● By Jon Lewis
Waterman's Batting Cages in ReddingStory: Jon Lewis Photos: Kara Stewart
For John Waterman, one door closed and a batting cage opened.
“This business came along at just the right time for us,” says Tonya Waterman as she recalls the day she and her husband decided to purchase a batting-cage business. “I walked in to buy some baseball socks for an exchange student and the owner says, ‘You and John should buy this place—I’m going to close the doors in 30 days.’"
“My husband had just lost his job and we decided, well, how would we know if we don’t take a chance?” The papers were signed on the first of April in 2010 and the Watermans were the proud owners of Inside Sports on Hartnell Avenue in Redding. The memory makes her laugh: “We bought a struggling company in a down economy on April Fool’s Day.”
These days, rather than feeling foolish, the couple is feeling grateful. After renaming the business Waterman’s Batting Cages and moving into bigger digs on Bechelli Lane (adjacent to the Liquor Barn), things are picking up.
“With John’s background and our involvement in the community, we started getting baseball people back and now we have faithful returning customers. We even have couples coming in on a date night,” Tonya says.
Baseball is spoken all year long at Waterman’s and there really is no off season. During the winter months, when inclement weather makes outdoor practice difficult, baseball and softball players routinely stop in to throw, work on their swings and take ground balls.
Waterman schedules one-on-one hitting lessons throughout the week and on Sundays he conducts baseball academies for Little League-aged players. He says the bulk of his customers are involved in Little League, “with a lot of parents pitching to kids and playing catch.”
High school and college-aged players have been known to visit the cages and sharpen their skills and younger kids have taken to using Waterman’s as a safe place to hang out, do homework and wait for their parents, Tonya says. She and her husband of 15 years strive to operate their business with the philosophy of “building a better community, one athlete at a time.”
“We’re trying to keep it so people who love the sport can be in here working year-round,” says Waterman, whose own resume includes playing baseball and basketball at Enterprise High (Class of 1992) and baseball at Shasta College for then-coach Brad Peek. After his playing days, he returned to Shasta and coached with Brad Rupert for a couple of years.
The Watermans’ baseball world isn’t confined to the cages. All three of their children are ballplayers. Averi, 10, plays softball on a city league team; Peyton, 11, plays in Little League; and Easton, 14, plays on the Redding Vipers.
In addition to being a cheerleader for her boys’ teams, Tonya coaches Averi’s softball team and serves as president of East Redding Little League. Waterman coaches the Enterprise High junior-varsity baseball team and the Redding Vipers Travel Team. He started coaching the Vipers when Easton was 8. (The Vipers are actually several teams that are grouped by age.)
Waterman’s baseball roots run deep. His grandfather, Edward “Coop” Waterman, was something of a legend in Willow Creek. After years of playing on a traveling team that competed in logging towns like Burnt Ranch, Weaverville, French Gulch and Blue Lake, the elder Waterman fulfilled a lifelong dream by building a ballpark in Willow Creek and naming it Candy Stick Park, in a nod to San Francisco’s then-new Candlestick Park.
Waterman’s father, Cooper, and his uncle, John Waterman, were both prominent players in Redding’s fast-pitch softball heyday and Waterman, who had basically grown up at ballparks, was soon on the field as well.
Tragically, Cooper Waterman died in 1983 when a bulldozer he was operating overturned near Whiskeytown Lake. Waterman’s grandfather and uncle made sure Waterman—and hundreds of other kids—had the coaching and support to continue playing ball.
“My grandpa was the center stone of it all,” Waterman says. “When my dad died, a lot of people stepped up to help me out and make sure I could play. I’m just trying to pay it forward.”
www.watermanscages.com • 2629 Bechelli Lane, Redding (530) 222-6484 • 2-8 pm Monday-Friday; 10 am to 6 pm Saturdays