Mesa, Ariz — Morris and Deanna France have loved baseball and softball all their lives. Their children love the sports too, as do their friends and neighbors. So it made sense for them, when Morris retired from the building industry, to make baseball and softball the center of their next family venture. Years of hard work and personal investment will come to a head when their Extra Innings – East Valley location opens at 3530 East Southern Ave. in Mesa on Oct. 19.
Morris, 56, worked in the building industry for four decades before the recession made him reconsider his chosen career. He sold his company and thought about retirement. Deanna, 47, was a stay at home mother looking for a new opportunity outside the home. Their family was already big into baseball and softball; their sons and daughter both play, so it seemed natural to incorporate their passion with a new career opportunity.
“We may have bullied Morris into it a little bit,” Deanna admits, “but we’d already been playing with the idea of an indoor batting facility when we first heard of Extra Innings at our kids’ school auction. Extra Innings had donated one of the prizes and it felt like we were being led to them.”
Established in 1996, Extra Innings is recognized as the nation’s premier indoor baseball and softball training center, providing state-of-the-art practice facilities, professional instruction and a nationally recognized Pro Shop to fulfill the needs of players of all ages and ability levels in a fun, family atmosphere. The Extra Innings Franchise Company was started in 2004 to expand the unique and profitable business model throughout the United States.
While it was easy to decide to open their own Extra Innings location, finding the right space and getting the doors open proved to be more difficult. The Frances have spent the last three years looking for an appropriate space. First, they were unable to reach an agreement with a potential landlord and then they found themselves blocked by a neighbor from purchasing a now-closed grocery store. Their current location is a different former-grocery store, closer to their home and neighborhood. “It was a struggle,” Deanna admitted, “but our location now is perfect and it let us take over a dead shopping center and revitalize it, which is a contribution to the community as well.”
Their patience in finding the space has paid off as the new facility will be the largest in the entire Extra Innings system at about 25,000 square feet. It will feature an indoor field, coin-operated batting machines, multi-purpose cages, private party and meeting rooms, a snack bar and more. “We always wanted to do something bigger and better,” said Morris, “and I think this is it!”
The Frances also hired Greg Minton, the former San Francisco Giants pitcher, to be their general manager. They know his expertise and bright personality will be an asset. In addition to Minton, other former big leaguers such Fergie Jenkins and Jody Davis of the Chicago Cubs, Mark Davis of the San Diego Padres, Steve Scarsone of the San Francisco Giants, Bob Didler of the Seattle Mariners and Bruce Hurst of the Boston Red Sox will be serving as advisory staff.
Morris and Deanna are pleased to see the community buzzing with anticipation and excitement as their opening draws nearer. “Baseball and softball are part of all our lives,” Deanna said. “The kids here play Little League or club softball; the parents play too or used to play as kids. We’re also a snowbird community, and the seniors who come for the winters watch and love the sport as well. Everyone is so excited we’re opening.”
Deanna, in particular, is looking forward to being able to serve the girls’ club softball teams. Because of Arizona’s climate, baseball and softball are year-round sports in the state while in other parts of the country it is highly seasonal. Deanna is proud to be able to offer appropriate club softball gear and uniforms throughout the year, where big sports stores might only have them in the spring and summer.
“This is our neighborhood, this is our community,” Deanna said, “and we can’t wait to open our doors.”
Extra Innings has 35 locations in 19 states in all regions of the country. There are more than 10 locations in various stages of development, the majority of which are scheduled to open over the next few years. Projections call for close to 50 locations to be in operation by the end of 2014.