Whether you’re a pro or Little Leaguer, Kent shop has it covered


Rob Mullikin

Rob Mullikin

There may be a hint of flurries on the winds, but make no mistake, signs of spring are in the air: Pitchers and catchers reported this past weekend for the start of baseball’s spring training.

But for those amateurs looking to get in shape for the season without being able to make the trek to Arizona or Florida like the pros do, one Kent business specializes in all things baseball, all year round.

“We’re baseball people,” said Rob Mulliken, co-owner of Varsity Baseball, an indoor training facility and baseball pro shop located on Central Avenue. “What’s better in America than baseball?”

Varsity Baseball is a 22,000-square-foot baseball/softball-only facility (although a local cricket team also practices there) with batting cages as well as 54-foot by 90-foot infield area that can either be used as a single practice space or divided into individual practice areas.

The business also features a baseball pro-shop that contains just about anything a baseball player of any age could need.

“You can find something your 10-year-old son can use to literally things pros will use,” Mulliken said, pointing to the $400 Italian leather gloves and the bats made for but rejected by professional ballplayers (they’re the wooden ones with the red stripe).

“We claim we’re the largest baseball-only pro-shop in the area,” said Steven Finch, director of the retail store and training center, calling the shop a “baseball Mecca.”

Mulliken said where other sporting goods or big box stores may have a small selection of baseball items or only have them out in the beginning of the season, Varsity Baseball’s intent is to carry anything and everything a ballplayer might need, from catching gear in all sizes and colors to bats of various weights, lengths and materials to the “glove wall,” with an estimated 500 baseball gloves hanging from hooks (both lefty and righty, since Finch is a lefty).

There are even special practice gloves, official Major League Baseball balls and machines and netting for those interested in building a backyard batting cage.

“They can come here in April, they can come here in September, they can come here in December and we will have it,” said co-owner Bob Mitzel.

Varsity Baseball first opened five years ago in Kent’s warehouse district, but moved to its current Central Avenue location in August.

“We started the whole thing five years ago because there was no place,” Mitzel said.

“We wanted to do baseball the best we could,” said Mulliken.

Along with the practice areas and the gear, Mulliken said the store features a knowledgeable staff, all of whom are “baseball people.”

“Everybody here is a coach or a player or has been in the business,” echoes Finch. “This is what we do.”

“We live it and breathe it,” Mulliken said.

Mitzel said along with the knowledge and selection, the store strives to keep costs down, promising “Internet pricing,” which means they will meet online pricing levels for the same products at their store.

For those training at the facility, the baseball/softball focus is appreciated.

“”I think it’s very good,” said 16-year-old Branden Muraki, who was getting in shape for the start of the 2009 high school baseball season with the help and coaching of his father, Jeff.

Muraki said the facility is a great place to work out because it includes a places to hit and pitch, unlike a gym.

“It’s a lot better than our old facility,” agreed Jeff Muraki.

A cage over, Richard and Katie Jackson were preparing for the upcoming fastpitch season.

“It’s nice to be able to come down here and hit, pitch, catch, whatever you want to do,” said Katie Jackson, 14.

Richard said he also appreciated that the staff was knowledgeable, but non-intrusive.

“They’re there when you need them,” he said.

The store also features a cafe, which Richard Jackson said is great for parents waiting for their kids to finish practice.

As the new baseball season swings into action in the next few months, Varsity Baseball will become home to several club teams of various ages, but for Mulliken the message is a simple one, no matter the time of year:

“Go out and play baseball,” he said.

For more information visit www.varsitybaseball.com.

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