If you wondered what it’s like to try to hit a 90-mph fastball swinging the same bats that all-stars like Yadier Molina, Buster Posey and Alex Bregman use, Jeff Hunter can show you.
Marucci Clubhouse Midwest held a grand opening celebration Friday and Saturday. The 23,000-square foot, $1.7 million baseball and softball training facility is located right next to U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark. Jeff Hunter, the Marucci Clubhouse manager, hopes the training facility and brand-centric retail store can build on the success of U.S. Baseball Park.
“We’re excited to be here. We’re excited to be in southwest Missouri. We’re extremely excited that Marucci took a chance right here in southwest Missouri,” Hunter said.
Hunter, a Springfield native, worked for Walmart for 25 years. He stepped away from Walmart in the wake of an EF-5 tornado that ravaged Joplin in 2011. He focused on his family while his wife started a new career in insurance.
Hunter joked that many Ozark Tigers fans already know and celebrate his brother, basketball coach Steve Hunter.
Marucci’s interest in Ozark started with a club dedicated to developing amateur players.
“The Midwest Nationals is a baseball organization founded in 2001,” Jeff Hunter said.
The Midwest Nationals field competitive youth teams, peaking with a squad in the Show-Me Collegiate League. Its list of alumni includes professionals such as Dallas Keuchel, Buddy Baumann, Lucas Harrell and Brett Sinkbeil.
“Marucci approached the Midwest Nationals about building a facility down in this area, so a group of investors got together, and that’s how Marucci landed right here in southwest Missouri,” Hunter said.
Marucci launched in 2004 with two ex-baseball players making wooden bats in a garage. The company now manufactures bats favored by some of the top professionals in the game. Marucci is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It opened stores in Orlando, Florida and the Los Angeles metro area, along with a home store in Baton Rouge.
Hunter said U.S. Baseball Park General Manager Mark Stratton has been incredibly helpful now that the to businesses are neighbors. The Marucci clubhouse sits out past the left field stands of the stadium. The indoor facility will also cater to baseball and softball players.
“We’ve been working with Mark Stratton. He’s been a great business partner with us, I mean extremely helpful,” Hunter said. “He’s really helped support us.”
It was Stratton who announced plans for the training center with a 30-foot high ceiling in April 2019. That happened just before U.S. Baseball Park received word it would host the Missouri State High School Activities Association championships from 2020-2025.
All five classes will compete in the MSHSAA State Baseball Championships at U.S. Baseball Park this spring. The games will include semifinals, state championships and third place games. Paid attendance for the championships over the past five years has averaged 8,349 fans each year.
U.S. Baseball Park was born as Price Cutter Park, home of the independent professional Ozark Mountain Ducks in 1999. The park mostly sat empty for 12 years, until Jeff Williams, owner of 15 Oklahoma grocery stores, and a business partner purchased the stadium. The Williams group also dumped more than $2 million into renovating the stadium with new turf, a new video board in right field and all kinds of improvements to the concession stands and amenities.
The project included the installation of AstroTurf and a $500,000 digital video board in right field, which is clearly visible to drivers on U.S. Highway 65.
The indoor facility figures to continue making U.S. Baseball Park busier each year. Since the park was renovated, dates for events have increased from 80 to 254 this year.
U.S. Baseball Park is the home of the NCAA Division-II Drury University Panthers baseball team, the Show-Me Collegiate League, the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament, Heart of America Conference Tournament, a plethora of high school and competitive games and tournaments and the Monday Night Mini’s tee-ball league.