It is a busy time of year at Baseball Central. The batting cages located just off Venice Boulevard are abuzz with activity as the season gets underway. A longtime favorite among Westside baseball fans, Baseball Central is enjoying a renaissance with a new owner, a young staff and a new location to call home. On visiting the cages, one is immediately struck by the pervasive enthusiasm for the game. The walls are adorned with photographs of baseball greats and landmark stadiums. Gangs of pint-size little leaguers jockey alongside full-grown adults as they wait their turn to hit in the cages. Everyone seems to be struck by the same bug of baseball fever.

Baseball Central has six cages for swatting balls from the hand-fed pitching machines. They can be rented at bargain prices by the hour or by number of pitches. Another lane reserved just for pitchers has a standard height turf mound where you can try out your wind-up. They even have a blow-up Dodger doll that poses as a batter. With good aim you can actually knock the Velcro-attached head clear off! Giants fans love this feature.

While any and all are invited to try their stroke in the cages, the principal focus of Baseball Central is personal instruction. The staff of instructors includes owner T.J. Runnells, a former professional player, and a crew of young enthusiasts.

Judging by the crowd of men beyond their baseball “prime,” I imagine that my own story is not unusual. I am among the multitudes who abandoned their dreams of baseball stardom on some distant field years ago. Whenever I pass a ball field I am touched by a subtle bittersweet nostalgia as I watch kids engage in the pastime. Yet one can always dream, and that practice I have never ceased.

Dreaming itself is integral to the mystique of baseball. Inside the heart of every baseball fan is the desire to be a hero, the star at the epicenter of glory. Our fantasies are composed of make-believe moments in which the most common stage is the batter’s box. It is that fundamental circumstance of the game: the batter alone at the plate facing off an enemy, a hopeful crowd watching closely, the game on the line. “And here’s the pitch…”

There is something else about hitting, beyond the fantasy aspect, which makes it so appealing to body and soul. First of all, there is the physicality. The pulling back and release, a combination of strength and grace as the spine twists, limbs and muscles united in common cause. Occasionally the ball will be struck by the sweet spot on the bat. Combined with a smooth swing the ball explodes, and it feels like the most casual thing of all. A nonchalant twist of the wrist and “see ya’ later.” You can watch the pros achieve this confluence of forces nightly on the highlight reel but to experience it for yourself is something that can never be adequately described.

True, most of us will never live the glory moments of our baseball fantasies in real life, but that is not to diminish their value. On the contrary, our dreams are precious stuff, they keep us young at heart, a flicker of magic yet living. They are to be celebrated.

Baseball Central offers sanctuary to the baseball dreamer. Here, one can hit to their heart’s content. At a speed of your choice, pitch after pitch comes flying down the barrel. The machines here tend to vary in pitch location, just enough to make it exciting. The unpredictability adds a certain drama and makes those moments of solid contact feel all the more well earned. It’s actually kind of addicting. The closer you get to the divine swat, the more you hunger for it. And I suppose that is the best thing of all, to find the fire of desire still lit in our baseball-loving hearts.

For more information, call (323) 954-0200.