By Scott Prater
Vigil, the self-described golf fanatic, could hardly contain his excitement.
And now, the wait is over, Schriever’s golf and batting cages are now open.
“When I was a kid, I’d spend hours swatting golf balls several times a week,” he said. “I remember getting hooked on the sport almost instantly.”
The introduction to golf proved fateful for Vigil, 50th Space Wing Information Protection manager. He went on to compete in the sport during high school and even made his living as a golf professional at one time. He still plays as often as he can. Now, he’ll be hitting more balls and doing more drills thanks to the new base cages.
“We’re so isolated out here and kids don’t have a lot of things to do,” he said. “But having golf and batting cages? That’s going to help kill a lot of boredom.”
Col. Jonathan Webb, 50th Mission Support Group commander, agrees and says Team Schriever members have plenty more to anticipate.
“Our wing commander [Col. James Ross] has made it a priority to enhance the quality of life at Schriever,” Webb said. “The opening of the batting and golf cages is just the start of many new services that will help bring the base closer to providing basic quality of life services found at most installations.”
For some, like Vigil, Paul Aldrich, Schriever’s small business director and Capt. John Galer, 50 SW executive officer, the golf cage openings couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I’ll be going out there after work as often as I can,” Aldrich said. “I can already imagine the money it’s going to save me and how much my game is going to improve. And by the way, hitting balls is a great way to unwind.”
Seth Cannello, Schriever Sports and Fitness director, figures convenience and location will play a huge role in how often the cages get used.
“This will be a great way to keep my game sharp,” Galer said. “While I might not have time to squeeze in nine or 18 holes during the week, it’s nice to know I can work on my swing during my lunch hour or at the end of the day.”
Construction on the facility began more than a year ago, but hit a snag due to a leveling problem with the pitch-delivery machines. The batting cages have a sloping concrete floor like most commercial batting cages, where balls roll downhill into a collection area and conveyor belts lift them back into the pitching machines.
The cages boast two stations, one for slow-pitch softball and another for fast-pitch baseball.
Cannello explained that base softball players have anxiously anticipated the batting-cage opening.
The golf cages are much simpler and have no moving parts, just an artificial turf floor with hitting mat, tee and three successive nets at the end of the hitting area to catch balls.
Vigil and Aldrich were so entranced with the idea of the new venue that they donated golf balls and clubs for those folks who don’t have their own.
“For the golf cages, people can bring their own golf balls and use the cages whenever they like,” Cannello said. “We can also check out balls and clubs to folks at the fitness center.”
The process for using the batting cages contrasts sharply, however. Safety, weather, gear and lighting all play a role in how the facility can be used.
People wishing to use the batting cages must check out special hard-plastic balls at the Fitness Center and anyone wanting to use the baseball side must also check out or wear their own helmet.
“We’re making it clear to everyone that the batting cages are open, but we may need to close them during colder temperatures because the ball machines can freeze,” Cannello said. “Also, everyone needs to know they cannot use their own softballs and baseballs. These machines are manufactured to use only the special hard-plastic balls we’ll be checking out at the fitness center. For safety reasons, we won’t allow normal softballs and baseballs to be used in the batting cages.”
Cannello also cautions users to avoid the current road and parking lot construction going on in the area between the fitness center and the hitting cages. Users need to walk around the construction area and approach the cages from the base running track.
Lights have also been installed and will light the area between 6 and 9 p.m., although Cannello said the batting cages will operate only during fitness center hours.
Children are welcome and encouraged to use the facility and check out equipment at the fitness center, however those 12 and under need to be supervised.
“This is another great example of the transformation of this base,” Galer said. “It’s one more thing for members and families to do to have fun and stay active.”