“I’m pretty sure we can get you hitting the ball well when you are done,” he said when I first asked about dropping by Hitter’s Paradise in Kihei, but I didn’t really believe it. I recalled inept middle school PE days, standing awkwardly at home plate with all eyes on me, and the creeping uncomfortable self-consciousness of adolescence. But given the fact that I’d never been to a batting cage or even swung a bat in years, I decided it was worth at least checking out.
I arrived at the batting cages, located near the Tesoro on the highway, and was reassured by the “All Skill Levels” posted on the banners and the fact that Hitter’s Paradise owner Paul Skarbo was much friendlier than any gym schoolteacher I’d ever encountered.
“Hey, howzit,” Skarbo said when I walked into his office. “You wanna hit some balls today?” His black and white Labrador-mix greeted me and wagged its tail.
Skarbo seemed at home behind a counter topped with baseballs and baseball cards, surrounded in an office space with baseball bats other related equipment.
“I loved going to the [batting cage] that used to be in Kahului,” said Skarbo, a former player and organizer of Maui’s Wood Bat (over 25) Baseball League. “I always wanted to own my own business… so I thought, it’s worth trying and see if I could make it work. It’s worked out great so far.”
Hitter’s Paradise has been open a year and a half and currently operates eight pitching machines. Three of the machines are from Kahului’s old batting cages and were sold to the county where they were neglected outdoors and let rust. Skarbo salvaged the machines and now they sit painted green under better care in his batting cages.
After some talking, I was ready to hit some balls. Dogs don’t judge.
I stepped into the cage and after some warming up, I was absorbed.
The clean clink sound of a ball hitting the $400 borrowed metal bat and the sight of it flying to meet the hanging mesh ceiling. Arms recoiling with bat in hand. A pause and breath, then a single red warning light. A cocked bat and feet replanted, watching straight ahead machinery lift and load another baseball. Then the pneumatic Shoomp! sound of a released ball passing speedily through the metal guide. A round swing and Clink! It becomes rhythmic, satisfying and cathartic.
Also, it was fun.
“Some families come at night and bring dinner to eat in the ‘dugout,’” Skarbo said, referring to the covered area with picnic tables. “We have a TV so they can watch sports and hit balls.”
And with Maui’s kids about to be out for the summer, Hitter’s Paradise is opening for expanded summer hours starting May 27, which run from 10am to 8pm from Sunday to Thursday, and until 9pm on Friday and Saturday.
In addition, Hitter’s Paradise serves Little League teams, who come to visit during the day. There are lanes for slow pitch softball and fast pitch, and for baseball speeds from 45 to 70 miles per hour. There’s a pitcher’s mound so people can hit live balls, and a radar gun that’ll clock how fast your throw is. Misting machines are mounted outside to provide an escape from the Kihei heat in between exerting hitting sessions.
I stepped out of the cage with the chest of my shirt a little damp from sweat and relaxed in the shade of the dugout. Whether I was “hitting the ball well” by that point, as Paul had trusted me to be, was debatable, but irrelevant. What mattered was that I had a good time.
Hitter’s Paradise is located at 386 Huku Li’i Place in Kihei, down the road from Tesoro and can be contacted at 808-298-0262, [email protected] or Hittersparadise.com There are token rates for the machines, prepaid hitting cards, timed cage and pitching mound rentals, private lessons and options for birthday parties.