15 top Batting Cages to hone your skills with the pros!

The first batting cages weren't cages at all. Automated machines propelled balls "arm-style" out into an area, typically a field. Batting cages have been around for more than 50 years and were used primarily by professional baseball teams until the late seventies when advances in the technology, like the development of system that collected, sorted and fed the balls back into a machine, made it a more economical venture for business owners. Batting cages where then added to outdoor recreation centers where people could go to play miniature golf, race Go Karts, practice their golf swing or hit some baseballs.

Batting cages are in every state of the country, offering people of all ages and abilities the chance to hit softballs or baseballs in a safe and affordable way. Whether it be to practice for your next game or work out the kinks in your muscles, it doesn't have to be baseball season to head to one of these batting cages and hit some balls.

1. Sports Academy, Opelika, Alabama

Sports Academy is the area's "premiere indoor sports training and conditioning facility" where you never have to miss a workout due to inclement weather. Their expert coaches, like Mark Fuller can tailor lessons to your level or you can use their facilities for personal rentals or for your team. Fuller is a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and a former coach with more than 25 years baseball playing and coaching experience, including "five years professional baseball playing experience with the New York Mets and Colorado Rockies organizations, rising to the AAA level." Their coaches can also customize "age-specific weight training programs" to keep you in shape and you can sign up for a spring training camp or clinic or book their space for a party.

2. Players Choice Academy, Scottsdale, Arizona

The temperate year-round climate of Arizona makes it ideal for outdoor batting cages. In fact, the Cactus League is the designation for the professional baseball teams that take their spring training in Arizona. At Players Choice Academy in Scottsdale they have four lighted batting cages, two of which have an "Iron Mike Pitching Machine and a home plate hand feed machine that throws a variety of pitches." If going pro is something that interests you, then Players Choice Academy may be the choice for you.To date, eight of their students have reached the majors and more than "150 players have received college scholarships." They attribute their success to their training programs and also to their expert instructors like Steve Ontiveros, an "11-year MLB veteran and All Star pitcher who coached the Chinese Olympic team in 2008."

3. Rex's Baseball Batting Cages, Los Angeles, California

Don't go to Rex's for celebrity spotting, but do count on snagging a spot in a cage with just the right speed for your stance. They have Softball cages- both slow and fast and Baseball cages with speeds ranging from 40mph to 90mph. Rex's has been around since 1978. They take reservations online or via phone and they are not open on rainy days, so call ahead.

4. Slammers, Lakewood, Colorado

At Slammers they believe "baseball players are not born, they are built" and because it's not always baseball season batting cages give you a chance to train year-round. Slammers has all the equipment you need to take your hitting game to the next level, including five batting cages all with Master Pitch Arms Machines with speeds that range from 35-70 mph for baseball and 40 and 60 mph for fast pitch softball. If you are looking for individual instruction, spend some time with their top-notch instructors like Mark Holzemer who is a former Major league pitcher who "began his 15-year professional career with the California Angels in 1988 as both a starter and relief pitcher" and also pitched for the Seattle Mariners, the Oakland Athletics and the Philadelphia Phillies."

5. Grand Prix Tampa, Tampa, Florida

Batting cages abound in the land of baseball, which is home to the spring training Grapefruit League. Grab some inspiration from the majors before you work on your swing at Grand Prix Tampa, which is a family fun center with Go Karts, Miniature Golf and nine batting cages with slow, medium and fast pitching.

6. Stella's Batting Cages, Lyons, Illinois

The batting cages at Stella's are heated in the winter and outdoor in the summer. You can participate in fall and winter hitting leagues and rent time as an individual or a team. Stella's even has a Pro Shop with Louisville Slugger bats (among many others) along with gloves and helmets.

7. Grand Slam Club, Bronx, New York

When you join the Grand Slam Club you join a winning team of instructors dedicated to "providing children and youth with healthy and safe alternatives in organized sports." Choose from among a variety of programs to sharpen your skills like camps, clinics and tournaments. They have equipment used by college and MLB teams, indoor batting cages and adjustable pitching machines for both baseball and softball.

8. Barnyard Batting Cages, Moscow, Iowa

Barnyard Batting Cages proves the theory that if you build it they will come-especially in Iowa, where the Field of Dreams can be found. The owners/instructors have intimate knowledge of the game and they put their talent into helping hitters improve. They have two cages for rent (one 70' cage for baseball hitters and one 55' cage for softball). Hitting times are available by appointment seven days a week and the cages are heated and indoors. Mark and Jeremy Weih are the two instructors behind the scenes with "extensive knowledge playing at the high school and college level," so they know what your kids are up against. Jeremy was a "1st Team All-District Infielder and 1st Team All Region Infielder" in 2009 and played baseball for Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska in 2010.

9. The Baseball Zone, Rockville, Maryland

Get in the zone at the Baseball Zone and hone up on your hitting. They offer private lessons from a "School's Out" one-day workshop to an 8-week winter pitching program (for ages 8-12). Their cages are open seven days a week and available to individuals and teams (and families and friends!). They use Iron Mike "arm throwing" machines that provide a realistic hitting experience. They have a dugout staffed with former major leaguers, like Charles Devereux who "pitched professionally for the Baltimore Orioles for four seasons" and Derek Hacopian who "holds ACC single season records in Batting Average (.490). On-Base Percentage (.618), and Slugging Percentage (.943) (wow!) and Jerry Shank who is a pitching, hitting and fielding coach with "10 years coaching experience at the college level and has coached or recruited 16 players who have moved on to professional baseball."

10. Ironwood Batting Cages, Woburn, Massachusetts

When you connect with a ball it can be like connecting with the past. Remembering those days when you were excited to be up at bat. At Ironwood they want to make new baseball memories with the today's generation of baseball fans. Ironwood has nine batting cages with 11 machines (two cages offer a choice of baseball or softball) all with adjustable speeds. Hitting and pitching instruction is also available.

11. Extra Innings, Shelby Township, Michigan

Extra Innings is a modern and full-equipped indoor baseball and softball training center. Reserve one of their six "multi-use indoor batting and pitching tunnels" or step into one of their three coin operated cages. If your goal is to be a better player, book a series of lessons for you, your friends or your team. They can help you improve your "hitting, pitching, fielding, catching and throwing."

12. OKC Cages, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

photo: okccages.com

OKC Cages is a "premiere indoor practice facility." Their modern location features the same equipment the pros use and their fiber glass mounds will you have you feeling like a major leaguer. They have seven batting cages and two soft toss cages and you can take lessons, join a camp or work one-on-one with their professional coaches, like Will Savage, an exceptional athlete who "won 4 Western State Conference Championships (two for baseball and two for football)." He "lettered in Baseball at the University of Oklahoma for two years and was invited to Major League Spring Training with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012."

13. Monster Batting Cages, Clayton, North Carolina

Monster Batting Cages claims to have the "largest fast pitch selection in the area" with a variety of machines, including Iron Mike, Jugs, Atec and Sling. They have baseball and softball bats and pitching mounds for all levels. Monster is also a fully stocked baseball and softball store. Purchase a yearly membership to get full use of the facility year-round or book time for a party or a team workout. If you are looking for a little one-on-one, book time with Corey Lee whose professional experience includes time with the Texas Rangers and the Chicago White Sox.

14. Premier Prospects, Lewisville, Texas

Improve your prospects of reaching the major leagues by spending time at this facility. In addition to their 15 cages and "game ready practice infields" Premier Prospects has "viewing platforms for coaches and scouts" and they offer video analysis, so you can obsess about what you're doing wrong. Enlist one of their instructors to help, like former Texas Ranger Hitting Coach Rudy Jaramillo and Ron (Papa Jack) Jackson, former Hitting Coach for the 2004 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. You can also sign up for a camp or chill in their new Parents Lounges with free Wi-Fi.

15. The Strike Zone, Alexandria, Virginia

When you enter the Strike Zone you enter a full service training facility with state-of-the-art equipment you can use year-round. Choose from one of their three 55' batting cages with Iron Mike pitching machines or try your hand at one of their two Juggs Softball machines. Spend some time in their Warm Up Cage running through hitting drills before you step up into the batter's box or take lessons from one of their experience coaches like Alec Grosser, their pitching instructor who "was drafted by the Atlanta Braves organization and has just finished his second minor league season as a pro player and was named Danville Braves Pitcher of the Year in 2014."

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