Opening April 9, Home Run Dugout is bringing a bar and two hitting stations to the stadium.
By Brianna Caleri, Photos courtesy of Lauren Maria Photography
As if everything weren’t already bigger in Texas, recreational baseball is getting supersized too. Home Run Dugout is creating a worldwide first: an augmented-reality batting experience in Dell Diamond, the home stadium of the Round Rock Express.
Opening April 9, Home Run Dugout is adding a bar and two hitting stations called “bays” to the stadium that face a curved screen. Imagine the room like a bowling alley, but the bowlers are swinging baseball bats. Players walk up to the plate and weigh the bat, triggering the customizable pitching machine that can throw baseballs, softballs or hybrids to specified quadrants of any player’s strike zone, ensuring large groups can all bat comfortably.
Once the ball hits the screen with a satisfying thud, its digital trajectory continues out into the graphically rendered ballpark. Stats appear on the screen, including exit velocity, distance and launch angle. Players can choose their favorite MLB stadium and see exactly where their ball would have gone in the real park. Stadiums can be scaled based on handicap, so anyone can play a seamless game together, regardless of skill level or age.
“It really does feel like you’re stepping up to bat in a stadium,” says Co-founder and CEO Nick Hermandorfer.
Players can even look out onto the real field, an especially exciting undertaking on game days.
Years ago, while working at a different startup, Hermandorfer started a company softball team to “relive my glory days and go out with friends, drink beer.” But when the weather was bad, his plans suffered. He pitched an “eatertainment” idea to his friend, Home Run Dugout’s chief operating officer, Tyler Bambrick, and the two started developing the product.
They started with $5,000 Bambrick won in a pitch competition from the McCombs School of Business, but knowing it wasn’t enough, they pitched the idea to the company that owns Dell Diamond, Ryan Sanders Baseball. Happy to share their expertise in baseball, entertainment, and food and beverage, but not ready to take on such a young company alone, Ryan Sanders Baseball directed the founders to startup specialist Glynn Bloomquist, completing the Home Run Dugout team.
Comparisons to Top Golf both help and hinder the public understanding of the experience, the first of its kind in the world.
“Every really good, unique startup is hard to explain,” Bloomquist says, who is now the company’s executive chairman.
Like Top Golf, Home Run Dugout combines food and sport in a large venue accessible to many. In the future, the company might build out to include open-ended outdoor structures (like the tees at Top Golf) so players can hit balls out for real. Bloomquist has plenty of other ideas for expansion.
“You’ve got 160 affiliated minor-league baseball clubs in the United States,” he explains, suggesting the business could expand, maybe even to major-league stadiums. “We could have a stand-alone business…and you could have a mobile unit too.”
But unlike Top Golf, players at Home Run Dugout can engage together in a single game, with each bay accommodating 16 players, as well as spectators. The target demographic is mostly millennials who grew up playing baseball. In addition to date nights, bachelor parties and birthday parties, the venue expects to host corporate outings.
“One of our goals is to make baseball itself more accessible and entertaining for pretty much anybody,” Hermandorfer says.
He compares swinging a bat to “caveman instinct,” but this idea is rooted firmly in the future.