By Pam Zelnik and Mark Stuhr
Practicing youth baseball and softball in the Berkeley area can be tricky. There are few fields and almost none with lights. During the long dark months from late fall to mid-spring, players and teams are vying for the scarce resource of practice fields, batting cages, or pitching mound time.
Now, thanks to the hard work and the determination of one coach to turn a vision into reality, that has changed.
David “Shiva” Gaskins, a local veteran coach of the extremely well-run Albany Little League, has just realized his dream and opened Wheelhouse Academy of Baseball, an indoor batting cage and training facility for baseball and softball. Wheelhouse, which is on the Albany-El Cerrito border in Richmond, has professional instruction available, a regulation clay pitching mound setup for all distances, and state of the art equipment.
Gaskins, his wife and family live locally. Their son Anthony plays in Albany Little League, going into Juniors this year, and their daughter, Sunanda, played with Albany Girls Soft Ball League.
Gaskins did not start out as a “baseball person”, but in supporting his now 13-year old son’s baseball development over the last 5 years, coaching and providing instruction, the seed was planted. His positive experience in Albany Little League, immersing himself in books and DVDs on baseball instruction, learning about the myriad elements required to become a great baseball player fascinated, challenged and hooked him and he found himself in love with the game and with youth baseball.
During those five years he also witnessed unhealthy behavior within the youth sports culture. He saw parents scowling at nine year-old kids for dropping a ball or ‘not hustling’; coaches humiliating their eleven year old pitcher because he threw an 0-2 pitch down the middle of the plate. The kids didn’t look like they were having fun.
Gaskins believes that two things should go hand in hand: mastery and fun. So he set out to create a facility where ball players of all ages could have fun, while working towards mastery of their sport.
The need for a new facility was clear. At the moment, Albany/Berkeley boys mostly use the two fields in the UC Village at Monroe and San Pablo to practice baseball and the big field at Ocean View on Buchanan. Older boys also use the big field at Memorial park in Albany. There are a few other scattered fields but they are used for many other purposes and are very difficult to get playing time on. The Albany Berkeley Girls Softball league uses a couple more fields. The only places where one can practice indoors are in central Oakland, San Leandro or out on Treasure Island.
Two years ago, Gaskins gathered friends and acquaintances and began to develop his dream. Originally it was a vision for 20,000 square feet dedicated to baseball and softball. The ideal space was found, but the trouble started as the difficulty of raising funds, especially for a brand new organization, became apparent.
Unwilling to give up or wait for additional funds, the vision was scaled back and, luckily, just a few months ago a new, perfect space in a great location was discovered and the wheels started rolling.
The new goal was to affect a speedy turn around, which was reached thanks to Gaskins’s brother, Vinnie, who moved here to help. Vinnie is responsible for effectively all the refurbishing work and many of the conceptual tweaks that make Wheelhouse the great space that it is.
The goal of this non-profit is to create a healthy positive youth sports culture by providing an uplifting environment in which kids can get exercise, learn valuable life skills and receive top-level instruction in the art of baseball and softball. Gaskins believes in the indomitable human spirit — that kids have a natural born desire to learn.
We’d say Shiva Gaskins put his own mind to mastering something and is having fun with it!
Wheelhouse Academy of Baseball is on Jacuzzi Street, near Central Ave, between I-80 and I-580 on the Albany-El Cerrito border, just next door to Berkeley.
Pam Zelnik and Mark Stuhr got to know Shiva Gaskins when he coached their son on a local tournament. Mark is now on the Board of Directors for Wheelhouse and designed and built the pitching mound for the facility himself.