Surrounded by concrete pillars and walls, somewhere in the basement of the Lamkin Activity Center, lie three batting cages.
This is where the Northwest baseball and softball teams practice.
The Bearcats make due with this indoor facility as they prepare for the first part of their season.
Sometimes they can practice in the limited gym space above, where players throw longtoss with rubber balls to prevent damaging the basketball court.
The team has had limited access to its field leading up to the second weekend of games, which comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with Maryville’s weather in January and February.
Head coach Darin Loe said he believes an upgraded indoor facility could benefit the team in many ways.
“We put guys into competitive situations,” Loe said. “But if you had that indoor facility where you could almost scrimmage in there, even if it’s just an infield scrimmage, you could see where the ball flies. You could see if it’s a fly ball, line drive or ground ball.
“You’d probably have the same swing. But it certainly gives you more confidence, and that early-season confidence is very important.”
The baseball team is not the only spring sport that has to work around schedules that come with using the facility.
The softball team, indoor track and field team, tennis-all spring sports use the same facility at one point or another, working to share space and time.
Senior outfielder Jon Pomatto said that the state of the indoor facility has its pros and cons.
“It’s good, compared to a lot of other places, but it definitely could get better,” Pomatto said. “Our batting cages are a little outdated, and everything down here seems a little cramped because this is where the rest of the athletes are.
“Getting our own facility would really benefit not only us but also the future of getting people to come play here for Bearcat baseball, softball or any other spring sport that could really use a new facility.”
A facilities upgrade is a possibility, but Wren Baker said some of Northwest’s MIAA competition has already begun to upgrade.
“From a purely athletic perspective, Pitt’s building one, Western has one,” Baker said. “Hays is building one, and there are two or three other schools that are talking about it.
“We are the farthest north of all of those schools. So from an athletic perspective, I think for us to remain highly competitive, it’s gonna be really important.”
Baker said the University is looking to develop a new indoor activities center through the next capital campaign.
Baker said University officials are speaking to an architect who could meet with students and coaches to throw out concepts and ideas.
New indoor athletic facilities would benefit more than just student athletes, hosting activities for all students that could include anything from laser tag to boat and R.V. shows.
Loe said an upgrade could benefit the baseball program in many ways, one of them being the ability to recruit prospects.
“I’ve always said that there are two things when playing baseball: you either need scholarship money or facilities,” Loe said. “If you have one or the other, you can be highly competitive in a league, but if you have both, that’s where your championships come from. So it’s definitely something I’m excited to address and get going on and be a part of those discussions in the future.”
Baker, like Loe, said he realizes the benefits to such a facility when it comes to helping a team that went 18-32 last season.
“Without a doubt, facilities affect recruiting,” Baker said. “High school kids are very much into what they can see and what feels big-time. If they weren’t, Oregon wouldn’t have 150 different uniform combinations. That stuff is important.”