Editor's note: This is the latest in our series highlighting Austin entrepreneurs called Dreamers & Doers. Each month, we'll tell the story behind a popular Austin businesses, reveal their inspiration, and chronicle entrepreneurs' journeys from dreamer to doer.
Home plate isn't the only place people will be teeing up in Dell Diamond this baseball season. Just in time for opening day, the popular stadium is getting a sporty new addition: Home Run Dugout, the next evolution of batting cages.
This first-of-its-kind batting arena is the product of more than five years of hard work by friends turned business partners, Nick Hermandorfer and Tyler Bambrick.
Hermandorfer and Bambrick met at West Point, the prestigious military academy where Bambrick and Hermandorfer's brother were both enrolled. Over the years, the pair became friends, and eventually decided to launch a business together. In creating a plan, they had two very specific guidelines for the business they wanted to start — it needed to be something they were passionate about, and it needed to be cool.
“At the time, playing softball was the highlight of my week," says Hermandorfer. "When games were cancelled, the team didn’t really have an option. It was either batting cages or a bar ... but not both.”
That’s when inspiration struck. “Our original big idea was to create a full indoor/outdoor entertainment facility for baseball and softball, a spot for being social and active,” says Bambrick. “We quickly discovered that you couldn’t just tack on a social element to the current batting cage model.”
For one thing, relying on the pitching machine wouldn’t work. A hurtling 75 miles per hour fastball doesn’t exactly lend itself to people mixing and socializing. “The vision for batting cages 2.0 relied on a new kind of pitching apparatus, so we ended up building one from scratch,” explains Bambrick.
For two years, they worked from Bambrick's grandmother’s house and garage, saving money and building the prototype. Eventually, they lucked into a warehouse and brought on a well-known local firm, M3 Design, to bring their vision to life.
The pair says they practically lived in the warehouse, even sleeping in hammocks suspended from the rafters (something they readily admit their landlord likely did not know.)
After putting time and money into perfecting the machine, they are currently in the process of patenting their “ground up” pitching device.
“Now, for the first time, you don’t have to put on a helmet. You don’t have to get in an enclosure. You don’t have to worry about getting hit with the ball. You wave your bat over home plate and the ball pops up,” Hermandorfer explains. “You can also program different strike zones and different stadiums.”
Once they had a working model, the next step was to connect to the Ryan Sanders Baseball organization. “We really had to go to the ends of our network to make this critical partnership happen,” says Bambrick. And even though they eventually secured an investment from Glynn Bloomquist as part of a partnership with Ryan Sanders, it was a heavy lift. “The thing they don’t tell you about investors is that it’s not a quick process," Hermandorfer says. "There are multiple touches along the way, and you have to keep proving out your value.”
Five years into it, they’ve got a lot to show for their efforts. In addition to patenting a totally new piece of technology, they’re on the cusp of opening Home Run Dugout at Dell Diamond, adjacent to a bar and restaurant. The opening date is set at April 9 to coincide with the start of the Round Rock Express' season.
Reservations are open and priced at $45 and include time at bat, plus a food and beverage credit. When the Round Rock Express is playing, packages are priced at $60 per person, and include parking and tickets to the game.
Home Run Dugout is not just about baseball, though. “We wanted this to be experiential, and more than that, an experience that everyone can have and enjoy together," Bambrick says. “This is about building community and providing something that people can gather around and connect with regardless of athleticism, age, or experience level.” Hermandorfer joins in with a laugh, “Yeah, my mom and her friends had a 60th birthday party and they were totally crushing it.”