Indoor cages are big hit with players in off-season

April 11, 2002

BY BILL L. ROOSE

The Macomb Batting Cages on Groesbeck Highway have helped baseball players weather Michigan's inclement weather.

Teams from Fraser, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, Troy Athens, Clinton Township Clintondale, Macomb Dakota, Grosse Pointe South, Grosse Pointe North, Harrison Township L'Anse Creuse and other schools have called MBC their off-season home for a few years now.

Warren De La Salle pitcher Dennis Czuchaj visits the cages, in Roseville, three to five times a week in winter and early spring.

"This place is extremely functional when the weather is bad," said Czuchaj, a 6-foot-4 junior right-hander. "It's easy to shoot over here after school and work on the machines and go off the tee. It's very convenient. It really gives you an edge."

MBC, a 7,000- square-foot converted warehouse, is one of a few such havens that players in the Detroit area can use in preparation for their spring seasons.

"At school they never want you swinging in the gym," Czuchaj said. "You always have to have a coach around to supervise, and the coaches aren't always around. . . . This is the only indoor place you can go."

Joe Loria, the owner and an instructor, got the idea for the cages in 1997 when he heard of another Roseville hitting facility, which is since defunct. Loria's business began to take off last year as word spread, particularly among high schoolers.

During the busy season, it's estimated that 2,000 players use the facilities in a week.

"The high school kids spread the word better than anybody," said Loria, who pitched at the University of Detroit and Jacksonville (Ala.) State in the mid-1980s after graduating from Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher.

"They have a place to come to sharpen their skills to get to where they want to go, whether it's making their high school team or going further, to college or pro ball."

MBC, which has four cages, runs hitting leagues for high school players and provides pitching and hitting instruction for younger kids. This spring the facility added three regulation pitching mounds, plus artificial turf to one cage for players who want to field ground balls.

"I want this to be a total baseball place," Loria said. "This is one way for kids from Michigan to compete with kids from warmer climates.

"I have personal experience from that when I transferred to Jacksonville State. Our fall baseball season there concluded with an intrasquad series in December before I returned home for Christmas break. Fall ball at U-D always ended the first weekend in October.

"When I played in high school, you had to hit off a tee in your basement or garage in the winter. A place like this would have meant so much to us then."