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The Kage comes out swinging, becomes big hit with ball players

'This was not something I could have seen myself doing years ago, but it has become an absolute joy,' says owner, whose background is in hockey

What started out as a great idea for a date night turned into hiring trainers to help build the next breed of local baseball players.

The Kage, located in south-end Barrie at 122 Commerce Park Dr., is the newest addition to the city’s sports training landscape.

Owner Chuck Schembri and his wife, Jessie, have been in the batting-cage business since August 2020, five months into the pandemic.

Schembri, who's originally from New Brunswick, had no previous business experience with batting cages. He ran a car dealership back east, where he met his wife.

“She is actually from Barrie and wanted to come home after we had a baby. I wasn’t going to leave my job, they actually offered to fly me back and forth, but then the pandemic hit and that was no longer an option,” Schembri tells BarrieToday.

The couple had time to think about what to do and their love of sports led them to wanting to open The Kage.

“We started over on Saunders Road with 5,000 square feet and it was good for people coming in to take a few swings or couples looking for a unique date night,” Schembri says. “This facility (on Commerce Park Drive) is 20,000 sq. ft. and has kind of taken on a whole new life."

The Kage features year-round training with baseball and softball clinics for players of all ages.

Schembri says there are players of all skill levels as well, from house league right up to elite.

“We still offer the option for people to come in and hit around, but truly we have turned into a full-sized training facility for ball players,” he says. “Where it used to be me and my wife, we now have six coaches on staff helping in all aspects of the game.”

The Kage’s busy time is from November to April and Schembri says they helped train more than 1,200 kids last winter.

The upstairs has the pitching areas and would have been quite difficult to construct considering the amount of sand that had to get to the second level. The main pitching mound contains real dirt — 11,000 pounds of it!

“Yeah, that was a matter of taking 40-pound bags, one at a time, up the stairs,” Schembri says. “It wasn’t easy, that's for sure.”

A very unique option at The Kage is the HitTrax Simulator.

“This is a really cool thing that allows you to get the screen and choose a skill level and any MLB stadium you like,” Schembri says. “When you’re hitting in the cage with this feature, the hit shows up on the screen in that stadium and gets played as it would if you were there. It's very popular with clients.”

The simulator can switch from batting practice sessions to game-mode sessions that capture data for training and recreational purposes. 

Field dimensions can be switched from kids to pro-sized fields to accommodate all ages.

If you are looking for equipment to play the game, The Kage also has a store section which is full of stock by a company called Baseball 360.

“It isn’t my stuff and they pay for the space to be in here, but their items are high-quality stuff,” Schembri says. “They're more of an online store out of Quebec and we put a deal together for them to branch out here.”

Schembri, who is a former junior hockey player in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, admits he never expected to be running a successful batting-cage business, but is happy to reap the rewards from it.

“This was not something I could have seen myself doing years ago, but it has become an absolute joy,” he says. “When you see kids coming in here to get better and then they do, that means something.

"It's especially great to see how kids who are still feeling the effects of  the COVID lockdowns, are really needing something like this and they are getting the exercise and friendships they need.”