David Martin is an all-star in Oakland County as he embarks on an endeavor to repurpose two vacant commercial spaces in Waterford Township and take over a professional baseball franchise that was formerly owned by the Oakland County Cruisers/Midwest Sliders Frontier League Diamond Heroes baseball team.
Martin, an Orchard Lake resident and former collegiate and professional baseball coach, owns and operates Martin Sports and Entertainment. He has transformed the former Oakland County Cruisers baseball academy at the Summit West Shopping Plaza into the Ballpark Baseball Academy and Batting Cages.
“The Cruisers ran their team offices here and a small batting cage, but they went belly-up and I came in and bought some of their inventory from the landlord,” Martin said.
Martin’s new baseball academy opened in May, but he’s planning on holding a grand opening in conjunction with Major League Baseball’s World Series in October.
The 30,000-square-foot facility is a miniature baseball Hall of Fame complete with memorabilia, including historic team uniforms from Major League Baseball, the Negro League and All-American Girls Professional Baseball. Each of the six batting tunnels feature a vintage baseball stadium theme that reflects some of baseball’s most storied stadiums, including Wrigley Field, Crosley Field, The Polo Grounds, and Ebbets Field.
Three of the tunnels are designated for baseball, with another being designated for softball. The remaining two are designed as team batting cages with pitching mounds.
“We have state-of-the-art Iron Mike pitching machines, the Rolls Royce of pitching machines,” Martin said.
Martin employs a full staff. The professional coaching staff offers private lessons in position play, pitching and catching, and team defense. They also offer coaches clinics and camps.
Martin’s new training center plans on hosting travel teams, several of which have already booked time during the off-season.
“We want seamless customer service,” he said. “I have based my companies on good customer service and building rapport in the community, which is as important as the storefront looks — fans come first.”
Martin is in the midst of spearheading an amateur travel team, the Michigan Expos, that will have squads ranging from U-9 to U-18 players. It will include all the training, tournaments, and uniforms and is considered a feeder program to move players up through the ranks.
Tryouts are Saturday, Aug. 6 and Saturday, Aug. 13. Call the academy at 248-681-0700 for more information.
The business is chock full of memorabilia such as news clippings, photographs, and stadium chairs, in addition to conveniences like cable television, comfortable recliners, and refreshments.
“Many of the batting facilities in the area are in warehouse districts in a stale environment,” Martin said. “We wanted to build a pilot facility that is an engaging environment to showcase the game of baseball. Our hope is to open more in the area.”
The ultimate goal is to engage the community by putting “bats and balls in kids hands to create the next generation of baseball fans.”
Martin is well known in baseball circles. He coached baseball for over a decade, including three NCAA Division I baseball programs at the University of Miami in Florida, Eastern Michigan University, and Bowling Green University. He also coached in the prestigious Cape Cod League, a collegiate summer league.
“I’ve coached 14 players who made it to the majors and (have) run baseball companies my whole life,” he said. “I’ve also been a consultant and managed baseball operations for different minor league endeavors.”
Secondly, Martin is in the middle of revamping the Summit North-Summit Fieldhouse and Expo Center, the former location of a Best Buy store across the street from the Summit Place Mall.
The 60,000-square-foot complex offers more indoor training on larger playing fields for sports other than baseball.
“It’s about expanding the opportunity for sports like volleyball, basketball, and turf athletic fields used specifically for training,” Martin said. “We found this was lacking in the area.”
Martin also recently sealed a deal with All American Lacrosse as an official partner and will feature “box” lacrosse played on turf fields.
Moreover, families can host sports-themed birthday parties at the site or stop in at the concession stands or sports cafe.
The fieldhouse will also moonlight as an expo center to draw in small trade shows on the weekends.
The redeveloped space is expected to open in September or early October.
In tandem with these initiatives, Martin and a group of investors purchased the LLC franchise rights formerly owned by the Oakland County Cruisers, under the name Summit Professional Baseball.
“We now own the franchise rights for the Oakland County vicinity,” said Martin, now the franchise president and general manager.
Unlike the Cruisers plans that went south, the Frontier League’s Summit Professional Baseball team will not call Waterford its home base.
“We were looking to bring minor league baseball to Oakland County and looked at different locations to do that,” Martin said. “This is not an abandonment of Waterford. I have two new businesses here, but we wanted to open the search.”
The league has signed a letter of intent with the city of Clawson to renovate a 39-acre park. Unlike the Oakland County Cruisers Diamond Heroes group that planned to build a stadium from the ground up at the Summit Place Mall site, Martin’s initiative will revamp an existing park area.
“We didn’t want to build a brick-and-mortar stadium, but redevelop a park so it’s intimate with professional amenities and an old-time baseball flavor to engage baseball fans of all ages,” he said. “The Diamond Heroes put the horse before the cart. It costs over $1 million to purchase a franchise — and that’s just the beginning.”
Diamond Heroes announced plans to construct a stadium in Waterford back in 2007, but the endeavor was fraught with financial hurdles. Last December, team management said the team would sit out the 2011 season to prepare for the new stadium to be developed on the northwest end of the Summit Place Mall property by 2012. Plans fell through, the team dissolved, and the franchise rights were sold to Martin’s new group.
“It’s true there is no more Oakland County Cruisers,” said Frontier League Commissioner Bill Lee. “The Cruisers have dissolved and Summit Professional Baseball bought the franchise rights.”
Summit Professional Baseball’s team is expected to play in the 2012 baseball season.