Play Ball (Indoors)
Learning baseball from the best
Chris Fournier of The Batting Cage teaches Myles Lehrman new hitting techniques.
If you play baseball with a passion, it’s almost always possible to perfect your swing or fine-tune your pitching mechanics indoors, even if weather conditions are more suitable for an umbrella or galoshes. The Batting Cage, which has been in operation on the Fairfield-Bridgeport line, at 420 Canfield Ave. since 1997, and The Clubhouse, launched in January 2010 at 2215 Black Rock Tpke., provide lessons and ample indoor space for players of all ages and abilities.
Founder Paul Fournier and his sons Chris, 30, and Mike, 26, both athletes of note, are the principals at The Batting Cage. Mike Porzio, a former left-handed pitcher who appeared in 388 games—including 51 at the major league level—during a 14-year professional career, and his wife, Kristen, are co-owners of The Clubhouse.
The credentials for instructors at both sites are impressive. Chris Fournier, an outfielder who was a two-time, All-State selection and Connecticut’s 2003 Gatorade Player of the Year at Fairfield High School, played collegiately at Notre Dame and George Mason, and then spent two seasons in the New York Mets farm system.
“Lucas Duda was my teammate both years,” Fournier says of the Mets’ star first baseman. “I didn’t think he’d have the opportunity to play at that level.” Brother Mike was a fine pitcher at Fairfield Ludlowe a few years later and then played at Fairfield University and
St. Petersburg Community College.
Porzio, a 1990 graduate of Fairfield Prep, pitched relief for the Colorado Rockies (1999) and Chicago White Sox (2002-03), teaming up with Hall of Famer Frank Thomas on the latter club. “A likeable guy and a tremendously powerful hitter,” Porzio says of the first baseman/designated hitter who walloped 521 career home runs and was a two-time Most Valuable Player.
Complementing Porzio at The Clubhouse are Willie Upshaw, former first baseman with the Toronto Blue Jays and Cleveland Indians, “who has been with us from the outset,” and Maxx Catapano, 26, a pitcher from Fairfield Warde who played professionally in the Seattle Mariners organization.
Upshaw, a Fairfield resident for more than three decades, has remained in the game after his playing career, serving as a major league hitting instructor and first base coach for several teams. He managed the Bridgeport Bluefish to the Atlantic League championship in 2009.
Both facilities offer multiple “batting tunnels,” pitching mounds and video analysis. One-on-one instruction is available, for a fee, for pitching, hitting, catching, and fielding. Utilizing one of the basic laws of physics, The Batting Cage relies on KLB (Kinetic Load Baseball) to help players maximize power at the point of contact (hitting) or release (pitching).
“We’ve sent a lot of kids to Division-I, Division-II, and Division-III schools,” says Paul Fournier. “This is our life; it’s in our genes.”
“There are millions of dollars of college scholarships kids have acquired from training here,” Porzio says. Softball is also part of the curriculum at both locations. Sharon Paci, head coach at Fairfield Ludlowe, handles most of the instruction at The Clubhouse.
The layperson may be surprised to learn that “travel teams” are an important element of each business. The Batting Cage fields nine teams by age group, ranging from 10 and under to 16 and under, and they compete in area and national tournaments throughout spring and summer.
“Our Connecticut Wolfpack 14-and-under team won the BCS National Championship at Fort Myers, Florida, last summer and was ranked seventh in the country by Perfect Game USA, the No. 1 recruiting service in the country,” points out Chris Fournier.
Similarly, The Clubhouse offers 14 teams ranging from ages 10 and under to 18
and under. The four younger squads play throughout the spring, while the older teams compete in the summer. “Our 16-year-olds won the AAU National Championship at Lake Buena Vista, Florida, last August,” Porzio says.