CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – With their hour-long, highly competitive workout in the batting cages at the new Perfect Game Headquarters on this city’s far northeast side completed late Saturday morning, Marion (Iowa) High School teammates Kaleb Lochner and Hunter Kiernan busied themselves walking around PG’s new glass-windowed pro shop.
Lochner and Kiernan, a sophomore and freshman, respectively, at Marion HS, had just finished playing their first two seven inning games at the newly introduced Perfect Game National Indoor League (PGNIL) and had come away duly impressed.
The high school teammates are also teammates on the 16u PG Black squad competing in the PGNIL, and shared their thoughts about the experience with a PG questioner.
“It was different but it was pretty fun to see how it all happened, how fast the ball came off the bat and stuff like that,” Kiernan said. “It was real fun going against other competition, especially kids that you go to school with. It’s pretty nice that you just go into the cage and actually play, like, a real game.
“You can play the year around and it’s something to do in the winter, I guess.”
Lochner, who played in the 2013 and ’14 PG Iowa Fall Wood Bat League, was quick to add: “I thought it was really fun, and it was cool seeing the monitor and how the ball went off (the bat). I usually can’t get a partner (to hit with during the winter) and this league will really help with that.”
Indoor baseball isn’t new, of course, but the PG National Indoor League certainly is. Teams are being assembled at three indoor facilities to participate in the PGNIL this winter: Perfect Game Headquarters in Cedar Rapids; Bo Jackson Elite Sports in Lockport, Ill., and Senators Indoor Facility in Philadelphia.
In the Cedar Rapids Division, there are six teams in each age-group – 12u, 14u, 16u, 18u – and four players per team are in the lineup for each game. Games were scheduled every Monday (12u), Thursday (14u) and Saturday (16u, 18u) from Monday, Jan. 19 through Saturday, Feb. 28, with the exception of Saturday, Feb. 7 when the facility will be hosting the first day of the two-day Perfect Game Pitcher/Catcher Indoor Showcase.
Kevin Schuver, the PG Director of Cedar Rapids Facility Programming and Operations, is overseeing the league operations at PG Headquarters and makes sure the games flow smoothly and stay within their seven innings or half-hour time limit, whichever comes first.
“The whole idea of it was to have a league where kids across the country can still be competitive with each other in the wintertime; especially for the northern states like us and Chicago and (Pennsylvania and New Jersey),” Schuver said. “It’s a way for them to compete against each other without having to travel halfway across the country all the time.”
All of this made possible by HitTrax, a baseball simulator with remarkable patent-pending technology that, according to the company’s website, delivers a “powerful combination of analytics and entertainment” never before available.
Its features, according to hittraxbaseball.com, include:
· Real-time statistics with visual feedback
· In-depth reporting module for hitters and pitchers
· Remote access to statistics via our HitTrax StatsCenter website
· Player rankings (local and national)
· Adaptable to all skill levels: Little League to Professional
· Gaming module and home run derby contests
The PGNIL web page provides links to rosters, records, schedules and scores and pool standings, along with a link to HitTrax Leaderboard and Stats. Perhaps most impressively, every player that participates in the league regardless of age group with has own Perfect Game Profile Page if he or she didn’t already have one.
Schuver called HitTrax’s technology “very cool” and “very accurate” -- the games are played at any number of major league ballparks the simulator offers -- and envisions the information it produces being very beneficial to a prospect that might be flying slightly under the radar. Scouts and college can look at the numbers posted by an unranked kid and compare them with those of a ranked prospect.
”If you see a kid from Chicago who’s maybe a top-150 prospect who has an exit velo of 100 miles-an-hour and then you’ve got a kid from Iowa who also has a 100 (mph exit velo) but no one’s ever heard of him before, scouts are going to be able to see that on our website and he might check that kid out,” he said.
Kevin Saathoff is the father of Nick Saathoff, a freshman ballplayer at Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School. Fifteen-year-old Nick has been playing ball since he was about 10 years old and last summer (Iowa offers only a summer high school season) played on Kennedy’s freshmen team as eighth-grader. Nick has been taking lessons and working in the cages at PG for the last 2½ years.
Nick Saathoff had a pretty good day while hitting for 16u PG White Saturday morning. The HitTrax technology awarded him 10 hits (all singles) in 23 at-bats (.435), which ranked eighth among the 29 16u participants; his maximum exit velocity of 84 mph ranked seventh and his maximum distance of 214.300-feet ranked 12th.
“This is a good way for him to get out there and get his cuts in during the winter; there’s not a whole lot else to do around here,” Kevin Saathoff said while taking in Nick’s first game Saturday morning.
“Just any kind of interaction he can get and keeping his mind on baseball is good for him. Anytime you can get up there and get your cuts in it’s going to make you better, especially when they start throwing curve balls with the machine.”
It was unseasonably warm in Eastern Iowa on Saturday (Jan. 24) with the high temperature approaching 50 degrees. It was a day that winter-weary teenagers probably could have gone outside and hit baseballs, but the more than 50 16u and 18u players that were getting their cuts in during the PGNIL openers certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves.
“You can see the monitor and you’re out there with your teammates,” Marion High’s Lochner said. “I feel like this is going to help because you’re with your teammates and building a stronger bond, and I think it will all be good.”
“I was doing a lesson the other night in the cage right next to (a PGNIL game) and the kids were screaming so loud I could hardly talk to my (student) standing right next to me,” Schuver noted. “I think they’re having a lot of fun with it.”
Early reports indicate the parents of the 12u and 14u participants were getting into the games a little more than the parents of the older kids, but that might simply be because there more of them. A lot of the 16u and 18u players didn’t need their parents to chauffeur them to the facility.
But the parents of the older kids that were on hand, like Kevin Saathoff, were having some fun.
“I just like coming here and hanging out and watching them play,” he said. “Even if we have to sit here for two hours, it doesn’t matter to me; I just enjoy watching the kids hit.”
The plan for the PGNIL’s inaugural season, which concludes Feb. 28, is to have each age-group champion and one wild card from each of the three facilities participate in single-elimination tournaments that will culminate with national champions being crowned.
All the statistics and leaderboards compiled by HitTrax during the course of the six-week season will be there for everyone – including scouts and college recruiters – to look at and evaluate.
“It’s a good way for the kids in the northern states to keep playing the year around and be competitive the year around,” Schuver said, “but it goes beyond that because kids in the south can play, too. They might have warmer weather but they want to see how they compare with kids in the northern states this time of year, too, as far as their exit velocities and stats. I really think it’s going to be big throughout the entire country.
“In the grand scheme of things, I think Perfect Game is looking to having a (HitTrax) machine in every state and this becoming one of the largest tournaments there is for indoor baseball.”