“If you build it, he will come…” whispered the ghostly voice to Kevin Costner in the hit movie Field of Dreams, but longtime friends Ricky Gregg and George Canale didn’t need a voice to prompt them to build their dream of an indoor instructional facility for baseball and softball. In November 2008, after nearly ten years of discussion, Gregg and Canale opened The Yard in southwest Roanoke. The 4,000 sq. ft. facility, located in the Hartwell Designs building on Starkey Road, has two pitching machines and three netted cages.
Gregg and Canale met in middle school and became fast friends, competing in Cave Spring Little Leagues, then in rec. league sports. Their paths diverged after high school, with Gregg attending East Tennessee State University to study marketing, and Canale signing to play baseball at Virginia Tech.
Canale began his celebrated career with the Hokies in 1983. After only three seasons he hit a record-setting 76 home runs, a record that still stands at Tech. In 1986, the Milwaukee Brewers selected him in the 6th round of the amateur entry draft. Canale spent three years working his way through the minor leagues and made his professional debut with the Brewers in September 1989, where he remained through the 1991 season. After leaving Milwaukee, he played several years in other organizations, including the Korea Baseball Association. His claim to fame in brief major league appearances included hitting a rare upper deck home run at the old Yankee Stadium.
After retiring from baseball, Canale and his wife Laura returned home to Roanoke and they currently live in southwest Roanoke County, where Canale runs a building construction company. In addition to building homes, he is also building skills in many of the local baseball players, including several who have gone on to play at the collegiate level. Hidden Valley’s Zach Helgeson (now at the University of Maryland) is just one of many local high schoolers who have been tutored at The Yard, which is located in a former warehouse and gymnastics center.
The Yard’s softball instructional staff is distinguished and features standout Andrea Grams who played at Roanoke College and now is assistant varsity softball coach at Cave Spring High School. Denny Tincher, who has coached travel softball, as well as serving as hitting and pitching coach at James River High School, is also available for lessons. He is the father and coach of 2008 “College Softball Player of the Year”, Angela Tincher, who pitched for Virginia Tech and is currently playing professional fastpitch softball. Tincher is in Japan, but is expected to play again for the Akron (OH) Racers this summer.
The baseball staff is equally impressive, including Jon Hartness, Canale’s teammate at Tech. Hartness has 17 years experience, including coaching at Virginia Tech, and is now the athletic director at Cave Spring High School. Bob Mollenhauer had a five year professional career with the Oakland A’s organization, and has served as a head coach at the collegiate level. He has also instructed players at the professional level including his son Dale, who currently plays for the Winston-Salem Dashes. Another son, Brent, plays for Radford University.
Gregg has volunteered with youth baseball for more than 20 years, and is considered a respected coach and instructor. While he has a head for construction materials and building supplies, his heart is in coaching.
“I just love teaching kids and seeing them improve. It’s fun to watch them develop and go on to play in high school and beyond,” Gregg said.
The Yard features four levels of membership packages, and there are summer training opportunities, including baseball clinics the week of June 15-19, 2009. For more information, visit The Yard online at yardbaseballandsoftball.vpweb.com.