Three of my grandsons are avid baseball players and I know that they have all dreamed of hitting a home run at the Texas Ranger's Arlington Stadium or at the Houston Astro's Minute Maid Park. So when the grand kids from Dallas were in town we had to go the newest fun attraction in Austin - Home Run Dugout at Dell Diamond in Round Rock. With the radio playing Paul Simon's Centerfield, we sang "put me in coach, I'm ready to play" and then a few versus of "take me out to the ball game..." as we headed to the left centerfield gate at Dell Diamond to check out Home Run Dugout and after that enjoy a Round Rock Express game.
Home Run Dugout is the brainchild of Nick Hermandorfer and Tyler Bambrick, a couple of UT students who would head out to Top Golf after a softball game or whenever their softball team's game got rained out. So they started working on, and fine-tuning a prototype for a baseball pitching machine in their garage. One of the goals was to eliminate the batting cage experience which is typically non-social, hot, and requires a helmet and some experience to hit a pitch at 50 to 90 miles an hour. And when you did hit it you had little idea how far it went. Tyler and NIck also wanted their batting experience to be fun for players of all ages and skills and in a "comfortable and entertaining social atmosphere." In 2018 sponsors like Ryan-Sanders Baseball and Glynn Bloomquist jumped on board with Tyler and Nick to the tune of $2 million in seed money and Home Run Dugout opened it's doors April 2019 overlooking left and center field at Dell Diamond.
Home Run Dugout is a virtual batting experience that puts the batter in the shoes of a pro baseball player. Using a touch-screen interface, the batter chooses one of the current 31 pro stadiums that they want to hit a home run at. They also choose which quadrant of the strike zone (little league, softball, or professional) they want to direct the pitch to, which accommodates for different heights and skill levels. The batter selects a bat and then waves the bat over the home plate which starts the count down from seven to zero. At zero a ball (a light foam practice ball that is softball size) pops up from a hole in the ground in front of home plate for the batter to hit. After physically hitting the pitch, players can digitally track the ball's exit velocity, speed off the bat, launch angle, distance and location in any of the current 31 MLB stadiums. High speed cameras allow the batter and his fans to watch the trajectory of the ball as it flies into the field. Very cool.
In turn, each of the five grand kids (from 8 to 14) would step up to the plate and hit balls and the crowd (the other grand kids, proud parents and grandparents, and one or two of the Home Run Dugout Staff) would cheer and clap. As they stepped up to the plate, you could tell they were loaded with anticipation and excitement and ready to try to hit it out of the ball park. And when the results of each hit were posted for each player in order of distance, the game quickly became very competitive between the 3 boys! While they were having fun, the grown ups sat at the counter just in back of home plate and enjoyed some appetizers, cold beer, and margaritas as we watched the kids try to smash a home run!
I was doing a lot of heckling and the grand kids finally said, "ok, lets see you hit five in a row out of the park Duke!" So I whispered something to the Home Run Dugout staff, selected my bat, and stepped up to the plate to hit a home run in Wrigley Field. My first swing was a little late and missed the ball entirely - and the heckling erupted from the crowd! I was ready for the next ball and smacked it over the fence for a home run (my years of little league experience were paying off) and I did it three more times with a record distance of 525 feet. But I was still way short of Babe Ruth's 587 feet home run! Wow, what a great feeling to knock it out of the park at Wrigley Field. And I heard the words of John Fogerty's Centerfield: "You know I think it's time to give this game a ride, just to hit the ball, and touch 'em all, a moment in the sun. It's-a gone and you can tell that one good-bye."
After 4 home runs, the heckling stopped and fans were on their feet cheering - or so I imagined. The kids were amazed that old grandpa could hit it that far. With pride in my step and pats on my back, I walked back to my margarita, took a swig, and thanked the staff for turning on "boost" which adds a lot of extra distance to your hit, anywhere from 100 to 400 extra feet!.
But I forgot to turn it off and when the boys starting hitting again and their balls were flying much higher and longer, they sensed something was up. So I fessed up, told them about boost, and sat back drinking my margarita and watched in amazement as their distance substantially increased. But I still remained at the top of the leader board! However, they got closer and Hudson, the oldest, who is only 14 and 5' 3", was a close second at 515. But he's been playing baseball since he was 7 and has tournaments every weekend!
After our hour was up we moved into the bar for more drinks, appetizers, and some reminiscing about our fun experience. The bar and grill is right outside the home plate and their menu includes: pulled pork sandwiches, nachos, chicken wings, burgers and lots more plus specialty cocktails that feature Dripping Springs Distiller vodka and gin.
Home Run Dugout faces left center field (the bar, patio, and batting area are perfect places to watch a game while you're waiting for your turn at bat or having a drink) and after our hour of batting we walked next door and watched the kids enjoy the trampoline and climbing rock.
After rock climbing we moved to our seats in the home run section of right field to watch Round Rock Express defeat Iowa.
What a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening! Home Run Dugout is perfect for a family or friend's adventure or a corporate event. Catering is available for larger groups and a reservation during an Express game can include: two hours of unlimited game play for 6 to 20 guests in a Home Run Dugout batting bay, a dedicated wait staff, free bat rentals, a multitude of HDTVS, guest tickets to the Express game, and a parking pass for every 2 guests. Home Run Dugout in Austin is the first. Hopefully there will be one close to you in the near future.