An old post on the Mr. T’s Bat-O-Rama Facebook page ominously stated, “We have a lot of repairs to do. So as soon as we get them fixed we will be open.”
The post was dated May 2014.
Since that time, the batting cages that had been a staple of the Olympic Stadium complex for 16 years had fallen silent.
As of Sunday, Aug. 7, it is silent no longer.
A two-year effort to get the batting cages back up and running culminated with a grand reopening ceremony Sunday afternoon in Hoquiam. Dozens of people attended the event.
The cages originally opened in 1998 and were the brainchild of late Hoquiam mayor Roger Jump and philanthropist Ted Bruener, who wanted to create a place where children could play to honor his late son, Ted “Mr. T” Bruener.
“Roger Jump said to me, ‘I wanted to put in two-three machines,’ and I said to him, ‘Let’s do six,’ and we got 16 years out of it,” said Bruener, who was honored as part of a ceremony at the site on Sunday. “My son passed away and I wanted to do something positive for the Harbor. That’s where it came from.”
According to Bruener, the cages were shut down eight years ago due to a theft that prevented some much-needed maintenance from moving forward.
“The problem is maintenance money got stolen. We had to have a new net and had to have a lot of new deals. That’s what happened and we couldn’t do anything,” he said. “Thanks to all these good people, they got together and said, ‘We’ll volunteer and get it going again.’”
Though Bruener had his doubts, he had faith in the nonprofit Grays Harbor Sports Association’s ability to get the job done. So Bruener got out his checkbook and provided $10,000 to the restoration effort.
“Ted told me, ‘Tanya, I trust you. So if I write this check, I trust that it’s going to happen,’” said Tanya Bowers Anderson of the GHSA, which received a grant for $20,000 for the project. “This was important not only to honor Mr. Bruener’s son, but its the only public facility we have in Grays Harbor County. If I’m a kid or a mom and I want something to do in the evening, I can come here and bat.”
So the GHSA along with volunteers got to work on getting the cages open for business approximately two years ago without much of a blueprint to work with.
“It took about four to six weeks to figure out how the whole system worked. There was a lot of moving parts,” the GHSA’s Gordy Ray said. “We had to sit there and figure things out as we go.”
After clearing and cleaning the site, work began on getting the pitching machines and systems running after eight years of inactivity. The group installed all new tubing and wiring, added new rollers and wheels, and installed new switches and actuators to the site’s three baseball, two fastpitch and one slowpitch machines.
Several local businesses also chipped in, with MB Industrial Motors refurbishing the pitching machine motors and Northweast Belt & Equipment donating a new conveyor belt to allow balls to be fed back into the machines.
But the work didn’t stop with the machinery.
The netting that surrounds the facility was patched and fixed, the pitching machine roof was re-turfed, and the clubhouse was brightened up with a fresh coat of paint, multiple televisions and internet access.
“We had a lot of people that came and helped out,” said Ricky Sauer of the GHSA. “We had a lot of volunteers that donated their time.”
So on a blistering-hot summer afternoon in August, the typical chatter-and-ping sounds of a neighborhood batting cage could be heard once again on the Harbor.
“It’s easy to get tearful about,” said current Hoquiam mayor Ben Winkelman, son-in-law to the late Roger Jump. “When (the GHSA) formed, I knew we had the right people. … We had all the right people here at the right time. It was a lot of work and the volunteers did an amazing job. I’m super excited to see it going again.”
Now that Mr. T’s is open again, the GHSA has additional projects it is looking toward completing.
“We can do more than just the batting cages,” said Bowers Anderson, who added the organization was working with AAU basketball, the Grays Harbor Gulls semi-pro soccer team and on starting a youth wrestling program. “Our goal is to provide more opportunities for our youth.”
Winkelman stated Mr. T’s “really compliments” Olympic Stadium and looks forward to see what opportunities down the road the cages may provide local athletes.
“Sports comes from the ground up around here and this just helps make that happen,” he said. “This is just an opportunity to help some of these kids get better at their skills, make some lifelong friends and maybe go on to play in the big leagues someday.”