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So You Wanna Bat Like a Pro?

Get a great workout while you improve your baseball skills at the batting cages.
Monday Apr 07, 2008.     By Danielle Braff
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Take a swing in Slugger's batting cage
On a recent Sunday afternoon, I joined a horde of baseball fanatics at BASH Sports Academy, a 15,000-square-foot Mecca to all things baseball. I looked around at the little boys swinging their bats with their coaches, the older guys practicing their techniques and the fathers throwing balls back and forth to their sons. I thought to myself, "This doesn't look too hard," after all, I'm in good shape, and if a 4-year-old can hit that ball, so could I—right? Unfortunately, it's a little harder than it looks.

The skinny: Batting cages have helped many athletes—from little leaguers to pros—since the 1970s, when the machines were pretty basic and used an "arm-style" pitch. Today's advanced machines can throw curves, fastballs and knuckleballs, but it's pretty easy to figure out how to play. All you really have to do is set your speed (at BASH, you could choose speeds ranging from 30 to 70 miles-per-hour) and decide if you want to hit a hard ball or soft ball. Then, you simply stand in the cage in front of the home base and swing whenever a ball comes flying at you.

The getup: Anything you'd normally wear to work out in is perfect. At BASH, you receive a helmet free of charge, and although I was the only person in the entire stadium who bothered to put it on, I felt safer wearing it. It also provided the bats and all the balls you'll need.

The payoff: According to the diet and fitness website, a 60-minute batting cage workout will burn about 300 calories. Plus, swinging the bat will build back and arm muscles and make your legs look toned and firm. I didn't break a sweat, but by the end of the exercise, my arms were incredibly tired. The next morning, I felt decidedly sore throughout my upper and middle back—so much so that I needed to take a bath to relax my muscles.

Wear and tear: I played hard ball, which strained my wrist and hands, but the tight feeling went away about an hour after I finished, and if you play soft ball, it shouldn't hurt as much. If you don't warm up and cool down after playing, you could tear a muscle, although I skipped both and was fine.

The commitment: It all depends on your goals. If you want to go pro, then—obviously—the more times you go, the better you'll bat. But I was able to drastically improve during the 60-minutes that I played. I missed the ball the first dozen tries, but then I started getting the hang of it. Soon, I was hitting every ball super hard, and if the nets weren't there to catch them, I'm sure I would've been knocking out home runs (or so I keep telling myself).

The cost: It costs $45 for 60-minutes in the batting cages. Or, you can sign up for an annual membership for $350, which allows you to go three times a week at no additional cost. Sign up for an All-Star membership for $525, and you can spend a half-hour in the cages every day for a year.

The skill: To earn the millions that the pros make, you've got to have killer hand-eye coordination, a fast running speed and powerful arm muscles. But to play in the batting cages without making a fool of yourself, you simply need to practice a few times at slow speeds, and you'll catch on quickly. There's a reason why children love to play baseball; it doesn't take a genius or a superhero to hit a ball.

The verdict: Athletes—or anyone who wants to up their game before this summer's baseball/softball leagues kick off—will quickly reap the rewards of a few hours in the batting cages. It's fun, easy, social and good for you. What more could you want?

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