On her way to becoming a college softball player, Lilly Gray of New Bedford spent countless nights on Orchard Street at Lumber Yard Sports Batting Cages and Instruction.

“This place has been like my second home for a while,” said the 2022 New Bedford High graduate who will play next year at Bloomsburg University. “During the winter, I was always there four or five days a week. It was huge. It definitely helped my training. It was five minutes from my house and they always accommodated you.

Gray is not alone.

For the past 18 years, Lumber Yard Sports has been the South Coast’s premier venue for aspiring baseball and softball players with 21,000 square feet dedicated to batting, pitching and fielding.

Lumber Yard Sports Batting Cages and Instruction closed on June 29.

“It had a big impact on the community,” said New Bedford High softball coach Harry Lowe, who was an instructor at Lumber Yard Sports for 17 years. “During the winter, this place is packed. You have the little league teams and later it’s the high school kids. It helps keep kids off the streets and doing positive things for them.

“It gives the kids something to do. That’s what Lumber Yard has always done. It has always been about children.

After 18 years and the last 12 on Orchard Street in the city’s South End, Lumber Yard Sports officially closed on June 29 after its lease was not renewed.

Lumber Yard Sports Batting Cages and Instruction featured 21,000 square feet.

“The building owner called,” Lumber Yard Sports owner Randy Debrosse said. “He always planned to do apartments there. I don’t think he’s ready to do it now, but he called me in early May and gave me an update.

“It’s bittersweet. It’s always been a part of our lives even when the batting cages weren’t active. We were always going here, there and everywhere with baseball and softball.

Debrosse ran Lumber Yard with the help of his wife, Michelle, a teacher at Taylor Elementary.

Their four children – Kirsten, Alexis, Chandler and Logan – played baseball or softball for New Bedford High. Alexis then played softball at Central Connecticut State University while Chandler joined her there, playing baseball for the Blue Devils.

“It was such a big part of our lives,” said Randy Debrosse, a New Bedford firefighter who played baseball at New Bedford High and UMass Dartmouth.

Lumber Yard Sports Batting Cages and Instruction.

A childhood friend and Legion teammate, Gary Hathaway, came up with the idea of ​​opening batting cages with Debrosse.

“He walked up to me and said, ‘How about doing something for little league?’ “recalls Debrosse. “We originally opened as Wild Pitch, but we outgrew our customers.”

Debrosse has always prided itself on providing a reasonably priced space for local youth to work on their skills. On Sunday evenings, Lumber Yard held two-hour sessions for high school athletes at a reduced cost.

“It seemed like in the smaller high schools in the area where the athletes played multiple sports, it was always difficult for them to find enough people to rent a cage for an hour,” he said. “I would see team captains paying out of pocket for just a few kids. We decided we were going to do a two hour high school block and charge $5 per person. It made it easier for them to come and train and do their jobs. We have been doing this for a long time and it has been very successful.

“We had up to 160 high school students from all over on Sunday evening. That’s going to be the hardest part knowing that things like that won’t be the same. »

Lumber Yard Sports Batting Cages and Instruction was home to many budding South Coast baseball and softball players.

Lumber Yard also offered its facilities at low cost to area instructors to teach classes.

“I was probably the cheapest place to do classes and keep it affordable to do classes,” Debrosse said. “For me, it wasn’t about trying to make money. It was about trying to provide a space for the athletes to train.

While most of the athletes came from New Bedford and the South Coast, Debrosse said he had teams from as far away as Bridgewater come to Lumber Yard.

The space has also been used by the New Bedford Bay Sox and Wareham Gatemen over the years. Athletes from other sports would also train at the facility.

“Anyone looking for a space to rent,” Debrosse said. “We tried to accommodate who wanted to come in.”

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“It was really good because you saw so many kids working there,” Gray said. “When you walked through the door, you could see people doing different things. There was everything. When I was little, I worked on hitting and putting balls in play, then focused on my throwing as I got older.

“It’s sad that it’s closing because I spent so many years there.”

Although not the same, Debrosse said he is considering a partnership with the Bay Sox travel program to open something up later this year.

“We will reappear in the fall,” he said. “They’re building a building in Dartmouth. It wouldn’t be the same type of batting cage setup, but it would give us a home for travel teams (Lumber Yard baseball and softball).