Batting cages have been in operation for approximately fifty years. The first cages had baseball pitching machines only as no softball machines had yet been developed. The early batting cages were typically erected using an "open field" approach with balls being hit into an open field (much like the current day golf driving ranges). Cages which were enclosed, were built using asphalt, telephone poles as vertical posts and golf-type netting systems.
Most cages of this era were developed and designed by the owner and no "standard" dimensions were available throughout the industry. The equipment available during this time consisted of "arm-style" machines. Balls were either not retrieved and needed to be gathered in and around the entire area and fed back to each machine, or the floor was sloped back to the machine area. From this point, the balls were lifted by hand and fed to each machine hopper. This was a very time consuming process and required considerable downtime to gather these balls. Obviously, this was not a very economical method.
The equipment of this time was developed primarily for "team" use and they required considerable maintenance and upkeep for commercial duty. During the mid-1970's, the first "circular" or "radius-style" cages were built in Southern California. These cages allowed each batter to have a 90 degree area to hit into (much like a regular ball diamond). It also allowed the machines to be closely grouped together in the "pit" area. Prior to this style, all batting cages were laid out in a side-by-side method. Each machine being approximately fifteen feet apart in the "pit" area. The outfield in the radius-style was also expanded. The old style generally hit only as far as the pitching machines (generally 60' to 70'). The radial design also allowed for sloping the floor into one central location. All balls hit into this field rolled to this area.
In 1978, the owners of ABC developed the first automatic "retrieval/conveyor" system to lift and sort both baseballs and softballs from a sump area in the batting cage and to feed all machines within the batting range. This development revolutionized the industry. Combined with complete building plans, developed by the manufacturer, developing and building batting cages became a much easier venture.
The owners of early batting ranges included golf driving range owners, miniature golf owners, and stand-alone batting range operations. Many of these operations closed during the 1960's and early 1970's. The reasons for these closures varied. Some operations were just too troublesome for the operator. Others were unprofitable due to the excessive labor required, and still others were closed as a result of the property values rising to a "higher and better use". With the advent of automatic feeding systems, better and more reliable pitching machine equipment and related equipment, supplies designed for commercial use, and more detailed construction blueprints, new operators are entering the industry. Estimates of operators prior to 1980 would range from 100 to 200 total batting ranges. Today, that total number would be in the 1200 to 1500 neighborhood. We believe that these figures will increase four or five fold in the next several years.