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Orin Neufeld: Master of Laguna’s batting cages

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Orin Neufeld describes himself as a “kid guy.” He also says he will do almost anything to avoid an office. So when the opportunity to buy the Laguna Beach Batting Cages literally walked into his dugout one afternoon, he jumped at the chance.

So this guy walks into a dugout…

“I’m very involved in Laguna Beach Little League,” recounts Neufeld who, despite being in Laguna for almost 25 years, still sounds very much like the New Yorker he once was. “I’m coaching my then seven-year-old son,” he continues, “and we’re in the middle of a game, and this guy walks into the dugout. My first thought is, ‘Dude, what are you doing? It’s the 4th inning!?’”

“The dude,” as it turns out, wanted information about the next Little League board meeting because he was interested in selling the batting cages located on Laguna Canyon Road. Neufeld says once he heard what the man wanted, he went from “take a hike” to “please come into my dugout.” A deal was reached and Neufeld has owned the batting cages for the past five years.

A job blending both of his passions

“I was pretty excited,” he remembers. “My passions are baseball and kids. I’ve always worked with kids.” When he was in New York, he ran a school for autistic children. Both his daughter, now a senior at LBHS, and his son, a seventh grader at TMS, played Laguna Beach Little League. His son, who seems to have inherited his dad’s passion for the game, is still at it. 

Orin Neufeld close up

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Orin Neufeld, owner of the Laguna Beach Batting Cages on Laguna Canyon Rd

Neufeld says his wife was very supportive of the purchase, even if it was a bit of a surprise. “We did a deal that was doable, and I did it,” explains Neufeld. “She was all for it.” Which is helpful, since it means Neufeld is away most evenings. The batting cages are open from 3 - 8 p.m. weekdays plus weekends (call for hours). His busy season coincides with the Little League season that runs February to June. “I have a lot of teams, Little League and club that come and use it,” he says.

Honing his fix it skills

As for any surprises about owning one’s own batting cages, Neufeld shrugs. “I used the cages, so I knew how they worked,” he says. However, he has had to brush up on his mechanical skills. “If anything surprises me, it’s the maintenance. It’s an outdoor facility, and there’s just stuff that needs to be fixed. And I wouldn’t say I was a Mr. Fix It kind of guy, but I’m getting better!” he says, laughing.

Orin Neufeld teaching

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Orin Neufeld gives Warren some pointers during a private lesson

When not maintaining the machines, Neufeld is giving private lessons. “For the most part, I teach kids 10 and under, but I have high school kids, too,” he says. “I start at the basics. I start at the ground up.” Neufeld says that since his playing days, he has seen the game get a lot more technical at a younger age. “I really notice it with my son,” he says. However, Neufeld’s son takes his lessons from someone else. “He’s done with me,” he laughs. “It’s the natural order of things.”

A little music on the side

While Neufeld managed to get both of his kids interested in baseball, at least for awhile, he was not as successful at getting them to take an interest in his other passion: music. A guitarist for the past 30 years, Neufeld plays in a local band “The Skeleton Crew” that covers Grateful Dead songs. He also teaches guitar lessons, just not to his kids. “Nope, “ he says with a shrug. “Neither kid plays.”

The Skeleton Crew pays tribute to The Grateful Dead

The Skeleton Crew is made up of Laguna locals, many of whom play in other bands as well. Lead singer Bob Campion, for example, plays in several local bands. “Bobby and I went down to the beach one night and just started playing Grateful Dead tunes. We both love the Grateful Dead. We did it a couple of times and said, ‘We should do this.’ And we did it.” 

“Actually, I’m not talented at all. I don’t know how to read music or anything,” he says, laughing. He must be able to fake it pretty well as the band has a standing gig at The Cliff (the second Friday of every month). Their next show is November 30. “It’s very difficult being an international rock legend,” he says, trying to maintain a straight face.

Orin Neufeld batting cages

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Jerry Rootlieb looks on while his grandson gets batting lessons from Neufeld

It may not be superstardom, but it is a lot of fun

I asked Neufeld if he ever had aspirations to be a pro baseball player or a rock star. “Of course,” he laughs. “What kid doesn’t?” The reality that he wasn’t going to achieve superstardom came relatively early. “I realized these two passions weren’t realistic in high school,” he says. But that’s not to say he isn’t living his dream. “I play guitar and teach kids baseball. I can’t complain. It really is fun.”

A baseball workout facility is more than enough

Neufeld has no plans to alter the fun. The batting cages are on Laguna Beach Unified School District property and to make any kind of big changes would be a massive bureaucratic undertaking. Besides, he likes it the way it is. “I wouldn’t mind doing more birthday parties,” he muses, but quickly adds, “We’re not Boomers.” 

“We are a baseball workout facility,” he says proudly. “It is what it is.” For kids in Laguna, San Clemente, Aliso Viejo and Laguna Niguel looking to improve their baseball skills, it’s plenty.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

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