At 3 p.m. on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, David Gavigan walks up to the front door of Everybody Hits, flipping the sign hanging in the clear glass window to ‘Open.’ With the day about to begin for the small business owner, Gavigan awaits the arrival of a yellow school bus holding the Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter School baseball team.
Roughly 12 minutes later, a group of anxious students walk through double set of doors. The group immediately trades backpacks for batting gloves, batting helmets and bats before entering the three batting cages that’s been helping to transform the corner of 6th Street and Girard Avenue since opening last year.
“It’s a really nice place,” said PE&T freshman Quideer Chandler after taking his first round of batting practice. “I feel like this is truly a baseball atmosphere. I didn’t even know this place was here. It’s a lot bigger than what I thought it would be because I have walked by it before and it doesn’t look that big on the outside, but once you get inside it’s a lot bigger than you would think.”
While Everybody Hits offers only a white sign on the outside that reads ‘Batting Cages,’ the majority of the players on the team only heard about the business through training at the facility during the team’s off-season.
Thanks in part to the second snowiest winter on record in Philadelphia, holding baseball tryouts outdoors was not a reliable option for PE&T coach Chris Clayton. The freezing temperatures, snow-covered baseball diamonds and blistering winds make things difficult for players of all ages to practice during the offseason.
For these reasons, Gavigan decided to transform a former farmer’s market on the 500 block of Girard Avenue into one of the city’s only indoor batting cages, lodged between a dollar store, a t-shirt company and restaurants.
“This is the first year that we have ever come here and it certainly helps with our repetition and our swings,” Clayton said. “The amount of swings we have taken just in these tryouts is the amount of swings we typically have taken halfway through the season, so this place has really helped us in that aspect.”
With three batting cages, Clayton is able to work with each player individually as he continues to make the final cuts. Each cage offers multiple speeds for different softball and baseball hitters, allowing Clayton to see clearly which players he should choose for his final roster.
“Some of the pitches are pretty fast, but really that is a good thing for us because it allows us to try to get used to it because that is what we are going to see in some games, so it’s good that we get our work in before the season starts,” said PE&T junior Jordan Brown. “If we do well here now in practice, we will also do well in games.”
“For me, it’s just cool to get in those cages and work on my swing,” Brown said. “It’s good to finally be hitting again and this is a good place to do it because we are indoors and it’s warm.”
Despite the poor weather for the majority of the winter, senior Jesse Saunders was not going to let it ruin his offseason preparation. After multiple visits to Everybody Hits, Saunders thinks using the indoor batting cages rather than practicing outside has given the team an advantage over the competition.
“The weather has really limited us all year, and to have these cages available for us is the best thing for this team,” Saunders said. “It’s better to be hitting in these cages, otherwise we would probably be sitting around doing nothing.
“I also think having the cages available for us to use has given us an advantage over all of the other teams in the city. It’s a great facility with great machines that have different speeds. I was used to doing it manually at other places, so this is much better.”
With the team’s first game right around the corner, Clayton is hoping for the weather to transform just as the corner of 6th street and Girard Avenue has in recent years. If it were not for the three batting cages at Gavigan’s young business, the PE&T baseball team would not be as well prepared for their first matchup on March 24.
“Our first game is on Monday and we are hoping to get outside depending on this crazy weather,” Clayton said. “I think the transition is going to be difficult at first because they are just starting to get their timing down now.
“The cages are shooting balls at them, but when they are outside, they will then have to adjust to the motion of the pitcher which probably takes at least four games at the beginning of the season to get used to. The good thing though is that we have these cages now which has certainly helped us. Otherwise, I’m not sure where we would be.”
– Text, Video, and Images by John Murrow, Kim Slaven, Charles Abankwa