Swing Into Spring At Manny's

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Lost souls looking for fun in Payson are getting more and more choices thanks to entrepreneurs like Manuel Arguello who opened Manny's Batting Cages on North Highway 87. Always up for a challenge, my daughter Kelsey and I stopped in on a Friday evening to try out the newest version of entertainment in Payson.

It's an American pastime, a cultural phenomenon that no longer requires a team. For just a $1, you can take a swing at 20 baseballs or softballs and you can choose your speeds -- fast, medium and slow.

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Riley Parker, 13, gets in some batting practice after making the team, the Angels, a few weeks ago.

Not known for my precise aim, I chose a cage that offered medium softballs. Nervous laughter was a sure sign I was planning on looking like a fool in front of my teenager -- just my specialty.

Next, you choose from a large variety of bats. Left to our own devices, we picked through the bats. I was looking for a medium-weight bat, figuring if I ever connected with one of these balls, I wanted to send it through the nets, but I had to be able to hold it first.

So now the time had come. I entered the cage, wondering if I was being locked in or if they were being locked out.

The cage is really for protection, keeping foul balls and thrown bats from injuring innocent bystanders. That is probably a good thing in my case.

I read the instructions and dropped the token in the machine. Feeling like a kid again I lined up my feet in the batter's box. I'm sure my stance resembled Babe Ruth or Pete Rose. Waiting for the first ball, waves of childhood memories came back. Swinging my first bat in T-ball, my dad coaching me in softball. Watching my brother play baseball.

Then as the first ball came my way, I suddenly remember I was never any good at this. So I swing -- and it's a foul to the left. No matter what else happened that night, consistency I had.

If fouling to the left earned points, I was top gun that night. Out of 40 balls I actually sent one straight up the middle (and it was not caught by the second baseman) and about five others went in the right direction. I even connected an infield bounce that might have got me to first base.

It was a time of imagination, memories and a lot of laughs as my teenager, encouraged and taunted me from the sidelines. As I continued to smack foul balls, we tried to collaborate on the cause. We adjusted the pitch so that it shot over my head. I tried standing with one foot more forward. In the end, we laughed it off.

And I think that was the point. If you are after real practice, Manny's has it. But for those of us just looking for a change of pace and a little nostalgia, Manny's also has that.

When the dust settled and the crowd dissipated, the reward of the evening came when the teenager who came to watch said, "You did a lot better than I thought you would."

How much better can it get?

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