Best Of 2004

Best Batting Cage: Tower Tee Batting Range

Students of the game, take note: It was Wellington Stockton Titus, a catcher for an amateur baseball team in Hopewell, Virginia, who invented the batting cage in 1907. Seems Titus wanted more time playing and less time chasing down errant pitches and fouled-back baseballs. Titus' portable cage was a big hit, and it remains so today -- especially at the popular Tower Tee. You've got to love a batting-cage complex where a replica of Mark McGwire's bat is mounted at the Sno-Cone stand across from a bin of weathered batting helmets and aluminum bats. (You can bring your own wooden one.) Tower Tee features six cages for the hard-core hardballer, equipped with iron slingers that serve up the horsehide at 40, 50, 60, 75 and 80 mph. Wednesday is White Lightning Day: Experience the joyous terror of confronting a 90 mph fastball. Batters do get plunked on occasion, but that's usually because they're hogging the plate, says Nick Swatek, who opened Tower Tee in 1967. The cage space is generous, and you can drive the ball a good 100 feet up the middle. Tower Tee, open from spring training through the World Series, also does a nice job catering to the Pee Wee League set, with three slow-pitch machines, one of which tosses a 35 mph sponge ball. At all cages, a $1 token gets you fourteen pitches. For a mere five bucks an aspiring Scott Rolen can hack at 70 pitches -- and that's a good, hard workout.

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