While the professional baseball season ends in the fall, autumn will actually mark a second opening day for a business in Columbia: it’s The Baseball Warehouse, an instructional venue owned by Baltimore Orioles legend Rick Dempsey.
Dempsey and partner Matt Morris, who already operates five other Baseball Warehouse facilities, have made a $350,000 investment in the 8,500-square-foot facility, which is being renovated on Gerwig Lane. Unlike many similar baseball instructional facilities, however, most of the instruction will come from former professionals, including a host of other former Orioles, in a thriving market.
Dempsey, who played Major League Baseball for 24 years, and his colleagues will impart their life lessons learned to potential up-and-comers as they work toward the next stations on their baseball journeys, be it travel ball, their high school’s team, college or (maybe) beyond.
To Dempsey, it’s all about offering what he and others see as the finest instruction.
“If you’re a young player, why not get advice from professionals who can assess your talents?” he queried. “If a talented player works hard, he can play in high school, possibly in college and may even sign a pro contract.”
Since The Baseball Warehouse already has five locations to the north, it was only natural that the company’s next move was to the south side of the Beltway.
Columbia was a natural choice “because of its proximity to Baltimore and is home to an affluent population,” said Morris, noting that the company is working with Merritt Properties on the new location renovation. It will include three batting cages, three pitcher’s mounds and two hack attack machines in an environment of position-specific instruction, plus rooms for sports performance and physical therapy; instruction will run from $65 per half-hour to $130 per hour, with camps running from $50-$75 per day and $300 per week. Showcases will range from $150-$200.
“It’s like a professional training studio for baseball,” he said of the facility, which will also offer camps, clinics and private instruction for kids and coaches. “We help everyone from six-year-olds to several major leaguers who can come here every day and get their work in.” And as noted above, the beneficiaries aren’t always just the kids.
“Sometimes the parents need a former pro player’s input just as much,” said Morris. (Former Oriole and company instructor) Mike Bordick has six kids and he can relate to what they’re feeling, too.”
The company also encompasses a charitable angle and holds golf events, again with a number of former Major Leaguers, to raise money to give back to local leagues and programs for kids who otherwise wouldn’t get ample opportunities to grow.
“The pros understand that they have a platform in the community,” he said, “and are great people.”
Jim Duquette, a former Orioles executive and co-owner of the two Baseball Warehouse locations in south-central Pennsylvania, spoke of the need for such facilities, especially given how the interest in the sport had fluctuated in the face of increased competition from soccer, lacrosse, video games, etc., and become more specialized.
“Those other opportunities affect participation in baseball and that has, in turn, affected interest in the sport and attendance at Major League games,” said Duquette. “At our Red Lion (Pennsylvania) location, many of our kids play multiple sports and they’re often among the more talented athletes.”
But the trend within baseball training circles is an emphasis on specialization. “So that’s why we’re bringing professional instruction to the youth level. Every instructor feels like they’re a good coach and knows the game. And they may be, but for those who played professionally, know that was their job.”
Given the ever-rising astronomical salaries in the sport, Duquette said that offering instruction is one way former players can give back, boosting interest in the game and nurturing the next generation.
“Matt figured out that this model works,” he said. “He worked with [former Oriole and current Gilman School Head Coach] Larry Sheets at his business in Westminster (which he has since sold) before he opened his first place and saw the value of ex-players sharing their experiences via instruction.”
These instructional facilities “aren’t all successful,” Duquette said. “Not all players have the business backgrounds to do this. That’s where Matt comes in.”
The growth of businesses such as The Baseball Warehouse isn’t unusual, said Dan Dodd, owner of FitFields, an athletic facility planning and design firm in the Charlotte, N.C., market. Youth baseball and training is “a hot commodity, especially in certain parts of the country. We’re designing up to 40 fields a year in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast alone.”
Training players who want to move up to travel teams or college programs, said Dodd, “has become very specific, with kids receiving instruction in very high-end situations. There is a desire for quality in training and parents are willing to pay for it.”
For instance, a team “must pay on average $3,000 just to get into a private travel ball tournament at a destination-based sports facility that will feature more than 150 teams. Some national tournaments attract well over 400 teams from all over the country,” he said, which creates “a significant economic impact.”
That’s what happens when “parents are paying up to $600 per month,” Dodd said, “for private instruction and sessions at high-quality indoor baseball training facilities.”
While getting that instruction from an ex-pro player is often seen as an advantage, “the facilities are just as important,” said Dodd, “(Cal) Ripken, Dempsey and the other former Major Leaguers and pro players connected with businesses such as The Baseball Warehouse possess a wealth of baseball knowledge. That means they can command a premium price for professional instruction.”
That’s what Dempsey and company are banking on. “We can forward our information to these kids, we can give them the opportunity to possibly do the things they want to do and hopefully sign a professional contract,” he said.
“And maybe,” Dempsey said, “they’ll make it to the big leagues and play for 24 years. You never know.”