Between boys' and girls' basketball, wrestling, and competition cheerleading, there isn't much spare time to be found at a typical high school during the winter.
That was the problem.
And Mall Ball is the solution.
Times Observer photo by Ben Oviatt
Mall Ball, located at the Big Lots end of the Warren Mall, is a baseball training facility for local players to use during their sport’s off-season. Mall Ball opens next Tuesday and is available to the public from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 9 p.m. on weekends.
Mall Ball is the creation of Warren Area High School assistant baseball coach Andy Teconchuk, who saw a need for an off-season baseball facility in Warren County. Inside the Warren Mall, of all places, local players can shake off the rust in a batting cage or on a regulation-size practice pitching mound. There's even room to take grounders, as well as stations to hit off a tee or take soft toss.
For Teconchuk, whose son Tanner is a pitcher, it was a creation of necessity.
"The biggest reason is arm care. To have a healthy arm, you've got to throw a lot," said Teconchuk. "You really can't expect a kid to pick up a ball in April, have one month of throwing, and be ready to pitch in a game."
"The average velocity for a high schooler from the north is 74-to-76 (miles per hour). In the south, it's 84-to-86," he added. "That shows the amount of throwing they're able to do."
With official high school spring practices beginning in early March and seasons starting later in the month, getting in game-shape is a scramble. Factor in that baseball and softball teams are often practicing indoors for an outdoor sport, and it's even more hectic. In larger areas, players have the advantage of independent facilities to get work in ahead of time.
To have that opportunity in Warren, all it took was a phone call.
Teconchuk reached out to the owners of the Warren Mall, who told him to "go for it," he said. All they had to do was cover the electric bill and make regular donations to an organization like the Warren Baseball Boosters.
Mall Ball isn't just for the Dragons. The facility is open to the general public for a fee of $20 per week or $50 per month, which is significantly less than similar facilities in the area, said Teconchuk. Teams can reserve the space ahead of time on a first-come, first-serve basis by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
"It's all about the kids, we're not making money off it," said Teconchuk, who also coaches a travel baseball team made up of local players. "It's really the only sport you can't work on during the winter. Anyone will tell you baseball is tough. It's a game of skill."
Now, there's a place to hone those skills year-round.
A pitching machine and practice mound are available to use along with the batting cage, but the facility is "B.Y.O.B." as Teconchuk says, or "bring your own baseballs." For safety purposes, and to keep things running smoothly, the space will have a maximum capacity of 10 people at a time.
Mall Ball's opening night will be Tuesday, Dec. 10. Hours are from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 9 p.m. on weekends.