Zach Zurbrugg averaged .329 over 70 at-bats for the University of Jamestown baseball team last season. Certainly not shabby, but Jack Brown Stadium's most recent renovation should help the senior catcher improve on those numbers.
Members of the Jimmies got to see the the stadium's newly installed batting cages on Tuesday, Oct. 30. The approximately $91,000 project eliminated safety and drainage issues with the former cages, while increasing in capacity from three cages to four.
"These are probably the best cages you can get," said Zurbrugg, who transferred to UJ from Seattle-area Shoreline Community College, located across the Puget Sound from his hometown of Bremerton, Wash. "I don't know how to describe it. It's awesome.
"We get an extra cage out of it too, so that's more hitting for us."
It's more hitting for everybody.
Baseball's local popularity at the youth level has been on the rise as of late. Jamestown Area Youth Baseball Association (JAYBAL) president Jeff Douty said the total number of kids participating in JAYBAL programs over the past handful of years has ballooned from approximately 240 members to now over 290.
The local youth baseball organization governs competitive youth traveling teams beginning at age 9. Douty said the uptick in numbers allowed JAYBAL to field six youth baseball teams between ages 9-14 last summer without having to combine age groups.
The budding hitters on those teams normally go on to fill lineup cards for Jamestown High School and American Legion Post 14. But finding ways to get all those kids the cuts they need had started to become an issue.
"It's a good problem to have," Douty said. "We had a team in each age bracket, from 9 years old all the way to legion. Getting the fourth batting cage will play a huge role in practice time.
"The more reps these kids can get, the better batters they'll become."
All of this puts a smile on the face of Jamestown native Jeff Gould, the man at the head of the project's organization and planning. The project had an original estimated price tag of $75,000, but, as with many estimates, the cost increased to just over $90,000.
The Jamestown Parks and Recreation Commission approved the project last January, but no public funding is tied to the grassroots effort.
"We need to raise about $15,000 yet to get everything we want down here done," said Gould. "We're going to get there. We've had great support and we've had over 100 people donate already.
"I'm happy and very appreciative of the park board, and Doug Hogan and Bonnie Ukestad's efforts, along with the (Jamestown Parks and Recreation) Foundation to allow us to do this."
The cages will be ready for teams in the spring. Basically, just a handful of tidying up remains, such as gluing the turf to the concrete in warmer weather and tossing in L-screens. The dollars raised for the project has gone to local contractors.
"Hillerud Construction and Lux Concrete have been great to work with," Gould said. "They've been fantastic people."
The former cages, which would flood during a rain event, were installed approximately 20 years ago through donations made by Darin Erstad, and Gould said the recommendation to flip the cages' orientation from north and south to east and west, and add a fourth cage, was made by Jamestown's Cory Anderson.
The former orientation allowed for baseballs to be struck toward Jack Brown's grandstand and spectator areas, posing a safety concern if a ball were to escape the netting. Gould also recently helped spearhead a grassroots project that installed new dugouts at Jack Brown.
"It's been amazing seeing all the people in town support this," Gould said. "When this thing is done we'll have put in over $415,000 down here at the ballpark in the last three years. We're excited to have this come to conclusion."
When not in use for organized practices, the new cages will be open and available for Jamestown's youth to take advantage of throughout the summer.
"I know that my coaching staff and players are really impressed with how they turned out, and we're so thankful to Jeff and Tessa Gould, and everybody who supported this project," said University of Jamestown baseball coach Tom Hager. "I think we can honestly say these are the nicest cages in the state of North Dakota, and it's going to be a privilege to be able to practice in these on a daily basis."
To make a tax-deductible donation to the project, checks can be mailed to Jamestown Parks and Recreation Department, c/o Bonnie Ukestad, 1002, Second Ave. SE, Jamestown, N.D., 58401. In the memo line include: JBS or batting cages.