In years past, anyone or any team wanting to get ready for the softball season in Yellowknife would have to rent space at a gymnasium or the Fieldhouse.
There was no softball-specific venue for players to practice in while waiting for the snow to melt.
That is until now.
NWT Softball has opened up the very first indoor softball training facility in the territory, located at Pack Rat Storage on Old Airport Rd. The doors opened in early March, going seven days a week split between the Yellowknife Wolverines junior fastball program and the Yk Fastball League.
Steve Thomas and Jenn Lukas are managing the facility and both are coaches in the Wolverines program.
The facility takes up two bays at one of Pack Rat’s large garages. There are two pitching chutes for players to practice pitching along with two batting cages: one with a Jugs pitching machine to simulate live hitting and another where players hit off of a tee.
Thomas said it’s going to be a big tool to help the younger players get in more practice as opposed to having just a few weeks outdoors in the summer.
“It’s all about getting the kids more time,” he said. “A lot of parents are gone for the summer, so those kids go with them, and the ones who do stay around only get about one month of time on the diamond. They can see balls getting thrown at them for batting practice and the pitchers can work on their control and speed. The big thing is repetition because that’s how you get better.”
It’s also nice to have a place where everything can be kept in one spot, he added.
“You don’t have to lug all of the equipment back and forth, like you would have to do if you were practicing in a gym,” he said. “That saves a lot of time and gives us more of a chance to work as opposed to having to empty the place out at the end of each practice.”
Thomas is hopeful that players from the communities can get in on the action; he would like to get groups from Hay River and Fort Simpson in to have some sessions by the end of this month.
Alanna Pellerin, who plays with the Wolverines, said the one thing she wants to work on before the season begins is her pitching but being able to get in some work before hitting the diamond is something she never thought she would get to do.
“You’re more improving yourself and you aren’t focused on the stuff that you maybe don’t need a lot of work on,” she said. “When you’re here, you’re definitely focusing on what you know you need to work on right now.”
It especially comes in handy during times of Covid-19, she added.
This won’t be a permanent facility as the space is rented up until the end of May, which is when players should be heading outdoors to play, so long as the weather co-operates.
“It’s a bit expensive to keep it up year-round,” said Thomas. “It’s one-and-done but it’s nice to be able to have it for one year.”
The idea for the cage came from Paul Gard, NWT Softball’s executive director, who said he was looking for some space to help with a national junior development program started by Softball Canada.
“It’s to get more male players involved and we have six from Hay River and Yellowknife,” he said. “They started asking if they could borrow equipment to practice in their garages and that’s when I thought we should probably start looking for a place to give them a chance to practice and not destroy their houses.”
Gard also said one of the big advantages it gives those players is the opportunity to record what they’re doing and send it in to Softball Canada in order to keep track on their development.
“They’ve got a place to work on their hitting, their pitching and they can use video so the folks down south know how things are going,” he said.
NWT Softball was able to help pay for it thanks to money from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs’ (MACA) Emergency Support Funding for Sport Organizations, which came through Sport Canada.
As with everything right now, the entire facility also is Covid-19 compliant with guests signing in and out in order to keep contact tracing.
“You have to respect the rules,” said Gard. “We’ve been lucky up here but you don’t want to screw it up.”