Wow! The kids will exclaim, if Daddy comes up with the idea of building their own batting cage!
I can remember, I was building a High School facility and we had to construct two batting cages for the athletic field. My children were all into, both baseball and softball, and would have been thrilled to even think of having a cage to practice in, never mind, one in the back yard.
My normal thinking process has always been, when it came to construction, I can do that, and in most cases, I could. Why not construct a batting cage for my children to practice in the backyard? What a great way to keep them at home, practicing their swing, and I could also fantasize about my pitching skills, as I struck one after the other out! Seemed like a logical and fun project that the entire family could enjoy.
And it was!
A batting cage, when you think about it, is nothing more than an enclosed area large enough to allow the standard pitching mound to home plate distance of 60 feet, plus an area in the back of the batter for either a catcher, or better yet, a clever idea to catch the balls. The width is a matter of how wide you want the entire enclosure to be and the accommodations of the backyard. The width must accommodate the batter, standing at the plate, plus the swing radius of the bat. I would recommend an additional width due to the difference in batters and the tendency of the batter to move off the plate, especially if Dad is pitching, as well as the comfort level of not feeling confined. My recommendation would be 12 feet.
For practicality and information, I would state that the minimum space to be set aside for a homemade batting cage is an area of 80 feet in length by 12 feet in width.
What is a batting cage?
A batting cage is an enclosure that allows a pitcher to pitch the ball to a batter who is at the proper distance from the plate. The cage must be capable of keeping the pitched, as well as batted ball, within the confines of the cage. This means that if the ball is not hit, the pitched ball must remain in the enclosure and the enclosure must be strong enough to withstand the batted ball, if the batter makes contact.
To many individuals, the idea of stopping a batted ball may appear difficult if not impossible. You have watched batters hit line drives that appear to be able to pierce a block wall. This is NOT the case. A ball that is hard hit, when it strikes a net that is hanging free and slack, will simply push the net back and the force within the ball will immediately dissipate into the net. It is actually very interesting to watch a hard hit ball, immediately stop, and fall as it hits a flexible net. There is no punching or piercing thru the net, if the net is hanging without restraint.
That is the entire secret of the batting cage. The net must be secured at the top of the cage and hanging free on the ground. You should not attempt to construct a nice and neat, tight cage that has the netting tightly pulled between supports and secured to the ground. If this is the case, yes, the ball will simply hit the tight net, and if hit hard enough, compromise the netting, or pierce thru.
If the physical energy in the ball is analyzed, it will immediately become logical that this energy, if allowed to strike a unyielding surface that has a minimum of tensile strength in its web, may, in fact punch thru it. However, if that same energy is allowed to dissipate within flexible netting that simply pushes away from the punch thru forces in the ball, the energy is dissipated and the ball simply drops to the ground.
So with this basic concept in mind, how do we construct the homeowners, backyard batting cage?
I would recommend the following;
These steps are assuming a batting cage with a dimension of 80 linear feet long and 12 feet wide.
- Layout the batting cage area away from the general vicinity of the home, and towards the property line, to ensure that the cage itself does not interfere with other backyard activities. Remember, once the cage is constructed, there will be an area of 80 by 12 feet or 960 square feet of unusable space, that is set aside simply for the batting cage.
- Layout the two ends of the cage. This layout would be two supports at the rear of the cage, in the back of the batter’s box, and two supports at the front of the cage, in the back of the pitcher’s mound. This layout should be two locations, 12 feet apart across the cage area, and 80 feet apart down the length of the cage.
- Layout the supports that will run the length of the 80 feet of the cage on both sides, 12 feet apart by dividing the 80 feet by 4. This will position the supports at a distance of 20 feet apart.
- Dig holes at each support location to accept a piece of 2 inch PVC tubing, cut at a length of 24 inches or 2 feet.
- Install the 2 inch PVC piece of piping into the hole at 20 feet apart, lengthwise, and 12 feet apart across the cage. There will be 10 pieces of PVC tubing installed into the ground. It is my recommendation that either sand or small stone be used to backfill the tubing within the ground.
- Install 1 ½ inch by 12 feet long, galvanized tubing, into the 2 inch PVC tubing installed in the ground. Do not place any material in the void between the 1 ½ inch galvanized tubing and the 2inch PVC. All of these materials can be readily obtained at any of the big box, builder supply stores, or the local hardware store.
- Install galvanized eye bolts into the top of the galvanized vertical tubing, so that the shank of the eye bolt is inserted into the top of the tubing, and the eye of the bolt sticks out. If the eye bolts available are too small to simply sit on the top of the 1 ½ inch tubing due to the diameter of the bolt and the diameter of the tubing, install the appropriate size washer to prevent the bolt from slipping down into the tubing. The idea is that the eye of the bolt must stick out of the top of the galvanized post.
- Using 3/8 inch nylon cord, thread the cord thru the eye bolts in all directions. You want to create a framework of nylon cord at the top of the galvanized posts, forming the batting cage. This will require a couple of individuals on step ladders to accommodate this threading of the nylon cord thru the eye bolts. The result of this application will be a framework of 3/8 inch nylon cord, running the entire perimeter of the cage, as well as across the width of the cage at each of the supports along the length of the batting cage.
At this point in the construction of your batting cage, you now have an entire framework of galvanized vertical tubing with an upper support structure of 3/8 inch nylon cord. There is no need to worry about the straightening of the structure, as long as the cord length on each side of the cage is a consistent 80 feet and the width of the cords is a consistent 12 feet. The entire assembly will be straightened at the end of this process.
Now the search for the mesh material that will be draped over the top of this structure must be researched. The netting or mesh is available online, however creativity is sometimes required due to the specific location that the cage is being built in. This netting is used on driving ranges and various other applications, determined by location. It is best to search the internet for the best deal on netting and mesh with the idea that it must be drabbed over the assembly that you have just constructed.
The important aspect of this research is that you buy enough to easily and loosely cover this entire framework, and that it is of relatively decent material, such as nylon or a synthetic material. Cotton material or hemp will tend to deteriorate over time, and will result in weakness in areas of the netting.
Once the netting material is purchase and received, the following additional procedures are required.
- The installation of this netting over the framework can become quite frustrating due to the height and the dimensions of the framework you are covering.
- It is best to have at least two individuals assist in the application of the netting over the frame.
- Construct some, long helpers to assist you in maneuvering the netting up and over the entire framework. Helpers in this case, are pieces of wood or metal that is at least 8 feet long with a top cross member. The use of push brooms is recommended. This will enable you to move the netting up and over the framework without having to pull too hard, and cause tearing of the netting. Install the netting carefully and slowly to eliminate any compromising of the net.
- Make sure the net is installed over the framework to allow at least a 2 foot length of material to sit on the ground on all sides of the framework. To make this occur, there might be the requirement to overlap pieces of the netting, depending on how large of a piece of netting you were able to purchase. If pieces of netting are used, I recommend the use of small narrow zip ties to stitch the netting pieces together.
- Once the netting is laid over the framework, and at least 2 feet of additional netting is on the ground along the entire perimeter, complete the installation of the netting with zip ties every 2 feet along the entire perimeter of the cage itself. It is OK to pull the netting reasonably taut on the top of the cage itself by pulling the netting across the cage and securing with zip ties.
You have now created the batting cage, there are some additional recommended procedures that will make the cage look better, as well as reinforce certain areas of the cage from the repeated battering of balls.
- At each of the corner posts, I recommend that a length of nylon cord be attached to the eye bolt installed at the top of each of the posts. These cords should be positioned to pull the top of the support directly down the length of the cage as well as at a 90 degree angle or across the cage. These cords will need to be coordinated to pull the posts equally to position the posts in a straight and vertical position. This application would be similar to the corner hold downs of a tent type structure. The minimum angle for these supports to adequately work is 45 degrees.
- The support of the ends of these nylon support cords can either be secured to the ground with a common tent stake, or with a more sophisticated concrete type support, that you have excavated and placed in the ground. I would recommend the common tent stake be used. Just be careful that these supports do not become tripping hazards for the activity happening around the perimeter of the cage.
- The immediate area in the back of the batter’s box will be an area of constant battering. I recommend that a frame of 2 X 4’s be constructed to sit at the back of the batter. On this 2 X 4 frame should be installed a piece of plastic or fiberglass fencing, similar to what contractors use to surround their construction sites. You have seen this fencing along the roadsides to separate the construction areas. This fencing is available at the big box stores or the local hardware store.
- The immediate area in front of the pitcher should also have a protective shield constructed of this similar fencing material. This should be designed to protect the pitcher from the line drive that is hit directly back to the pitcher, but still allowing the pitcher to throw the ball without interference. The best way to construct this protective shield is to research them on the internet, and construct one of similar fashion, or simply purchase this protective shield on the internet.
As the batting cage is used, you will ascertain the need for additional areas of protection or accommodations. All individual batters have a tendency to either pop up consistently or foul the ball off in the same general area. The reinforcement of the cage in these specific areas will allow the netting to survive a longer period of use, than if these specific areas are not additionally protected. Once the cage is used, you will become instantly proficient in determining where and how the additional protection should be accommodated.
Please understand that this is the method that I used to construct the batting cages in the backyards of my children and other’s around the neighborhood. This is NOT the professional procedure for the proper method of batting cage construction. The professionals have cages that are suspended off gym ceilings or permanently constructed with welded frames and professional netting. This is NOT that installation. This is a method that can be used in the backyard of any home that requires a minimum of 80 feet by 12 feet to accommodate anxious young batters, ready to improve their skills.
Of course, once this cage is up, the soccer players will be practicing their kicks and the tennis players their serves. Just a word to the wise, the use of the cage as a golfing enclosure must be closely monitored. The tendency of a small golf ball being driven by a driver may actually travel through the netting, especially if the netting has a larger grid pattern. Careful with the golfers, your windows may not be entirely protected!
Have fun and build your backyard BATTING CAGE – ENJOY!!