There’s obvious excitement in the air in a small building — with a big history — on Girard Avenue in Northern Liberties.
Knee-high kids, looking like bobbleheads in their helmets, a few bigger guys and girls, and several moms and dads crowd the space inside Everybody Hits, the newly opened indoor batting cages, the first of its kind in the city of Philadelphia.
There are sounds of tokens clanking into ball pitching machines, cage gates swinging open and closed, and of course, phrases of encouragement.
“That’s it! You got it!”
“Okay, good try, good try!”
At 529 W. Girard Ave., Everybody Hits is true to its name. Everyone seems to be here.
Owner David Gavigan, 26, opened the batting cages on May 1 after more than a year of preparations, including finding just the right space.
“I was carpooling with a friend through Fishtown and Northern Liberties and saw just so many empty warehouses,” the Reading, Pa. native said in an interview last Thursday. He said was intrigued by many of them before landing on Girard Avenue. “This is like, warehouse number 25,” he continued with a grin.
The Everybody Hits building has a storied history. The structure dates to the 1890s, and was used for several ventures — it was home to an appliance outlet, a bowling alley, an indoor farmer’s market and perhaps most intriguingly, a silent movie theater.
Everybody Hits’ building displays some vestiges of the long-ago farmer’s market — you can still see the word “beef” in chipped paint on one wall — and Gavigan said he’s even found a bit of buried treasure.
“When I was digging in the back of this place, I found a handful of oyster shells,” he said.
And the former movie theater’s projection screen is still accessible. Gavigan and some friends recently used it to watch — what else? — “The Sandlot.”
Now, though, the space serves as a point of convenience for ball players and anyone who enjoys a strictly baseball-focused atmosphere.
“I was obsessed with indoor baseball,” Gavigan said. “I quit in high school, but picked it back up in college with friends. We were always going to indoor cages, but I didn’t have a car, and the cages were in the far Northeast, or Conshohocken.”
He thought it would make sense then, Gavigan said, to build batting cages here in the city. He said he’s not sure why no one in the city has done it before.
“I guess it’s sort of a suburban concept. In the city, space is at a premium. If you build an indoor one, you need the space, if you build an outdoor one, what are you going to do in the off-season?”
After his empty warehouse search, Gavigan said he’s glad he landed in the neighborhood after a Craigslist search turned up the Girard Avenue space.
“It’s different [here] from other parts of the city. I just think there are a lot of young businesses owners who care and talk to each other. There’s a lot of energy,” he said.
Gavigan said he hopes to keep Everybody Hits what he calls a “entirely baseball-centered entertainment and leisure zone.” He would like to host clinics and baseball book discussions, and turn the upstairs area — which used to be the movie theatre’s projection room — into a clubhouse.
Everybody Hits also has a few baseball arcade games, which are free to play. Players can use the cages for $2.25 for one round, and can buy five rounds for $10. Baseball teams can also rent the space.
Elena Bresani and Noah Corbett, a couple who stopped in for a few pitches on Thursday, were both excited about the new batting cages.
“I think it’s really nice. It’s a good family activity, but also for people in their 20s,” Bresani, who lives in Northern Liberties, said. “We were thinking about renting it out for a party.”
“The location is number one,” Corbett said, adding that he’s grateful for the baseball-only element. “I like that it’s just a batting cage. It’s not like, a kid fun center.”
Sachina Brown and her son Kori, 9, were visiting the cages for a couple rounds with Kori’s baseball team on Thursday.
“It’s definitely nice to have access to this, when it was only really in the suburbs,” Brown said. Kori’s baseball team, the Cougars — part of the Taney Youth Baseball league — were practicing in the cages that day.
As for Gavigan, he seems to be having just as much fun as the visitors to the cages.
“It’s just so awesome to see people in this place I’ve worked on since July,” he said. “It’s a simple thing that people enjoy. The more simple things that people enjoy we can have in this city, the better.” ••