KITCHENER — Kevin Costner may have had his corn field in Iowa, but for Trevor Nyp, this indoor baseball haven is as close to a field of dreams as you can get.
Nyp, the 22-year-old infielder for the Kitchener Panthers, and co-owners Sam Hirani and Trevor Reading are betting on a new indoor baseball training centre they hope will become a year-round hub for the sport in Waterloo Region.
Playball Academy Canada, is a 23,000-square-foot facility with a major league-sized turf infield, pitcher’s mounds, real dirt bullpens, batting cages, weight room and lounge. It’s the first centre of its kind in the area built specifically for baseball and softball, and caters to house league teams and amateurs right up to professional players.
“The turf is better than the Rogers Centre,” boasts Nyp, a Wilfrid Laurier University grad who played for the Golden Hawks. “If you’re going to build it, you might as well build it right.”
For Nyp, it’s the realization of a dream he’s had since he was a teenager. Formal planning began about a year ago, and construction on the two-storey site at 10 Executive Place near Highway 401 started in September.
Nyp managed to snag Dalton Pompey, the Mississauga-raised rookie who plays for the Toronto Blue Jays, to throw out the first pitch and help celebrate the opening of the facility.
Nyp will be the facility’s general manager, and will lead a team of instructors offering lessons aimed at all ages. Teams and individuals can also buy memberships and rent the facility or parts of it, get professional coaching and hold practices in the winter.
“It fills a heck of a void,” said Bill Pegg, president of the Kitchener Panthers, the local semi-pro Intercounty Baseball League club. “It’ll help the sport, from minor league right on up.”
Until now, local baseball players looking to train indoors had to use soccer facilities that weren’t designed for their needs. Modelled after training centres Nyp used while playing for Oakton Community College near Chicago, Playball features turf laid on top of finely-screened gravel, giving it a bounce almost like real grass.
He also hopes the academy can become a showcase venue, drawing U.S. college scouts who want to get a look at local baseball talent. There’s already a pre-season college prospect showcase planned for Jan. 24.
“We know there’s a demand for it,” said Hirani, a local entrepreneur who owns several gyms and a stake in a local car dealership. “There’s no other baseball-specific facility in Ontario that’s open to the public that we know of.”
Hirani and Reading, co-owner of a local construction company, knew Nyp through baseball connections and saw an opportunity to make a business out of the sport they loved. They hope their academy draws teams from as far away as London and Toronto.
“It’s for any kid who wants to enjoy the game and get better,” said Reading, who played for the Kitchener Hallman Twins in the 1990s.
And they’re betting their facility could make Kitchener a hub for the game’s elite players, too, who previously had to travel to larger urban centres for top-flight training.
“We want bring baseball to a different level. We want it to grow in this area,” Hirani said.