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Play ball! Mariners open new training center in Port Orchard

Posted on March 18th, 2024 By:

Her father describes her as fearless.

Carolina wears layers of protective padding, her face partially obscured by a catcher’s helmet. The sixth grader is passionate about fastpitch softball and “loves being a catcher,” says her dad, Chris Doughty.

Over and over, Carolina dives for a ball thrown by her coach. Her dad’s eyes follow each lunge. Crouched low on the artificial turf, Carolina captures the ball in her mitt.

A downpour of rain outside did not deter Carolina or Gig Harbor High School’s baseball team from practicing today. The athletes are taking advantage of the almost 10,000-square-foot Seattle Mariners Training Center in Port Orchard.

Coach Rachael Joye and Carolina during a recent workout at the Mariners Training Center in Port Orchard. Photo by Julie Warrick Ammann

Doors opened last summer, but the facility, divided into two buildings, officially launches Saturday, March 23. The grand opening features throwing stations, hitting stations, and bat-and-ball games. The Mariners will give every kid who attends a “swag bag.”

The event is free and open to the public, but participants must register.

Eight Mariners Training Centers in region

The facility in Port Orchard is one of three new Mariners Training Centers the team recently announced. Port Orchard, Spokane and Meridian, Idaho, are the most recent additions to the roster, with the goal of extending access to professional training for athletes and coaches. Additional locations include Tacoma, Puyallup, Redmond, Woodinville and Seattle.

The Mariners partnered with EL1 Sports to expand the reach of softball and baseball and connect with kids of all skill and socioeconomic level. Former Mariners prospect Aaron Trolia and former college football player Jameel Cante founded the Tacoma-based national sports training company in 2010. EL1 chief financial officer Greg Wittreich serves on the executive board of the Gig Harbor Little League.

In 2022, EL1 partnered with Major League Baseball to help grow softball and baseball for all kids. EL1 provides professional baseball and softball instruction, along with camps, clinics and lessons.

The multiyear deal made MLB a part owner. The relationship provides ongoing funding for grassroots programs, allowing for greater accessibility and engagement in youth baseball and softball.

The EL1-Mariners partnership also offers mobile options to neighboring communities.

Players hit off a tee at the Mariners Training Center in Port Orchard. Photo by Julie Warrick Ammann

Inside the Training Center

The training centers are decked out with performance-enhancement equipment, turf, netting, and next-gen technology like HitTrax, Rapsodo, and Diamond Kinetics. There are configurable training stations and access to coaches for both athletes and parent coaches.

The new Port Orchard facility has been a game changer for some Kitsap Peninsula athletes and their families.

“We couldn’t practice,” Chris Doughty explains. “We didn’t have turf fields on this side of the water.”

Weather puts local kids at “such a disadvantage,” he adds, particularly when competing against players from warmer places like California and Texas.

He believes this has paid off for girls like his daughter, providing them with “more opportunity.”

Expert coaching

That “catcher and her dad,” says Kellyn Tate, “that’s who we service.” The former head softball coach at the University of Puget Sound serves as a district manager for EL1. Tate played softball for the University of Michigan.

“We really dive into learning the community,” explains Tate, to “find the gaps” and fill them. Tate connects former collegiate athletes with their training facilities. After vetting candidates, she builds a network of instructors.

Carolina and coach Rachael Joye during a recent workout at the Mariners Training Center in Port Orchard. Photo by Julie Warrick Ammann

Coach Rachael Joye is an example of the kind of instructor EL1 recruits. The program has “definitely grown since we established a relationship with them (Mariners)” explains Joye. The former catcher at the collegiate NAIA level has coached softball at many levels, including college and high school.

Players and families appreciate the access to top-level coaching.

“I can’t even express how awesome it’s been, to have Carolina with” Joye, Chris Doughty says. He’s not the only one noticing his daughter’s improvement in the game. “Other coaches we play against talk about how she’s not afraid,” Doughty says.

Filling the gap and expanding the game

“We want to know what’s needed,” explains Nova Newcomer, the Mariners’ director of community relations. “It’s an invitation” to the community, teams and leagues. “If we don’t know, we can’t connect the dots, and provide this access.”

The EL1 Mariner Training Center partnership connects communities with access and opportunity. This work helps to fulfill the Mariners Care Foundation‘s mission. “Our community team and foundation is focused on growing the game where there’s financial need and growing the game for youth of color,” Newcomer says.  The pandemic, she noted, exposed disparities in our communities. They hope efforts like the Mariner Training Centers can better serve the greater community.

Players participate in drills inside the Mariners Training Center in Port Orchard. Photo by Julie Warrick Ammann

Newcomer says that by using the Mariner brand, they can “work together to provide resources to do the camps and clinics.” She encourages the community to reach out to the Mariners Training Center to let them know what resources are needed. “We grow it together in community and partnership.”

Connecting with community

“Our goal is to make it happen,” says Craig Bishop, program manager for EL1, and “to create that impact in the community.” Bishop manages eight Mariner Training Centers.

When the EL1 Mariner Training Center first connected with the West Sound Baseball facility in Port Orchard, it operated out of one building. Through the Mariner partnership, the Port Orchard program expanded. It added another building across a small parking lot separating the two structures.

This doubled the square footage. Today, the center offers 10 batting cages, four pitching lanes, weight training and arm care stations.

Coach Shane Hanon is the co-founder of the West Sound Seawolves Baseball Club and runs the Port Orchard Mariners Training Center. The Peninsula High School graduate is also the baseball coach as Gig Harbor High School. In addition to coaching athletes in school and the Mariner training facility, Shane goes “out into the community” says Bishop. He provides a “connection to the naval base (in Bremerton), to impact those kids.”

“The more kids, the more programming — is ultimately our goal,” Bishop explains. To reach underserved communities, says Bishop, mobile options will be activated. “We’ll set up pop camps, free camps in communities.”

The Mariners Training Center in Port Orchard offers baseball and softball players a chance to practice during the cold, rainy months. Photo by Julie Warrick Ammann

Growing and improving

Carolina has finished her catching lesson with Joye. Her enthusiasm remains at a 10 despite the frigid temperature inside.

“I think I improved on spreading my hands apart,” Carolina says. “I was able to focus on keeping my hands out, but close together.”

The 11-year-old calls Joye amazing. “Whenever I tell her about a tournament or a good throw she congratulates me.” And when Carolina has a disappointing game, “she always makes it better, she always tries to improve it.”

Carolina is the only girl in a facility filled with high school boys rotating through batting cages and fielding exercises. But it makes no difference. She’s focused on her game. She’s taking the knowledge in, accessing the opportunity to grow and improve to become the catcher she dreams she can be.

Port Orchard Mariner Training Center


Address: 1615 Leader International Drive, Port Orchard

Phone: (253) 509-3220

Hours: 3 to 8 p. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Grand opening: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 23. Registration required.

Carolina and coach Rachael Joye during a recent workout at the Mariners Training Center in Port Orchard. Photo by Julie Warrick Ammann