By Chelsy Woods Klein
For the Courier
Pete Van Gulick is a big hit with his daughters — because he has given them a year-round training facility to practice their hitting.
Van Gulick realized that his daughters’ passion for softball was being hindered by two things — they couldn’t practice year-round, and typical batting cages did not provide a realistic hitting experience. His solution was to insert a new option into the lineup: RALI Fastpitch at South Kipling and West Bowles.
“I have two girls that have played softball for a long time,” Van Gulick said. “We were always struggling to find places they could practice, and if we wanted to go to the batting cages, we were stuck with the outdoor ones, and they use dimple balls — it just wasn’t good.”
So when Van Gulick’s job as an IT and marketing specialist for an insurance brokerage lost its luster, he decided to enter the niche market of softball and baseball practice facilities. And he was intent on creating a realistic experience.
“We decided to only use real balls,” said Van Gulick. “It makes it more like real softball and baseball, and it doesn’t void the warranty on composite bats, so athletes can use their own equipment and get a feel for how theirstuff works.”
Also adding to the authenticity of the practice are pitching machines that offer a variety of deliveries and a playing surface that approximates real infields.
“When a pitcher throws the ball, they don’t throw the same pitch over and over,” said Van Gulick. “So why would you want to hit off a machine that only throws (balls) straight and down the middle?”
Batters and catchers contend with curveballs, 80-mph fastballs and sinkers, all launched from the Hack Attack machine — and all happening on Diamond Pro dirt.
“It’s a better feel for both the catchers and pitchers,” Van Gulick said. “And the coaches that do infield practice like it too.”
Although RALI Fastpitch just opened in January, it is quickly gaining recognition in the softball and baseball communities.
“It’s really awesome to have a practice facility that is like playing outdoors,” said Nicole Janssen, RALI instructional coach and Chatfield High School’s head softball coach.
Janssen signed on with RALI as a private instruction coach because she saw that RALI was filling a gap in the softball community.
“It’s really nice to have someplace to go and practice year-round,” Janssen said. “It’s tough for the kids who live here and play softball, because unlike volleyball and a lot of other sports, they can’t practice during the off-season.”
“We are forming relationships with a lot of the high school teams and the South Jeffco Sports Association to work with their softball team, and we are hoping to partner up with National Pro Fastpitch so that they can practice here,” Van Gulick said.
RALI’s instruction sessions offer players individual attention.
“We have Nicole (Janssen) doing our overall instruction and Rebecka Mintz doing our pitching instruction, and they are both very good at what they do,” Van Gulick said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to add on a few more instructors soon.”
For now, players can drop in for a quick batting-cage session or schedule a an in-depth training session with the pros, during which the instructors assess the athlete’s skills, work on targeted areas of the game and give professional feedback on what gear will be best suited for optimal performance.
“We have a great pro shop,” said Van Gulick. “I think we are one of the only pro shops to carry women’s Ringor cleats.”
“RALI is a great place,” said Janssen. “They offer so many things that you can’t find anywhere else in this area. I really hope that people come take a look — I think they will be really impressed with what they see.”
10251 W. Bowles Ave., Unit C; 720-981-1234; www.ralifastpitch.com
Hours: Monday through Friday, 2 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.