Star-Bulletin Sports

Sunday, May 27, 2001


Caleb Parazette took a swing at a 40 mph pitch at the Ohana
Batting Cages last week. The machines pitch up to 85 mph.

Got bats, balls?

The solid satisfaction that comes
from hitting a baseball happens
every day at the batting cages

By C.R. Dudley
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Caleb Parazette, 10 years old, blonde-topped and freckled, squinted like a gunfighter peering into the sun.

His hands gripped the stick in his fingers -- not his palms -- with the second knuckle of the top hand aligned with the third knuckle of his bottom hand, not too loose, not too tight. Just like his dad taught him to hold a bat.

He called the count: 3-and-2, bottom of the ninth, down by three runs, bases loaded.


He fouled off a Bruce Sutter split-fingered fastball.


He fouled off a Phil Niekro knuckleball.


What: Ohana Batting Cages
Where: 447 North Nimitz Highway, near Sam Choy's Restaurant
When: Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fridays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturdays, 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sundays, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Cost: A $1 token is worth 10 pitches. Six tokens, $5. Twelve tokens, $10. Cage rental is also available.
Lessons: A private batting session with Les Loo is $25 per half-hour, evenings by appointment only.
Equipment: Full line of baseball and softball gear is available.
Information: 528-2243

Then, like Babe Ruth in the fabled 1932 World Series game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, Caleb called his shot. Pointing the stick toward the guava trees where left field should be, he nodded with confidence. The next pitch would be a hanging curveball.


The pebble he had just tossed into the air to swing at took off.

"The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" Caleb yelled into the empty dirt lot as he circled the imaginary bases.

Ah, the days of old. Some 20-plus years ago, when Parazette, now a professional massage therapist in Waikiki, could spend an afternoon blasting rocks into an empty field with only a stick and his imagination for company. He could swing and swing until blisters wore into his hands and his shoulders ached.

But Parazette doesn't have afternoons to waste anymore, and there don't seem to be many empty lots left anyhow. There are bills to pay and things to fix and all manner of responsibilities that quell the child's imagination in the mind of the adult. Where can he go to revisit the Ruthian feats, swing bats at balls and maybe work off a little bit of the frustration that's inherent in these hectic, busy times?

Parazette has the answer. He takes an occasional half-hour break to hit balls at the Ohana Batting Cages at 447 North Nimitz Highway near downtown.

There are six batting bays at Ohana, with machines throwing a range of speeds and styles. Two bays offer softball-sized, hard-rubber, dimpled balls pitched at regulation arcs that comply with the American Softball Association and the United States Slow-pitch Softball Association rules.

Four bays throw the nine-inch-circumference, baseball-sized and weighted dimpled balls at speeds from 40 to 85 miles per hour.

"When we first opened, I had one pitching machine set at 95 miles per hour, but not many people could hit that. I was constantly having to replace backstops," Ohana Batting Cages owner Dana Verducci said. "So I slowed it down to 85. After a while, hitters can get the rhythm at that speed."

Eighty-five miles per hour is plenty fast. That's how fast star pitcher Tom Glavine of the Atlanta Braves throws. The state's top high school and college hurlers throw in that range.

Ohana Batting Cages owner, Dana Verducci holds 7-month-old
son, Parker, in front of the baseball equipment for sale.

An avid softball player, Verducci opened her batting cages seven years ago to fill a niche in the islands. Ohana remains the only public batting cages on Oahu.

The dimpled ball, though quite a bit different from the regulation baseball used in the major leagues today, gives the same feel off the bat and the same sense of accomplishment upon hammering it a good one. It doesn't take much for the imagination to fill in the rest.

The machines -- cold, blue, unremitting, spring-loaded beasts -- can throw a baseball over 100 miles per hour. Standing 60.6 feet from the mouth, waiting for its dimpled-ball gem to fire out at you, at least you don't have to worry about the occasional wild pitch or close shave. Verducci chose the arm hurling Master Pitching Machines over less expensive wheel throwers because they only have an up-down variance in their pitches and very little side-to-side movement.

Parazette melodramatically lofted his borrowed Louisville Slugger C555 Ultra High Performance Platinum, 30-ounce, 33-inch bat into the air like a sacred staff.

"My ax. My blade. My sword of yellow dimpled ball death," he said in reverence to the bat.

According to Verducci, the Louisville Slugger Platinum C555 alloy bat is the best crusher made right now. She doesn't hand out banana sticks, no matter if you're a banjo hitter or Benny Agbayani. She hands out the best bats to the first who come.

"That way they get to try out the latest stuff," Verducci said.

Agbayani was at one time the Ohana Batting Cages batting coach; a post now filled by Iolani baseball coach Les Loo.

If you take up the batting cage challenge and knock off a few stress-releasing hits, Harry Caray won't be there to call his trademark, "It could be. It might be. It is! A home run!"

But you will still feel that particular satisfaction that can only come from hitting a baseball solidly with a bat.


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