- change ups
Sports training center builds 'major league' facility
By next summer, a sports training business should have its infield back.
That’s because Elite Baseball & Softball Training should be pitching, swinging, fielding and running the bases at its new and much-larger building on July 1.
Construction is set to begin on its new training center this month, and the facility — which will be built at 5290 Clyde Park Ave. SW in Wyoming — will give Elite roughly twice the space of the location it currently leases, at 1100 Hynes Ave. SW in Grand Rapids.
The 48,000-square-foot center will be a single-story structure made of pre-engineered metal, with split-face masonry set to run along the front of the building.
The interior ceiling will be 38 feet high, and the facility will offer a full playing field, 10 batting cages, four pitching mounds, a strength-and-conditioning area, a concession area, a pro shop, staff offices and plenty of space for parents to watch their sons and daughters practice and play.
Company founder and co-owner Bryan Baar said once construction is finished, Elite will have the premier baseball and softball training facility in the state and surely one of the best in the Midwest — with a "major league-size infield."
“There will be nothing like this in the state of Michigan,” said Baar, a Zeeland native who also manages the Art Van Sports Complex for the West Michigan Sports Commission. “Even in the Midwest, there are some similar facilities that do what we do, but they’re not necessarily baseball and softball specific.”
Baar said that Elite “needed more space.”
“We’ve outgrown our facility," he said. "In the last three to four years, we’ve kind of been stretched, and there were some things that we’ve needed in our facility that we actually had lost.”
Re-taking the field
One vital component the business lost was its infield.
The loss came when Elite’s previous lease was up, and the partners didn’t want to commit to a long-term extension. A neighboring business was interested in a portion of Elite’s space, willing to go long-term with it and ended up with it.
“We only wanted a short-term lease, because we were interested in building, and we didn’t want to get stuck in a five- or 10-year lease at the time,” Baar said.
So Baar said Elite went two suites north of where it was to a 25,000-square-foot facility that it occupies now.
“But we did lose our infield, which was a significant piece of our business,” Baar said. “We did lose the ability to play indoor league games and to host indoor tournaments in the winter. We actually added more cages and mounds, and we have what we call a skill-development area, but we lost our infield."
“A sense of urgency” for space
“Truth be told, it was a blessing in disguise,” added Baar. “When we got moved out of there, it created a sense of urgency for us to find a facility that would fit our needs or build a new one.”
Baar said Elite went the new-construction route, because Comerica Bank agreed to finance the work, and Todd Oosting, executive vice president at CD Barnes Construction, found the property for it.
Elite asked Oosting to do some digging on its behalf, and he came up with the 3.5-acre parcel that will become the home of the new center.
CD Barnes Construction is managing work on the facility.
Baar started Elite in 1994, and Mike Paul, Michelle Brander and Jim Abbott are his partners today. All four provide instruction on their specialized areas.
For instance, Baar focuses on fielding, which makes sense, with his having played catcher in the Triple A Pacific Coast League as a Los Angeles Dodgers draft choice.
About two-thirds of Elite's training is with baseball players, but Baar said the softball side of the business is growing due to an explosion of travel leagues.
Elite trains more than 1,000 athletes, ranging in age from 5 to 22 each year, and so far, 30 have signed professional contracts.