Baseball practice goes high-tech

Virtual pitchers helping batters sharpen skills

PUBLISHED: February 14, 2005

By Tom Watts
Macomb Daily Staff Writer

Imagine facing a 95 mph fastball down the middle of the plate from a simulated Major League Baseball pitcher on a movie screen. At Macomb Batting Cages, a virtual southpaw could make your batting average rise.

"It's the new rage of hitting baseballs indoors," said Joe Loria of Macomb Batting Cages at 29901 Groesbeck Highway in Roseville. "Every kid that's faced it has come back."

Loria and partner Ken Kozlowski say they have the ultimate training tool for hitters -- the first of its kind in Michigan.

"Pro Batter is a video computer-operated machine featuring a Major League pitcher on the mound," Loria said. "He winds up and pitches the ball. The ball comes out of the hole, but it's simulated. It's amazing. It's the only version in the state."

Loria said young baseball players who have used the simulator at Macomb Batting Cages have returned to use the Pro Batter again.

"We can adjust the speed from a 95 mph fastball to a 30 to 40 mph fastball. We've had kids 8 years old to 18 years old using it. We've got pro baseball players using it, too," Loria said.

Loria said Trot Nixon of the Boston Red Sox raised his batting average in the 2003 season from .258 to .308 after using the Pro Batter.

"There are some local high school players last year who used it and made all-state. It definitely helps hitters adjust to pitchers," Loria said.

On Thursday, former standout pitcher Brian Sikorski was at the Macomb Batting Cages, across the street from Mr. Paul's Chophouse, warming up his arm for spring training.

"I've heard about this Pro Batter machine," Sikorski said after a workout. "It definitely works for hitters."

Sikorski, who lives in Fraser in the offseason, pitches for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. He formerly pitched for the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers after stellar careers at Western Michigan University and Roseville High School.

"I got a hold of Joe (Loria) and stopped by to get ready for the season in February," said Sikorski, who defeated the New York Yankees in his first professional start.

Loria said he gets former players, including pros such as Sikorski, to stop by the Macomb Batting Cages to pitch or hit baseballs. But Loria admits the crowds at Macomb Batting Cages have gotten larger since the arrival of the Pro Batter.

"We're going to have our first annual Pro Batter Hitting Contest next month," Loria said, referring to the tournament running Feb. 17-28. "We're going to have a hitting tournament for 10 and under, 12 and under, 14 and under and high school divisions."

The winners of their divisions receive a grand prize, including 50 weeks worth of hitting. The hitting contest is sponsored by Burkes Sports Haven in Eastpointe.

"We're throwing pretty big promotions like the hitting contest," Loria said.

"You can't lose if you take part in the tournament. Plus, we have open hitting for $5 through March. You can come in and hit in one of two sessions between 3:15 p.m. and 6 p.m. And you can hit the Pro Batter machine for $1 tokens."

Loria said the Pro Batter uses white baseballs with red seams instead of the traditional 'yellow' baseballs used at other batting cages. Also, the simulated pitcher can change from a right-hander to a left-handed southpaw.

Macomb Batting Cages is at 29901 Groesbeck Highway in Roseville. For winter rates, call Joe Loria or Ken Kozlowski at (586) 775-6801.

(article from the Macomb Daily. February 14th, 2005)