The Genoa Little League Association hit a home run for the approximately 200 ballplayers who call it their home franchise and for the community that has supported it for nearly half a century.
That's because, coming to Veteran's Memorial Park this season will be the GLLA's first, state-of-the-art batting cage. GLIA ballplayers will be able to access the cage free-of-charge.
"We, as a league, have actually been wanting a batting cage for quite awhile now," offers GLLA president Lee Nissen, 50. Nissen has been involved in Genoa-area youth baseball since the age of 16.
Nissen first spent his time at Quarry Park as a player, coach, public address announcer, concession stand operator, and steward to the league for 34 years. The cage adds a new element to what the GLLA offers.
"As many times our diamonds are in use for practices and games, this cage will give our kids a place to hit," Nissen said. "This cage is something we've envisioned for quite some time,"
Nissen said the cage became a reality when Joe Large, GLLA vice president in charge of fundraising, came up with the idea of areverse raffle. About $11,000 was raised at the event last past April.
“I think Joe and his wife, Kathy, did a phenomenal job, as we were able to raise more than enough to build a cage," Nissen said.
"The cage adds a whole new dimension to our baseball fields that we never had before," he adds, "as we can now take batting practice before games. A team can come up, and hit, even when the diamonds are in use. Even dads can bring their sons up, to get some practice swings in at the park. Our community is just ecstatic. This is something we've wanted for our kids for some time."
Slated to be completed in the coming weeks, the 70 by 28 foot cage’s construction will be a homegrown labor of love. Stone is being donated by Graymont, a frame will be donated by Lester Meyer and Riverside Machine & Automation, and the cage, matting, and other features coming courtesy of Antony Sharples and Genoa business Elite Team Supply. Completing the build will be former Genoa youth baseball players and longtime supporters Tom Giles and Tim Reed.
The premier feature of the GLLA's new cage will be a pitching machine donated to the organization by John Castle, whose grandchildren play ball at the park. The machine features all the usual bells-and-whistles, including varying pitch speed controls, and the capability to change up pitch styles, and was brand new when it was donated two years ago. Nissen says a league official will have to be on-hand for use of the machine itself.
Further equipment, such as batting helmets and bats, will not be included with use of the cage, so ballplayers will have to bring their own to the park.
Slated to be located along the third base line of Lou Thomas Field, the new cage is just the latest in hopefully a long line of updates and improvements to Veteran's Memorial Park's youth baseball facilities.
Other improvements in recent years included new fencing, an updated concession stand and dugouts, and the installation of new additional diamonds. Nissen says the GLLA would like to add scoreboards to all of its diamonds in the not-too-distant future, as well as lights to Hayes Field, pending a grant.
Nissen says, in his mind, it's a proud moment when a community project like this comes together.
"The GLLA would like to thank our community for their great support, and for helping to make this become a reality," he adds. "Our Genoa baseball community has always been strong, and we only hope this adds to it.
"I have to thank all of our volunteers who made the reverse raffle happen," praises Nissen, "and Lester and Riverside Machine for the frame, Antony and Elite Team Supply for the cage and mats, Graymont for the stone, and John Harmeyer for hauling it for us! And of course, I need to thank (village administrator) Kevin Gladden for helping us make this project happen.
"This cage provides a ton of benefits to our league and our kids," he says, "and it's something to be very proud of for us, because it has been a true community effort."