Bill Veeck, a colourful owner of multiple Major League Baseball franchises during the 20th century, once said only two seasons existed – winter and baseball. The indoor baseball training facility in Central Saanich’s Centennial Park has changed that calendar in favour of baseball.
Opened in July 2020, the facility has given the 400 players of Central Saanich Little League, and another 400 associated with other baseball and softball groups, a chance to hone their skills regardless of the weather.
“It’s fantastic to have a building that we can go into seven days a week, 365 days a year,” said league president Morley Wittman. “It has allowed us to have kids come in and have some fun 12 months of the year instead of just having the typical four-to-five month season.”
Winter, ironically, drove construction of the steel building – a cycle of snow and rain destroyed the league’s batting cage in 2016. “It was quite a collapse and instead of rebuilding right away, we decided to (create) something that would last long-term,” he said.
The league eventually approached the District of Central Saanich, as well as a long list of local businesses with its plans to build something more permanent.
More than two years after the idea was first pitched, the facility worth an estimated $335,000 opened in July 2020. Users can close off sections of the 2,800-square-foot facility for batting practice or use it for fielding drills.
Less measurable, but perhaps more valuable has been the facility’s impact on the broader sense of belonging.
Central Saanich Little League’s focus is to build up children, families and the community, Wittman said. “This facility is a great addition to that, because it allows kids to come together more often and feel like that they belong as part of a community.”
Even the fundraising process strengthened such ties. Various local business owners said they had played baseball at the park in past years, Wittman said, “and now their kids are playing.”
Businesses without a personal connection also stepped up to the plate, sharing the league’s vision of building community, he added. In the end, 34 businesses and organizations contributed, with donations and grants ranging from $500 to more than $20,000.
The joint effort it took to get this well-utilized facility off the ground “ties everybody together,” Wittman said.
Its players, in turn, have experienced positive effects from the presence of the facility.
While skill and athlete development is not the league’s primary focus, Wittman said, “there is no doubt that extra time spent with good coaching inside does help to increase the calibre of player. We are seeing those results on the field. Kids are having more fun because they are able to play the game a little bit better.”
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