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It's always baseball season in East Grand Forks

Paul Bethke figures he drove by the warehouse on the west side of Highway 220 North hundreds of times without noticing the building--until he was looking for a home for an indoor baseball facility.

North Valley Baseball Academy instructor Grant Larson pitches to the kids in the batting cages during Thursday's practice at North Valley Baseball Academy. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)
North Valley Baseball Academy instructor Grant Larson pitches to the kids in the batting cages during Thursday's practice at North Valley Baseball Academy. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)

Paul Bethke figures he drove by the warehouse on the west side of Highway 220 North hundreds of times without noticing the building-until he was looking for a home for an indoor baseball facility.

Bethke saw a for-sale sign in front of the warehouse last fall. He made some inquiries, bought the building and, over the winter, work was done to convert the long, narrow facility into a year-round baseball training facility.

In early March, Bethke and co-owner Ryan Kuhl opened North Valley Baseball Academy, located at 1605 Central Ave. Northwest in East Grand Forks.

"The idea started with my love for baseball,'' Bethke said. "And my sons have always been heavy into baseball. As you travel around the country with them to different baseball things, you get ideas of what you'd like to do, what you'd like to see.

"And, as the baseball coach at Sacred Heart, this helps alleviate our gymnasium scheduling problems.''

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Bethke estimates that he and his partner have spent approximately $300,000-for the building, modifications to it and equipment-to get the business rolling. As a baseball parent, coach and fan, Bethke saw a need in the baseball community.

"If kids wanted to do anything baseball-wise in the offseason, Fargo was the closest place they could go to do it,'' said the 49-year-old Bethke, who played Legion baseball in Grand Forks and played one season at UND.

The workout area includes two stages.

The first is an area enclosed in netting that has two full-sized batting cages, or the middle netting can be removed to convert easily into three bullpen-like pitching areas, complete with mounds.

The second area consists of three smaller netted areas that can be used for hitting or fielding drills. Artificial turf covers the floor of the entire workout area.

The big-ticket item in the facility is a HitTrax, a simulator that produces live analytical results for almost anything at the batting cage where it is located-items such as velocity, ball movement and balls and strikes for pitchers and spray charts, distance of batted balls, exit velocity and trajectory for batters, plus video for each swing.

"It's quite the tool,'' Bethke said. "It's the coolest thing I've ever seen. The closest one to here is in Minneapolis.

"It keeps data for pitchers and hitters. And you can have home run derbies and simulated games with it. You can simulate a game in almost every Major League ballpark as well as some others.''

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Bethke may consider having simulated leagues with the HitTrax in the future. For now, the academy is a place where baseball and softball players can practice and train.

The facility so far has attracted players ranging from 12-year-old Cal Ripken League players to adult softball players. It also has training sessions with former UND players Drew Sannes and Grant Larson as instructions. Baseball camps may be in the future.

"We keep thinking of new stuff we can do,'' Bethke said. "And when you add some games, some competition, the kids get more excited about it.

"I don't say it's a smart investment,'' Bethke says with a laugh. "If I was doing this for a living, it wouldn't work. We want to at least break even with this. But it's probably more of a hobby than a business. We offer something that wasn't here, something for kids and adults to do.''

If you go

For who: Open to the public, with workouts and lessons available for individuals and small groups.

Cost: Varies, depending on age and size of groups.

Contact: Call 218-399-0188 for details and reservations.

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Leo Dearinger,12, takes aim in the batting cages at North valley Baseball Academy on Thursday, in East Grand Forks, Minn. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)
Leo Dearinger,12, takes aim in the batting cages at North valley Baseball Academy on Thursday, in East Grand Forks, Minn. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)

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