Top of the Morning, April 12, 2014

Top of the Morning, April 12, 2014

When Shawn Tabeling was growing up, baseball strictly was a summer sport.

When it turned cold outside, "I played basketball," he said.

A lot has changed since the 41-year-old Champaign Central grad was running around the neighborhood, trying his hand at every sport he could.

For one, baseball never ends. A boom in indoor facilities has kids taking swings in cages and fielding ground balls on artificial turf — during Christmas break.

"Travel ball has blown up," Tabeling said. "My peak season is December to March."

Owner of The Cage in west Champaign, Tabeling's baseball business is about to grow. This week, the Champaign Park District OK'd his proposal to move into the nearly 40-year-old Leonhard Center, which is being replaced by a sparkling new facility a stone's throw away.

"I was told they were going to tear it down once they moved out," said Tabeling, a regular at the gym in his younger days. "I thought that would be a shame."

Instead, Tabeling plans to install artificial turf on the playing surface and construct six batting cages at Leonhard. A workout area and pro shop also are part of the plans.

Work will begin when the park district moves to the new Leonhard Center, the grand opening of which has been pushed to May 3.

"The current plans are to be ready to go in the fall," Tabeling said.

Bloomington and Effingham have indoor facilities with a bevy of batting cages. Champaign soon will, too.

"A lot of high schools have gym space but you're always fighting for time," Tabeling said. "I've been looking for a while — and there are a lot of big ideas out there. But we didn't want to get too big too soon. (Leonhard) is the right size."

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