This 3,000 square feet of space at the historic Blackinton Mill is being transformed into a sports training facility.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — When the area's newest indoor sports facility opens on Dec. 1, athletes will find 3,000 square feet of padded, 5-milimeter turf, two batting cages and experienced instructors in baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse.
What those athletes will not find is a pitching machine.
And that is by design.
"We thought about it," said Rob Livingstone, who is developing the Cages at the Mill at the historic Blackinton Mills on Massachusetts Avenue. "But the educational component is so important to us, and [machines] kind of counteract that philosophy. You can go in there, turn the machine on and hit the wrong way for 30 minutes. You're not being instructed. You're not creating those good fundamentals.
"Here, it's all instruction-based or soft toss or live BP (batting practice). You perfect your craft using live-type practice. Machines can spit out knuckleballs and can spit out an unnatural trajectory of the ball. It really doesn't train the eye to see what they see on the field of play."
The beauty of the Cages at the Mill is that it will give area athletes a chance to hone their skills while those fields of play are snowbound.
Starting next month, those who play spring and fall sports will have a winter home without driving too far from home.
"Our competition is the Fieldhouse [in Canaan, N.Y.], 55 minutes away, and the bubble up in [Pittsford, N.Y], about 40 minutes away," Livingstone said. "And they don't really offer what we offer. Basically, you rent the space and do what you want with it. Everything we do is going to be very educational, where kids are being instructed as opposed to kids showing up and using the space.
"Kids are either traveling that long distance or they're not traveling at all because it's too long of a distance. So why not put it here?
"Our winters are so long. With the flick of a switch, the conditions can get pretty bad. Having a place in our own back yard — I think there's a lot of value in that."
Although Livingstone's new facility cannot offer the square footage as some of its larger competitors, students will be able to make the most of the space, which will be configured for either batting practice or field sports with the use of retractable netting.
"We're going to have two 60-foot-by-20-foot cages, batting cages, with a curtain divider down the middle," Livingstone said. "But let's say a soccer team wants to come in and do indoor soccer. I can pull back the curtain, and it gives them a full 20 feet of space inside the net."
Structural columns that support the roof are being moved to make the space more usable, but they will remain in the room, with padding going up 10 feet high. Although those columns may appear to be an impediment, Livingston said instructors and athletes will not always need wide open spaces to work on their game.
"The European model for soccer is small box soccer, to get more contacts, as opposed to big, sprawled-out space where a kid might touch the ball maybe once every 20 to 30 seconds," Livingstone said. "Here, they'd touch it every 5 or 10 seconds.
"And lacrosse is the same way. Small box lacrosse is really big in Canada. ... It comes down to hours working on your skill. If you can compress that into a smaller space, you don't need as many hours. In a big space, you need more hours to get those touches."
And there's an additional advantage to the compressed practice schedule.
"Kids in this area are committed to a lot of different things, whether it's academics, clubs, three sports," Livingstone said. "It's hard. Giving them somewhere they can do things in 30 minutes or an hour of time is a little more appealing to those kids who are committed to multiple sports or multiple academic clubs or whatever they may be a part of."
The Cages offers a number of pricing plans. A single half-hour private lesson for a non-member starts at $45. Discounts are available for multiple session and membership, which runs $105 for three months, $180 for six months and $300 for a full year with added benefits at each member level.
Pittsfield's Reynolds Team Sales will operate a small equipment shop in one area of the Cages at the Mill, which also will include a sitting area where parents can watch the action on the turf through a window.
Livingstone established the Cages at the Mill as a division of his Livingstone Speed Academy, a personal athletic training business. In the future, he hopes to expand the facility with a weight room in another section of the gym.
For now, he is excited about the coming opening day and grateful for the support of the mill's owner and for the contribution of contractor David Moresi, who has helped keep the project on track and on schedule.
Livingstone also is quick to praise the members of his instructional team, which includes the head baseball coaches at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Southern Vermont College in Bennington. He also plans to utilize college athletes from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Williams College, and he is consulting with a number of high school and youth sports coaches.
The Cages at the Mill has been in the works for more than half a year.
"I went and visited a local competitor early last spring, and my goal was to introduce myself and introduce Livingstone Speed Academy and see how we could partner," he said. "I remember walking out of the facility, knowing it was the only one in the area and saying, 'This isn't enough. We need more.' From that day forward, it's been a long process. I can't count how many meetings I had to talk with community members about the business aspect of it, the demand, making sure it makes sense.
"There's an endless number of people we're trying go get involved. This is going to be a community effort. Up to this point, it's been very well received. I'm kind of humbled at the response we've received from the community. People find out about it, and they're genuinely excited about it because it's something this area can benefit from.
"We're glad to provide that."