Wendi Albritton does not play baseball or softball, but she does know that it is far more than the American pastime; it is a way of building kids, families, and communities. When she and her family moved here in 2006, she was a busy ER nurse raising her family, and knew firsthand what it was like to be a single mom and try to find good, clean, safe fun for her family that was affordable. While she does not play baseball herself, her other half, Michael Whitworth, and his sister, Dawn Ridgeway, are long time local players and coaches, and everyone agreed: there needed to be a place where kids and families could gather and either train, or just play together and make memories.
Grand Slam Cages, located at 100 US Hwy 31 S in Athens, opened during Spring Break as a result of the whole family coming together to make it happen. The facility is in Suite K of the Athens Shopping Center and is near Hometown Grocery, Advance Auto Parts, and Subway. The paint is barely dry, but every time I go in there, there are kids and families enjoying themselves, so they are off to a good start.
When I asked Wendi why “now” was the time to scramble to make this happen, she said, “Three different people, (without talking to each other), said to her, ‘We need indoor cages.’” The serious players in her household were also having to contend with practice being cancelled often because of rain, or due to inclement weather. The “now” also had to do with Spring Break, as mentioned above, and the fact that Opening Day is this weekend for every team from the majors on down, including the Athens Sports and Rec teams. (See What Makes Ronnie Roll on page 8.)
Wendi has a strong work ethic and a healthy traditionalism when it comes to raising kids, and all of the kids in her blended family with Michael are involved in the business. “The little kids pick up balls and put them back in the machines, and the big kids help with everything, as well as at the desk. She told me that one of her goals is to “build a business that I can leave to my kids someday.” She is not only passionate about raising her kids right, she has a heart for community building, and making a place where everyone can feel comfortable. “We have had a single dad walk here from his home with his two kids, and for $10 dollars, they had a great time. We have had some people (for whom money was no issue), come with their kids and do the same thing, only they played longer. We have had little kids come and pull their change out of their pockets until they had enough to play, even if it was only a few pitches.” Three dollars at Grand Slam will get you 20 pitches, which is a good way to teach kids the value of a dollar.
The state-of-the-art machines range in speed from 35-60 mph for softball, and 40-70 mph for baseball. In addition, there are pitching and catching practice lanes. You can come as an individual, a team, or as a family, and coaches can reserve time for their crews. “You can bring your own equipment, or we can provide it,” Wendi said.
What has been gratifying for Wendi and her family is the support they have received from the community. The walls are going to be decorated with jerseys that have been donated by schools and other sports organizations. The concession stand, which is called “The Dugout,” is located at the back right corner of the building, and the counter is decorated with pictures of local kids playing ball. It will carry standard concession stand fare, drinks, Cracker Jacks, hot dogs with all the trimmings, and nachos. And, in keeping with all things Americana, the lyrics to “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” will be posted through the use of “wall words” around the inside perimeter of the building.
There are several things that make Grand Slam Cages a real bargain and a boon to our community. There is no membership fee. If you are the little kid that has saved up your proceeds from your lemonade stand, you can go to the cages. If you want to rent the whole place out for a party or a practice, you can. Wednesday nights and all day Sundays are set aside for reservation-only events, large or small. The machines are top flight, and the best part is that the staff has already been commended for “amazing customer service,” as well as for being “friendly and outgoing.”
Come to Grand Slam Cages, where sandlot meets state-of-the-art, your kids get good exercise while working hard as well as having fun, and you’ll have made memories that will not fade with summer.
Grand Slam Cages
100 US Hwy 31 S, Suite K, Athens, AL, 35611
Hours: Mon-Tue and Thur, 3-9, Wed reservation only, Fri, 3-10, Sat, noon-10, Sun, reservation only
Extended summer hours are just around the corner!
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner