For nearly two decades, On-Deck Baseball Academy has been prepping ballplayers for life on the diamond with guidance from veteran instructors and training in versatile drill cages. After adjusting to the player's height and preferred pitching speed, Iron Mike pitching machines hurl fastballs down center plate; for a more authentic game-day experience, players can test their skill against a human pitcher in the live cage.
Hitting isn’t the only skill taught at the sprawling baseball complex. Inside the 120-foot toss cage, catchers can practice throwing out base runners stealing second or brushing back batters who get too close to their personal space. In one-on-one instructional sessions, former players devote their undivided attention to students, teaching them fundamentals and correcting their pitching and fielding techniques. These lessons take place in skill-development cages outfitted with movable mounds, pitching targets, and L-screen protection.
During the Gary SouthShore RailCats' inaugural season in 2002, the players spent an estimated 200 hours on buses—traveling approximately 12,000 miles without their own ballpark to call home. Indeed, the diamond at U.S. Steel Yard was still under construction, forcing the team to play its entire first season on the road. But while the trip could have been a rocky way for an organization to start out, it instead forecasted a wild ride ahead in which the RailCats never stopped moving. After just four years, the RailCats captured their first Northern League title, marking the first of five straight appearances in the championship series—a Northern League record.
Despite that first year away from home, the RailCats seem to have settled in well at U.S. Steel Yard. Within the park, views of the South Shore commuter train remind fans of the team's origins, and a 55-foot scoreboard towers over left-centerfield in much the same way early pitchers once towered over batters from atop a stack of milk crates.