast rules. An attendant must be present at all times and guests are required to wear helmets and face guards.” In addition, Sher said they perform accuracy checks with radar guns to verify speed and the equipment is consistently checked to ensure its safety.
Swing-A-Round Fun Town, in Fenton, Mo., features a variety of batting cages that are enjoyed by all ages. Catering to those 6 years and up, the batting cages deliver a number of options from fast-pitch baseball to slow-pitch softball. “Our baseball machines offer speeds from 35 to 90 mph, providing an opportunity to those of different ages and skill levels.”
Kyle Reuther, operations manager, said the only drawback to the batting cages is that they are completely weather-dependent. “Rainy days can hurt business a bit,” said Reuther. “People will still play if there is a light rain, but the when the ball is wet, it is really difficult. We have added hairdryers to the ball conveyer belt, as a means to overcome this challenge.” Reuther said the hairdryers are on timers and can run for 10 minutes to an hour, giving the balls that are not in use a chance to dry off, while guests are playing.
Bass River Sports World, in South Yarmouth, Mass., provides guests a chance to practice their swing in one of nine fully automated baseball and softball pitching machines. “This is an activity that is enjoyed by all ages,” said owner, Lou Nickinello. “For those who are not in a league, or are too young to play, this is an opportunity to try it out and enjoy. We also have a soccer cage, which not many facilities offer.”
A challenge for Nickinello is always the weather, especially in early spring. “People want to start their spring training early, but we are dependent on the weather.” Nickinello said they can attempt to heat the cages, but often it is still too cold early in the season.
While weather and safety are major challenges for many operations that feature batting cages, another challenge is ensuring that guests are using the machine that is right for them. Bill Yarborough, general manager for Outdoor Family Fun Center in Hendersonville, N.C., said their machines are pitching balls to many different people of various height and skill level. “It is a challenge of ours to make sure our guests are playing at the right machines. We have eight pitching machines, six baseball and two softball, and all the machines feature different speeds. You don’t want someone with a lower skill level attempting one of the faster-pitch machines, so it is our job to direct them.”
The only facility of its kind in Western North Carolina, Outdoor Family Fun Center attracts between 8,000 to 14,000 guests a year, of all ages. “Our batting cages are exciting because they provide the opportunity to practice hitting a ball as if it were being thrown by a real pitcher,” said Yarborough. These machines simulate a real-life ballgame experience, bringing an extra element of fun to the operation. -