FAIRFAX — Dugout Sports? It’s another of those Iowa baseball stories.
“When I was little, the high school coach where I grew up was the same guy who coached my dad,” Jay Whannel said one recent morning. “He asked me to be the bat boy. It was just in love, after that.”
Whannel grew up in Traer, in Tama County. After graduating from North Tama High School — he still holds the Iowa High School Athletic Association’s record with a .678 batting average — he played briefly for St. Thomas University in Miami before transferring to Wartburg College.
A four-year starter at shortstop, Whannel was part of four conference titles and as many trips to the NCAA regional championships, advancing to the Division III College World Series in 2000.
After that, he coached at baseball camps and player showcases around the country. He was helping manage his family’s hardware store in Traer and a couple cellphone retail stores when he began discussing a business idea with Jared TeBockhorst, a neighbor in Fairfax. Their original idea was to purchase a recently constructed building for a self-storage business.
“He said, ‘Have you considered an indoor baseball-softball facility?’” Whannel recalled. “I said, ‘I’m in.’”
The business partners opened Dugout Sports in late 2018. With more than 11,000 square feet, the almost-a-storage-facility now boasts 11 batting cages, pitching machines and room for infielders to train. There’s also a station for arm-strengthening exercises.
The facility is open 24 hours, with members booking their cage time online. Dugout also offers clinics and baseball camps with faculty drawn from college and major-league ranks.
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“I have close friends coaching college-level, and I stay in touch with them,” Whannel said. “It’s like anything — you keep asking questions. It’s never, ‘I know everything.’ Everybody is that way — they’re still learning.”
The owners are still learning, too.
“The family business did give me a background on the business side of it, and partnering with Jared has been just perfect,” Whannel said. “It’s been a lot of late nights.”
About 15 amateur teams train at Dugout along with a half-dozen local MLB players who keep in shape during the offseason.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of minor leaguers,” Whannel said. “It’s pretty neat to see all those guys in there and see the different throwing programs and what else they’re working on.”
High school and college softball players also train at Dugout.
“It’s been neat to see the younger softball players have someone to look up to, and follow their college career,” Whannel said.
Whannel estimates the youngest players “working out” at the facility are five or six years old.
“You see the young kids that are eight, nine, 10, just being around the facility,” he said. “They’re showing more interest, and they’re at the age I was when I started loving baseball.
“That definitely will be fun, to watch the growth of the kids.”
Whannel and TeBockhorst, who operates an insurance and financial services business in Fairfax, are Dugout’s only employees.
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“I have a 10 -year-old and seven-year-old,” Whannel said. “You could consider them employees, I guess.”
What happens when there’s no baseball?
“It’s tough,” Whannel said. “Talking to the pro guys that are down there, it’s the unknown — nobody knows when they’re going back. I think it’s more difficult for the pitchers because they don’t know how much they should be throwing.”
Dugout is staying open for members who schedule individual or small-group sessions.
“We’re just trying to follow the guidance” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Whannel said. “We never thought we’d be Lysol-ing softballs or baseballs, but there we are.”
Whannel said they have limited occupancy to 10, with no spectators, and have the cages separated so everyone is more than six feet apart.
“We purchased several gallons of hand sanitizer from Cedar Ridge Winery for use before and after,” he said, “and also are cleaning three times a day.”
Under Gov. Kim Reynolds’s public health emergency orders, a number of businesses are closed and social gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. Violations are classified as simple misdemeanors.
A number of small businesses in the Corridor still are at work. If you know a business that could make an interesting “My Biz” feature, let us know by emailing email@example.com.
At A Glance
• Owner: Jay Whannel, Jared TeBockhorst
• Business: Dugout Sports
• Address: 814 Eagleview Dr., Fairfax
• Phone: (319) 550-1824
• Website: dugoutsportsfairfax.com