A new facility geared towards baseball and softball, on the brink of its February grand opening, promises to be unlike anything the region has seen.
Sluggers, which touts itself as “the finest and most modern indoor youth baseball/softball training facility in Maine,” will be a 9,000-square-foot facility including two video-simulated pitching machines, three additional batting/pitching tunnels, a SportsTurf infield practice area, and a second-floor observation deck for parents, coaches, and birthday parties.
Beyond training, Sluggers will build teams to compete in Amateur Athletic Union baseball and the Amateur Softball Junior Olympics.
“We plan on sending these teams around New England and putting their names and their faces out there,” said General Manager Darrell Pluard.
The goal is building the love of baseball and softball, building players’ skills, and hopefully stoking some collegiate success.
Pluard, who played Independent League baseball while in the Marine Corps, later coached women’s softball, and once led the Marine Corps All-Star team to an impressive run, has ample ballfield experience. After returning to the area in 1990, he worked steadily as a coach and umpire at everything from young players to American Legion play.
“If we get four kids that come through… and get Division I scholarships, then we’re winners,” Pluard said. “We’ve done it.”
Division I baseball scholarships are unheard of in Maine, and are rare in softball, but the Sluggers mission is to change that. In addition to training, the staff will shoot video of players to help them work on their skills, and make videos of the older players available to college scouts.
Currently, schoolkids make regular weekend trips to Portland for indoor instruction. Former UMaine and College World Series player Mike Coutts, a co-owner of that facility who has helped develop similar facilities, has consulted with Sluggers to help get the program off the ground.
“Mike and his partners had no problem allowing Mike to come on and help us — believing that building baseball as a whole is never bad,” Pluard said.
Scoring Big: The City
of Brewer Helps It Happen
Sluggers isn’t a new idea locally. In 2009, the W.I.N. Training Center, a similar facility, opened on Wilson Street in Brewer, but closed less than two years later. Pluard says that Sluggers is doing everything right, with equipment better than anything in Maine, and with some equipment rivaling anything publicly available in New England. But none of it would have been possible without the investment by owner Karl Ward, owner of renowned Brewer construction firm Nickerson & O’Day.
After nearly two years of planning, Ward found and bought property in September on the Acme Road in Brewer and secured a lease with the city for the existing adjacent parking lot. He then brokered a deal with a pre-engineered-building company and put his construction crews to work. The building was designed in half the usual time and is going up in about a third the usual time, even after the city of Brewer expedited everything in September in record time.
“They want this to succeed,” he said. “They recognize this is a benefit not just for the youth of Brewer and the kids that come in from the outer towns… but kids from all over Eastern and Central Maine.”
Many things needed to happen very quickly in order for the facility to be ready by February.
“When they came to us, they knew that they didn’t have a lot of time to get the project done in order to open on the date that they felt was important to not miss the spring season,” said D’arcy Main-Boyington, Brewer’s economic-development director. “We did everything we could to make it happen… It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t smooth, it wasn’t pretty — but we got there.”
To help offset operating costs, Ward is relocating a company he owns, Concrete Coring of Maine, from leased property in Bangor to Sluggers. That lease payment will help support Sluggers. It’s taken hard work and juggling, but Ward says everyone’s commitment has made it possible.
“There’s a lot of kids that, if they were given just a little bit more of an opportunity to play baseball, they’d show more interest and their skills would improve,” Ward said. “Maine could have baseball and softball really on the map in New England. Right now, many colleges and scouts look past us… Why does it have to be that way?”
The Sluggers credo is that it doesn’t have to be that way. To make it happen, Sluggers has arranged an impressive repertoire of 26 notable local coaches led by a young pair of ballfield superstars.
Travis Thome, who grew up with a grandfather who coached high-school baseball for 40 years, played Division Division III baseball at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, where he holds many pitching records. Recently, he moved to Maine and became the baseball coach at Eastern Maine Community College, where Pluard serves as assistant coach. When Pluard asked Thome to join Sluggers, he jumped at the chance.
“The more baseball in my schedule, I’m happy,” Thome said. “I’m excited about the opportunity this has in the area.”
For the softball side, Pluard landed a local legend: Terren Hall, who played on the state-champion Bucksport Golden Bucks team in 2007. That earned her a rare Division I scholarship to UMaine; she played four years there, and holds the records for most games played, most doubles, most home runs, and most RBIs. After college, she coached the Maine Tidal Wave with her father, Terry, which won the State American Softball Association championship in 2010. She’s excited about Sluggers, which she described as a dream job.
“It’s something I love to do, and I get to coach a team in the summer, and direct this whole program to be my own,” Hall said. “Watching these girls when I was young just teaching them and then to now and seeing what they’ve become as players — it’s definitely very rewarding, and I can’t wait to continue that and hopefully develop some Division I athletes.”
For Pluard, he can’t wait to build those AAU and ASAJO teams. AAU tryouts are begin in late February, and ASAJO are in late March.
“When you think about the talent of the baseball and softball players in Eastern Maine, that’s pretty solid,” he said. “You start grouping those kids together on one team and making an elite team — a showcase team… that can represent Eastern and Northern Maine as an all-star group — I think the potential is unlimited.”
The Sluggers grand opening will be Feb. 2 from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. and Feb. 3 from noon until about 5 p.m. For more information about Sluggers and its staff, visit www.MaineSluggers.com. The first week at Sluggers will be an open-invitation free clinic for all youth:
• Little League age boys (8-11): Feb. 4, 6, & 8, 8: 5:30-8 p.m.; Feb. 9, 8 a.m.-Noon.
• Middle School boys (12-14): Feb. 4, 6, & 8, 8-10 p.m.; Feb. 9, Noon-4 p.m.
• High School boys (14+): Feb. 9, 4-10 p.m.
• ASAJO/Little League girls (8-11): Feb. 5 & 7, 5:30-8 p.m.; Feb. 10, 8 a.m.-Noon
• Middle School girls (12-14): Feb. 5 & 7, 8-10 p.m.; Feb. 10, Noon-4 p.m.
• High School girls (14+): Feb. 10, 4-10 p.m.