Updated: May 4
This is a big blog post because this was a big project. Every detail of the DIY batting cage build is in here. When I was searching the world wide web for information on DIY batting cage builds I could not find what I was looking for. It is my hope that this post and video will gives others who are looking for ideas the motivation and information they need to build their own cage. I AM NOT AN ENGINEER OR CONTRACTOR, just a normal guy with a few tools, big ideas and a lot of faith in my ability to get the job done.
Ever since we moved out to Crushlife Acres I've wanted to get some sports-related mini-facilities set up for our kids, their friends and of course my buddies and I to enjoy. I grew up with a classic small-town America driveway basketball court, front-yard-turned football field and backyard-turned-home run derby field. These weren't fancy places to play, but the thousands of hours spent competing with my friends are some of the strongest memories of my life. Those times also set the stage for my future athletic endeavors by providing me the opportunity to practice and repeat the specific movements of each individual sport. The diving plays, the feeling of driving to the hoop and finishing through fouls, tackling and avoiding tackles, game winners, makes and misses, swings and whiffs, all built the foundation for the things I was able to achieve athletically in high school, college and in my professional baseball career. Not only did my body learn how to play these different sports, my heart became invested in them and my mind was always content when I played them. Any weather, day or night, just name the field or hoop, my buddies and I LOVED TO PLAY and thats what we did. I want my kids and their friends, especially in the digitally-dominated world we now live in, to have the same opportunities to find the same level of joy in being active and competing...
...so I built this
The words, pictures and videos below are a detailed account of how I (with the help of many others) got it done.
This project had 5 components:
2. Ground work
The work didn't necessarily go in this exact order because when you've got a job and 4 kids and animals and a deck project and a personal life you just gotta' chip away on things when you can. For the purpose of keeping this blog post organized and decipherable, I will cover the process in the above 5 steps.
When I first started to consider the idea the first thing I had to decide on was the location. My original vision came during a jog on the Crushlife Acres Trail. I wanted to have a cage in the middle of the trees and one day when I came around the corner it occurred to me that our little prairie grass meadow at the bottom of the property would be a great spot. I staked it out and mowed it so I could begin to see what it might look like to have a cage there. Through last fall things were looking pretty good, even most of the winter that area seemed feasible, but when the spring rains hit I had to accept the fact that all of the water from our hill runs right to that meadow, that's why it's nothing but prairie grass. It's too wet for healthy trees and too wet for a permanent batting cage installation. Back to the drawing board I went...
After giving it more thought I decided, for the following reasons, that it was a much better idea to erect this cage in the garden area by my shop:
1. I liked that this location was an overgrown roadbed that the original builder laid decades ago. This meant packed, established ground.
2. Even on the wettest days, the water that runs down towards the shop goes through the rock above this location, it is a well drained area.
3. Being by the shop gives me access to electricity for lights, music, etc... and also allows me to keep an eye on the cage from house.
4. The fact that this area is already chain-link fenced off made it a logical location to get Crushlife Acres Performance Training off the ground. Anybody who was visiting the farm to train would have defined place to park and train away from the house.
Once I made the decision on the location and set out to build my batting cage I did a lot of searching to learn more about costs, ideas and options. I looked at full kits, partial kits and other people's DIY builds. I had some basic goals for the cage and this lead me to use what I had learned in my research to design my own structure. The section below lays out what I learned and how my research and goals pointed me towards the DIY build.
1. Full batting cage kit: The reason I decided not to go this route is because these kits are often small with low ceilings, they are overpriced, expensive to ship and not built to last (unless you spend a lot of money).
2. Partial batting cage kit: With these kits you get the pipe connectors and the net and you go guy metal pipes to put it together. Again, I feared this would look ugly, be overpriced, not built to last and that it would feel like a bargain-basement setup. Plus, it meant I had to go buy a bunch of metal pipes, transport them to my house and put somebody else's design together.
3. Buy net, DIY structure: I saw some brutal builds online, some with 2X4's everywhere, posts along the sides of the cage, posts along the bottom, beams across the top, etc... I saw one where they put in 8 4x6 posts and just draped the net over the top with no way to tighten the net! Long story short, no one seemed to have built one out of wood that was to the levels of appearance and quality I desired, worked well and was built to last. Nets were also cheaper to buy without kits and cheaper to ship. I took a leap of faith and told wife I was going to build my own.
Now time to design...
As I lay in bed night after night thinking this through I began to jot notes down in my phone about how my perfect cage would look and function.
1. I wanted the cage to look good, like it belonged in the garden area of a tree farm. When people visit to play or train, it is important to me (and the wife) that the quality of the cage communicates professionalism.
2. I wanted the cage to be legitimate in its length and height, like a real batting tunnel. There is nothing worse than hitting what should be a double in the gap and watching it catch the top of the net and fall to the ground. I wanted cage users to be able to see the ball travel and play catch without constantly hitting the top of a low-sagging net.
3. I wanted to be able both pull the net back and easily remove or replace it.
4. I didn't want any posts along the sides of the cage. Not only do they add cost and major labor to place in the ground, posts along the side of a cage are magnets for line drives and create ricochet risks.
After searching exhaustively, I finally found a picture (below) that lit the bulb in my head. The thing I liked about this particular metal pole design was that there were no posts along the sides of the cage. The way they were able to pull this off was by using the opposing tension of the 3 cables running the length of the cage - which would also allow me to pull the net back and remove it easily - and the knee braces holding up the corner poles. Boom! I had my vision! Now all I had to do was create a drawing of how I would build this using wood so I could get a materials list together. I also needed to visually see how this was going to work and share my idea with other people to get their opinions, which is always a good idea.
My Drawing: Some alterations were made after this drawing was created. For instance, my bullets in the drawing below list the distance between the posts as 57'6", they are actually 59' like the plan view drawing shows. Also, the knee braces are not a perfect 45 degree angle, nor are they 12' high and 17' out. They attach at about 8 feet high and are about 10' out from the main posts.
• Place the posts 14' apart, same width as the cage but 4' longer than the cage (59'). This would give me the ability to pull the 3 top ropes of the net tight and the two bottom ropes as well. If the structure wasn't slightly longer than the cage itself there would be nothing to pull the ropes to.
• Make the posts sturdy by using 4X6 posts buried 3' deep in concrete and knee braced with 4X4 posts anchored to bolts in concrete.
• Use all pressure treated lumber.
• Screw 2 2X6 beams together to create a good strong header from which to run the 3 cables that travel the entire length of the structure. Drill a hole in the header to pull the middle rope through to get it tight. This header also provides some side to side stability for the structure.
• Use 1/4" inch cable and turnbuckles to get the cables as tight as possible.
• Use lag bolts for all wood to wood connections.
After getting opinions from some co-workers and family members concerning my design, I moved forward by borrowing a big tiller from my neighbor and tilling the ground to get it ready for leveling with the skid steer...At that point, the build had officially begun. I felt a bit like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, digging up a 60' X 16' area of my garden, thinking about how much work was ahead of me with my wife thinking I was halfway nuts and my kids having very little understanding of what dad was actually building.
The first part of this whole process was getting the ground good and flat because it is on a slight decline. For this part of the process, I got great help from a tee ball dad named Ross (mentioned with other contributors at the end of this post). I had done what I could to loosen up the area and gotten 4 yards of rock delivered, but his industrial John Deere skid steer didn't need my help. Ross came over with his beast and had my ground flat and the gravel spread out in a couple of hours. When I saw the piles of dirt he made and the deep cut required to get the ground level it all started to become real. We were officially underway! I could see where how this thing was going to fit and I felt really good about the location I chose.
After it was all said and done we used 6 yards of rock and 4 yards of sand. It was "back-bladed" multiple times over the course of the build and never tamped. I was confident the weight of the turf would hold the rock in place and not require really hard surface, so far so good in that regard. With the ground prepared, now it was time to start building the support structure for the cage.
COMPLETE LIST OF CAGE MATERIALS:
• 6 yards of 3/4 minus gravel
• 4 yards of river sand
• 4 16' 4X6 pressure treated beams (main posts)
• 4 12' 4X4 pressure treated beams (knee braces)
• 4 16' 2X6 doug fir planks (headers)
• 4 8" 1/2" bolts
• 4 1/2" nuts
• 12 6" lag bolts
• 6 lag hooks
• Box of Spax deck screws
• 2 packages of 100 foot 1/4" steel cable
• 16 50 lb. bags of concrete
• 4 50 lb. bags of pea gravel
• 12 pack of ground stakes
• 50 8" galvanized spikes (for turf)
• Various scrap wood for leveling supports
• 2 approx. 80'X7.5' rolls of used field turf (Artificial Grass Recyclers)
After the gravel and sand were down it was time to get the big posts into the ground. My buddy Johnny - who deserves a ton of credit for his contributions to this project - had access to an auger and just purchased a new John Deere compact tractor. Although the dry summer clay we have up on this hill was a challenge, this equipment came in huge! Johnny myself and another tee ball dad, Tom DiSaglio, got started at about 10am on a Saturday and had all 4 posts in before dinner. A good day of work for 3 amateurs!
Setting the posts involved drilling holes 36 inches deep, tamping a few inches of pea gravel in the bottom of the hole, setting the post in, filling it with about 4 bags of concrete and water and leveling the posts using support posts on 2 sides attached to stakes in the ground. We also used water to loosen up the clay and get the auger going down in. Once it grabbed it dug the holes pretty quickly. We dug all 4 holes and then put the posts in one at a time. With the posts in and finished I thought the biggest job was out of way. I had no idea the most difficult part of the project still lay ahead of me.
After the posts had dried I dug 4 smaller 16" holes for the concrete footings that would hold my bolt to secure the knee braces to the ground (pictures above). After this was complete I screwed 2 of the 2X6's together and attached the header on each end, 14' apart.
With the structure built, I installed the 3 lengths of 1/4" steel cable that run the entire length of the cage. This was really tough job by myself...I got on the ladder with a good leather glove and pulled the cable through the closed end of the turnbuckle as tight as I could get it, then I vice-gripped it in place. With it vice-gripped I put the cable clips in place and then tightened the turnbuckle. I am very happy with how tight I was able to get these cables and how well the structure held up. I may end up switching out the 2X6 headers with 4X4's next spring, but for now everything looks good!
With my structure up I moved on to turf...
Used field turf is extremely heavy and difficult to manage. If you go this route you will need at least a 1/2 ton truck and heavy duty trailer to haul it and a tractor or work truck to move it around and get into place.
I purchased the turf over the phone from Artificial Grass Recyclers. They happen to store turf here in town, just down the road from the farm. Their customer service was good, with a very straightforward payment system, they were also easy to get ahold of when I had questions...their understanding of their inventory was not strong however. Although I am happy with my turf, it is an older style that doesn't roll out the way they show you on their website. These rolls were supposed to be roughly 1,700 lbs., they were at least 2,000 lbs. My neighbor helped me pick up the first roll and we darn near broke his trailer axle (big trailer too!) and had one heck of a time getting the turf out of the trailer once we got it to the farm. It got stuck on his tailgate, which meant he couldn't go in reverse, we broke ratchet straps and bent turnbuckles, I sustained a pretty bad finger injury before finally getting it to come off the trailer with one last pull. I cannot fully explain the weight of and difficulty we experienced working with this 1st roll of turf. It truly sucks the life out of you if you don't have the right equipment. The first roll was tough and damaged my morale, it was 20 ft. shorter than it was supposed to be (Artificial Grass Recyclers made it right) and the unrolling, shaking and pulling it required just blasted my neighbor James and I. On top of the labor itself, the amount of rubber and sand in my shoes, hair and pores after working with the turf was uncanny.
Once we got it out of the trailer we manually rolled it out into 2 20 ft. sections. We then flipped it over to shake as much of the sand and rubber out of the turf as possible so we could move it around. It was an absolutely brutal process but seeing that green field turf on the ground below my structure still gave me hope. We were making progress.
When I realized I needed a 2nd roll of turf, I was feeling some stress, not only was this an additional $312.00 that wasn't in the project budget, but the thought of picking up, dropping off and unrolling another 80' of turf was a lot to wrap my head around. Thank goodness for great friends...
A few days after finishing roll #1 I was on the phone with co-worker of mine who lives in Minnesota. He is a family man, dedicated dad and almost empty nester. Just an All-American guy, great friend and mentor. He follows @crushlifeacres on instagram and he asked how my cage was coming along. I told him about the turf coming up short and having to get approval from city hall (the wife) to buy more turf. He went quiet for a second and then, in true Midwest fashion he piped right in, "I'll buy you a roll of turf...yeah, I'll loan you $250, you pay me back when you can, but I like the project, I like what you're doing, I'll help you out." Knowing this guy, I wasn't surprised but I sure was humbled. Right guy, right time, right heart. When I told my wife she was so grateful and keeping her on board was critical in this process!
To transport the 2nd roll of turf, I called on another hobby-farmer-co-worker friend who's wife had been at our house with their kids for a play date on the day that I was rolling out the first roll of turf. She told my wife she was disappointed I hadn't asked her husband Kyle to help! "Well, alright then! I've got the perfect opportunity!" I said. Kyle has a lot of experience -they built their hobby farm from dirt - and he has a good truck and access to a big dump trailer. Kyle and I went and picked up the 2nd roll on our lunch break, drove it over and I smiled and giggled as that dump trailer effortlessly lifted and plopped that huge roll right out in the middle of the cage. We were back in business...now I just needed some time to get a tractor up to the farm to roll it out and pull it around. That's where my neighbor Jim came to help, Jim is the same guy I borrowed the tiller from at the beginning of the project and now he was stepping up to help roll out turf!
After Jim got it rolled out I waited a few weeks until I could Johnny back over with his tractor to help move it into place (given what we went through moving it around manually the first time I refused to put this turf into place by hand again). Johnny suggested we do it right by rolling the 4 big rolls up to get them out of the way so we could back-blade the surface one last time before putting the turf down for good. That wasn't easy, but with a fire-fighter and a hobby farmer, we got it done and boy am I glad we did. With everything leveled out we sandwiched the ends of the turf between 2x2's and used steel cable to hook it to the tractor for pulling. Worked like a champ! Video below....
With all the turf laid down I used a utility blade to cut the back side of the turf to get the seams to line up and then 8" galvanized spikes along the seams to keep everything in place. Overall I am extremely happy with the way the turf turned out, I'll keep fine tuning the seams and using a push broom and leaf blower to move extra rubber and sand around. In general, if I have some coming to use the cage I'll give it a blow before-hand to get the leaves, and other debris off. Looking back, I can't believe what it took to get that turf transported, rolled out and in place. Every time I look out at the cage from the kitchen window or take swings with my friends or kids or do a training session with a young athlete, I get an incredible feeling of pride just looking at that turf!
After Johnny and I were done with the turf he used his tractor to back blade the area around the cage so it didn't look like a work zone anymore. That evening I went out after the kids were in bed and for the first time I felt really good about what we had created, as long as that net fit we were going to be in great shape!
Note: What about all the infill? On Artificial Grass Recycler's website they instruct you to turn the turf over and shake out the infill (sand and rubber) and re-use the infill by sweeping it back into the turf. My turf was from a high-usage middle school here in town and had a lot of extra in-fill (too much) and by getting a bunch of it out of the turf, the appearance and feel of the turf improved (nice green color) and the seams were easier to manage. Long story short, most of the infill that we shook out of the turf got added in with the sand and rock underneath the turf. The way I see, that stuff drains well and is nice and soft, why not just leave it underneath? So far it hasn't caused me any issues and the turf looks solid.
The batting cage net has a story all its own. Even with the drawing done and the lumber purchased and delivered, I still hadn't told my wife how much the net was going to cost. I had looked at every baseball equipment website, Amazon and also checked my local Craigslist region and hadn't found anything that I felt good about. It is so hard to order something that is so critical to the overall success of a project without being able to see, touch and feel it! I had pretty much accepted that I was going to have to pay full price for a low-quality net that I could afford and just hope it did the job.
Well, we were headed to the Boise, Idaho area to see family for the 4th of July so I decided to check Craigslist in that area and see what I could find. I'll be darned if I didn't find a net for sale that was exactly the dimensions I was looking for (55' long X 14' wide X 12' tall) just 5 miles from brother's house! This is a true story! When I visited the guy who was selling it he was a super cool OBGYN doctor and family man. He had a beautiful farm and had set up both indoor and outdoor facilities for his daughters' softball teams to use. We hit it off right away talking about kids, building cages and life in the Pacific Northwest. He was originally from Iowa and I spend a lot of time there for work...you know how it is, just good ol' fashioned guy conversation about this, that n' the other. He jokingly tried to sell me his backstop out in his pasture as well, but in all seriousness, this guy had one whale of a softball set up! Truly top-notch. The net I bought was inside of a 60' shop, had never been outside and was of the highest quality - manufactured by SeaMar out of Seattle, WA. He sold it to me with 2 lengths of steel cable and a box full of carabiners! We agreed on a price and I ratchet strapped it to the top of our mini-van to get it home. This was a huge boost to my morale! I sent him a hand-written letter, picture of the cage and business card so he can see what his net contributed to.
Clarence, if you're reading this, I am forever grateful sir!
After finding that net and getting it home successfully, I knew building this cage was what I was supposed to be doing. The Lord opens doors and he sure did in this case. I will never understand how that net was available at that time in that close proximity to my brother's house, at that price from that guy. INCREDIBLE.
Hanging the net went very quickly and I was so relieved when we went to stretch the last section of netting to the steel cable and it fit perfectly. In total we used about 75 carabiners, very straightforward. Once is was hung I drilled holes through the corner posts and headers to pull the ropes tight, I tightened the ropes around hooks and dock cleats and we were officially done with the project. It went so fast I don't even need to describe it! With the net hung I pulled the main ropes through the support posts and anchored them down to the hooks and dock cleats and we were done. What a feeling.
That very night we had some family and friends and their youngsters over for dinner. The wife made a killer lasagna and we spent nearly the whole evening in the cage, it was a night I'll never forget. Good music, good people, amazing Oregon summer weather and a finished cage that I was and remain extremely proud of.
Thinking back to the concept phase, all of the materials, the trials and problems along the way, the learning that occurred, the sweat, the blood (there was actually blood on multiple occasions), it was all beyond worth it, something I'll remember forever and something that I never could have accomplished on my own. Below is a list of those who helped and a few words about each of them. I am so thankful for the great people I have in my life!
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE (in no particular order)
• My wife: It takes a special woman to be married to and put up with a dreamer/idiot like myself. My wife held me accountable and challenged me to save money where I could but she never wained in her support for what I was doing and also helped where she could along the way. To stand next to that cage with her during sunset, watching the kids playing inside the net and hear her say, "this turned out really good." was everything to me! This was a crazy summer with the deck project and the cage project going on at the same time. Her patience, prodding and humor kept me going.
• Johnny Hoagland: Johnny is a firefighter, hobby farmer and fellow tee ball dad who recently moved to the other side of our hill, just a stone's throw away! His contribution on this project was huge. We used his diesel truck to pick up all of the lumber and a load of rock. He also drove his tractor over to my house on 3 separate occasions to help move dirt, auger the post holes and, when I was getting discouraged toward the end, he helped me lay out the last roll of turf. Johnny and I share a love for manual labor. It is so fun to work alongside someone who truly enjoys the hard work and keeps a positive attitude in the face of it. Johnny never made my project feel like an inconvenience for him, he jumped at the chance to help when his schedule allowed. I look forward to working with Johnny on many more projects at his place and my place and having his 2 boys over to train. • James Atwood: James was a huge contributor at the very beginning. He is my neighbor right up the hill, has a similar 5-acre plot with a lot more equipment! We used his truck and trailer to pick up the first roll of turf and he put in a half day's work on a hot Saturday, unloading, moving, shaking and laying out turf. Brutal, dirty, difficult work! I hope to see James and his son down using the cage as often as they would like. So important to have good neighbors out on Green Hill! • Tom Di Saglio: Tom was a huge help on the post hole digging day. He brought his son over to play with our kids and we just dug in, getting the auger into the ground and setting the posts. Tom offered his help multiple times along the way, we just couldn't get on the same schedule. Just knowing he was willing to help kept me going at times, he has been a huge emotional supporter and believer since day 1. He is a great friend, coach and his son Connor can really hit the ball! Will look forward to seeing Tom and Connor at Crushlife Acres cage in the future. • Kyle Dixon: Kyle's truck and borrowed trailer were critical for picking up and delivering the 2nd roll of turf. I'll never forget when they dropped that roll in the trailer and Kyle's back tires squished towards the ground, he looked at me and said, "We better get going and stay off the highway." Kyle was also one of the people I leaned on in the design phase, his knowledge and experience on all things hobby farming continue to be of great value. • Ross Bottem: Ross came in with the heavy equipment at the very beginning to kick the project off. He saved me a lot of money and a lot of time! Ross is a "real" farmer with thousands of acres, livestock and equipment. The day he pulled up with his F350 Duely, rolled his massive skid steer off the rear of his trailer and started chewing my ground in 20-foot sections was a day I'll always remember. Thanks for your knowledge and your help Ross! • Kevin Arnold: Kevin Arnold was the mystery man who came along and contributed financially to this project at a time when I needed something to break my way. I didn't ask him for it, never imagined he would loan me money, he did it on his own volition because he's just that good of a guy. Thank you Kevin, I continue to be obliged by your friendship, advice and tutelage.
Do you have a cage idea you'd like to discuss? Any questions regarding my build? If so, email me at Steve@crushlifeacres.com.
Below you'll find a video discussing the build:
Rise. Shine. Crush.