After years of dreaming and 18 months of work, the Kamloops Minor Baseball Association’s indoor field of dreams officially became reality Thursday
The neat 5,000-square-foot building, located in the centre of McArthur Island’s baseball fields, had its grand opening, with more than 70 local dignitaries, sponsors and baseball people on hand for the ceremony.
The facility — named the Sussex Insurance Centre — had long been a dream of local baseball folk, but became a reality over the past 18 months. Sussex Insurance, a major sponsor, won naming rights for the building.
“It’s finally sunk in now,” said Sean Wandler, head coach of the midget AAA RiverDogs, a KMBA director and co-chair of the building committee. “Those 18 months seemed long at times, but now you see the kids in here working, you see the benefits to the players and the association as a whole, it’s definitely well worth it.”
The facility cost around half a million dollars, and has been paid for mostly through sponsorships, grants and donations, along with a few loans.
There are three parts to it: the main area, running 50 feet by 100 feet with a 20-foot ceiling; an existing concession/washroom building; and a vestibule joining the two. The vestibule, which still needs a little work, originally was going to be used for storage, but Wandler is thinking it could come in handy as anything from a video room to a weight room.
Everyone who walked into the building yesterday was impressed.
“This is more than we expected to get when we started out,” said KMBA president Dean Martin. “There were plans that we’d go bigger, smaller . . . but, really, the end result . . . you can get so many athletes in here at one time.
“This is absolutely perfect for what we need to do.”
With artificial turf on the ground and netting along the walls and ceiling, the SIC’s versatility looks to be its greatest asset.
Players can field grounders, pitch off temporary mounds and take real swings at real pitches. The netting structure, featuring a winch system that brings nets down from the ceiling, allows the room to be divided into three spaces.
The nets were almost an afterthought, but have become one of the best things about the facility.
“Originally we thought we were going to have a hitting tunnel, but it would be on a retractable system, like a curtain,” Wandler said. “We got to talking with netting contractors and we got this idea of fully encompassing the facility in netting.
That way we didn’t have to worry about protecting the walls . . . and doing the retractable ceiling allows it all to go up and open it up.
“We came up with the idea about halfway through the process, and we’re sure glad we did.”
KMBA, which had around 470 players last season, has held winterball sessions over the years, but they always have been held in school gymnasiums. Playing baseball in a school gym means wiffle balls, limited activities and a lot of playing catch.
“It all comes down to your imagination as a coach,” Wandler said of the SIC. “While kids are hitting in (one space), you can do ground-ball work over there. Every wall is a net, so you can set up tees or do soft-toss and have 30 kids doing hitting work.
“You can do base-running, agility drills. You can have pitchers throw off mounds on that side — all while kids are hitting on this side.
“When (the nets) are lifted up, well, the sky’s the limit.”
With the facility in place, the KMBA feels it can close the gap with teams from the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
With a warmer climate on the coast, teams are able to practise outdoors nearly all year.
Now Kamloops players can do the same indoors.
“We should be able to keep up — we have the same athletes,” Martin said. “They have bigger numbers (on the coast), that’s always a factor. But we’ve got great coaching. . . .
“Even the kids in younger age groups who aren’t in the elite programs now, with a facility like this and that kind of teaching, we’ll see huge benefits long-term.”
“You get a young kid who’s 10 years old getting to fully train in the winter,” Wandler added. “By the time he comes to me (in midget) at the age of 16, he gets that many more reps, that much more training . . .
“We really want to see the fruits of our labour and we see that benefitting us five, six, seven years down the road.”