A hit. A homerun. A game changer. These are words being used to describe the newly opened, high-tech, year-round indoor baseball and softball practice facility in Muscatine known as The LAB. Muscatine High School (MHS) baseball coach Grant Pippert, 38, had this dream, and the community rallied to bring it to fruition. The Literally Athletic […]
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A hit. A homerun. A game changer.
These are words being used to describe the newly opened, high-tech, year-round indoor baseball and softball practice facility in Muscatine known as The LAB.
Muscatine High School (MHS) baseball coach Grant Pippert, 38, had this dream, and the community rallied to bring it to fruition. The Literally Athletic Building (LAB) held its grand opening in its new home in the former JCPenney store at Muscatine Mall on Thursday, Jan. 27. But it has been open to high school athletes for about a month.
Mr. Pippert’s romance with baseball may remind one of Ray Kinsella from the movie “Field of Dreams” – he built it so they will come. However, instead of focusing on baseball’s past, Pippert looks decidedly to its future. A baseball coach for 14 years (including three in Muscatine), he knows the value of using technology to track athletic progress. But his vision of the facility’s purpose and benefits goes beyond improving athleticism.
“I believe academic and community success is directly correlated to athletic and extracurricular success. Communities and school districts that invest in these activities also have the highest graduation rates, increased ACT scores, attendance rates and college readiness,” the MHS social studies teacher said.
The LAB will cater to athletes age 7 to high school seniors, but also will allow college students to practice there during their breaks. There is equipment and space to facilitate practicing hitting, pitching, catching and engaging in speed and agility training.
On the 18,000-square-foot green expanse of turf and among the floor-to-ceiling netting are three HitTrax machines. They give instant feedback with film and analytics such as swing rate and point-of-contact to guide each individual hitter. A Rapsodo machine gives instant baseball and softball analytics such as speed and spin rate for pitchers. Both systems store data over time so the athletes can track their progress.
The LAB also features six full-length cages and baseball and softball pitching machines. It can accommodate up to 60 athletes in the facility, located in the shuttered JCPenney store at 1903 Park Ave., which had been vacant since 2014. The LAB is a non-profit corporation.
Mr. Pippert and his cohorts are well aware of regional state-of-the-art athletic facilities such as the TBK Bank Sports Complex in Bettendorf. The LAB provides a lower-cost alternative and is also closer to home for athletes in and near Muscatine County. Membership for general use is $20 per month, with the option of age- and ability-appropriate training sessions for another $20 per month. All trainers are volunteers, including the high schoolers who help to train the younger athletes.
Mr. Pippert is confident that The LAB’s location and pricing will help Muscatine as a community.
“It will have a positive impact on attracting families to move to our community and retain families with young children because it will help provide structure, stability and accountability – not to mention the positive physical and mental health impacts of athletes having the space to train or exercise in the cold winter months,” he told the QCBJ.
Erik Reader, president and CEO of the Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce & Industry (GMCCI), said Mr. Pippert and his backers are onto something: a strong trend of sports tourism.
“It’s great for the kids here and for people outside of Muscatine,” Mr. Reader said. “People who come from out of town will see what Muscatine is: family-friendly.”
Mr. Reader and Hannah Howard, director of business services and advocacy for GMCCI, commended Mr. Pippert for finding a new use for a vacant building.
“Congratulations on transforming an unused place into a center of activity,” Ms. Howard said at The LAB’s grand opening. “You’ve hit a homerun.”
In a separate interview, Mr. Reader said “It’s amazing he found a use for a property of that magnitude. He and his group had a good idea.”
This nonprofit venture began two years ago when Pippert started building his network of partners and exploring similar places. He said it was new territory for him, so he sought help.
“Jim Howe gave me a lot of helpful ideas and connections to the right people,” Mr. Pippert told the grand opening crowd. Mr. Howe, a director of the Howe Foundation and son of Stanley Howe, one of HNI Corporation’s founders, now lives in the Atlanta area but still helps to fund projects in his native Muscatine.
Mr. Howe helped launch Mr. Pippert’s progress with encouragement, advice and funding. Muscatine Mall Manager Toni Klaren helped them get established. Others Mr. Pippert names as important to The LAB are those who are volunteering their time going forward including: Jesse Reynolds and Jason Miller, youth softball coaches; Kolby Reed, certified speed and agility trainer; Duncan Snider, pitching coach; and the nine-member board of directors.
He also credited his wife, Whitney, for tolerating “many late nights” at home alone with their three young children. “Sometimes, she had to do a lot on her own.”
HNI Corp. and the Howe Family Foundation helped fund the general project, and Musco Lighting furnished the funds for lighting at The LAB.
Going forward, Pippert said he has a vision of The LAB growing into a multi-sport facility with at least a weight room and a track. “This is just the beginning,” he said.
What: The LAB (Literally Athletic Building)
Where: 1903 Park Ave., Suite A001, Muscatine
Winter/spring hours of operation: 4:30-8:30 p.m., Monday to Friday; flexible hours, Saturday.
Schedule: Baseball, Monday and Thursday; softball, Tuesday and Wednesday; HitTrax League – onscreen games, Friday; and small group and individual training sessions (4-8 people), Saturday.
More information: email@example.com or Grant Pippert at (720) 212-9545.