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Volunteers create gym for year-round ball practice
Beginning this weekend, Vashon baseball and softball players will be able to practice hitting and pitching no matter what the weather. On Saturday Vashon Youth Baseball & Softball (VYBS) will unveil its new indoor training facility.
Located in a 3,000-square-foot space in the back of what was once Napa Auto Parts, the facility at Vashon Plaza will have two batting cages, a training mound and open space to practice other skills.
The VYBS volunteers behind the endeavor hope the training center will not only help players improve their abilities on the field but also make Vashon teams of all ages more competitive and draw more kids to the sport.
Coaches as well as VYBS board members say the new facility is a pipe dream they’ve had for years.
“I call it a game changer,” said Jay Hammond, a youth softball coach who helped build the facility.
He and other VYBS board members and parents, as well as a couple high school players, have spent around 500 hours transforming the space, which had been littered with trash and old car parts. They laid down carpet, painted walls, hung nets and built an additional wall.
VYBS invested about $1,500 in remodeling the large room, said board member Joe Wald, and has a month-to-month lease for the space, which until now had been empty for several years. They hope membership fees — $45 a month, or less when multiple months are purchased — will cover at least most of the $1,000 a month rent.
“If we lose $200 a month on this, we consider it a good $2,400 investment for the season,” Wald said.
Wald believes the center is affordable and accessible, especially considering that some parents take their children to off-Island training facilities — which often charge higher rates and cost families ferry fares.
“That can get expensive,” Wald said.
At the Vashon facility, coaches will be available for free help during times scheduled for specific age groups. Other times will be open for all ages, and the high school baseball team is already planning to use the center, Wald said.
“There’s a very vibrant, adult slow-pitch league on Vashon,” he added. “That could be a money maker.”
Jim Whitney, a VYBS board member who was one of the driving forces behind the new facility, said that children’s participation in baseball and softball on Vashon tapered off about a decade ago, with many kids choosing soccer or lacrosse instead.
“My thought is we weren’t providing enough in the baseball arena to keep them interested for a long time,” he said.
He is thrilled to see that Island kids and teens will finally have a place to practice year-round.
“It seems like just when we’re getting the kids to hit their stride with all the things we’ve taught them, the season is over for nine months or so,” he said.
What’s more, Whitney said, the training center gives kids and teens another option on Vashon, a place some feel is lacking in activities for youth.
“It’s a place kids can go that’s safe, it’s monitored, and they’re getting something from it,” he said.
There will be an open house at the VYBS training center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Players can learn more about the gym and try it for free. There will be a coaches meeting at 10 a.m. Memberships can be purchased at the Vashon Park District, at www.vashonparkdistrict.org or at the training center.