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Mall batting cages are officially open

Darrell Skaggs, center, cuts the ribbon marking the official opening of On Deck 2 Batting Cages on the upper level of Santa Maria's Town Center Mall Saturday. Skaggs is surrounded by players, coaches, employees and representatives from the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce.

Although the calendar clearly shows that Christmas is near, the boys of summer took center stage Saturday at the Santa Maria Town Center Mall.

On Deck 2 Batting Cages held its official grand opening ceremony just after 10 a.m. on the upper deck of the mall.

“It took over a year to build this,” said On Deck 2 owner Darrell Skaggs. “We had a soft opening in June then opened full time on July 4 and today is our official ribbon-cutting ceremony.”

The facility has seven cages for baseball and softball players. Six are dedicated to hitting and the seventh does double duty as both a batting cage and a pitching-hitting instructional cage. On Deck 2 even has a gym.

Everyone is welcome to stop by to take a few swings. Batters can book cages in 15-minute increments or buy one of the special discount packages the facility offers.

“We have specials, contests, clinics,” said Skaggs. “There’s always something for the kids.”

With that in mind, Skaggs offers free introductory lessons for children who have never played baseball or softball before.

“And we’ve started an honor student program,” said Skaggs. “We give kids free rounds of batting, free lessons, free water but they have to get good grades in school to earn those privileges. But we have college students who work here who will sit right here at the counter and help any kid with his or her homework.”

“This is the only indoor batting facility for 250 miles,” said Robert Pena, the head coach of the Orcutt Academy and Santa Maria Reds baseball teams. “We teach all ages, boys and girls, from tee ball to high school. I bring our Orcutt Academy baseball players here, some of our Reds players come here to work out, and I coach a lot of softball players here, too. I get a lot more girls coming out for lessons.”

“We opened here in the mall because of its central location,” said Skaggs. “For travel ball or little league teams, this is always a place they can come to work out — especially on rainy or windy days. And because we’re in the mall, we should see a lot of foot traffic. People are welcome to just drop in while they’re out shopping.”

One of the first people to step into the cage after Saturday’s ribbon cutting ceremony was Tyler Skaggs.

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Tyler is Darrell’s son. He is also a left-handed starting pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

He starred on the Santa Monica High School baseball team.

“I only came up to the Central Coast to pitch once during high school,” said Tyler Skaggs. “In 2009 we played a (CIF) playoff game at Lompoc.”

Santa Monica won.

At 17, Tyler was a first-round draft pick by the Anaheim Angels in the 2009 amateur draft.

“They traded me to the Diamondbacks for Dan Haren,” Tyler Skaggs said. 

After 3 1/2 years in the minors, the Diamondbacks brought him up to the majors in 2012. At the time, he was 20 years old and the youngest pitcher in the big leagues.

“We didn’t have batting cages like this when I was a kid,” Tyler added.

But the younger Skaggs has worked on his hitting and is a baseball rarity — a pitcher who hits well enough that he’s occasionally called upon to pinch hit.

“I pinch hit about 15 times in the minors,” Tyler Skaggs said. “I got four hits (and one RBI) last year for the Diamondbacks.”

On Deck 2 Batting Cages is on the second floor of Town Center Mall, just down the hall from Sears. It is open every day from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. with plans to expand its hours to 10 p.m.

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