[Editor's note - This story has been changed to reflect the following correction: An article that ran in some editions Wednesday should have indicated that a second dome for Crown Point's proposed Bo Jackson Legacy Athletic Center had not been discussed with the city, but adding training facilities was a possibility.]
LOCKPORT, Ill. | As baseball coach J.R. Veliz looked over his roster, his players pushed on the walls of the air-supported dome that surrounded them, marveling as the walls bounced back into shape.
"This thing is unbelievable," said Veliz, who coaches a traveling baseball team of 11-year-olds from Kendal County, Ill. "You don't believe it until you see it."
It was the first time Veliz and his team had been in the Bo Jackson Elite Sports complex in Lockport, and they were impressed.
The Crown Point officials in ongoing talks to bring one of Jackson's domed facilities to Lake County were impressed, too. So much that planners are now considering two domes.
Inflated in summer 2008, the Lockport dome and its adjacent brick and mortar building house two adjustable turf infields, 12 batting cages, six clay mound bullpens, a weight-lifting facility and a 180-foot-by-90-foot multipurpose field. The complex also has a player's lounge, a Nike retail shop, computer classrooms and an agility and speed track.
An architect and planners are looking to improve on that plan. In addition to a previously agreed-on large dome covering fields for baseball, softball, football and soccer, and courts for basketball and volleyball, a second dome has been added to the Crown Point floor plan, said Jim Thompson, a partner with Bo Jackson Elite Sports.
"We have elite programs and kids who go to big colleges and are drafted by the major leagues. They're at a disadvantage as far as their ability to train year round," Thompson said. "In truth, they're competing for colleges and opportunities with kids who play 12 months a year. Why allow weather alone to give that advantage?"
The new plan's second dome will cover about 14,000 square feet and connect to the larger dome adjacent to the baseball fields. It will contain six batting cages and two pitching mounds, said Peter Andreou, an architect with Design Organization Inc., the company designing the project. Andreou said the second dome brings the entire project to just less than 200,000 square feet.
Thompson said the second dome will allow the Crown Point complex to be a training facility for all sports as well as a tournament facility, which is one of the big differences between the two complexes. Lockport's facility was built with training in mind, specifically baseball training, because the major partners are primarily involved with baseball, Thompson said. Crown Point's would been designed for multiple uses for multiple sports.
"Soccer can train every (skill) of soccer on a field," he said. "Baseball needs pitching mounds and hitting cages."
Crown Point's dome will offer more flexibility than Lockport's, and Crown Point will be able to host more tournaments and for older kids, he said.
Even so, the Lockport facility continues to impress athletes and their parents alike.
On a recent Thursday, 15-year-old Alec Frazier, of Dwight, Ill., took pitching practice to get himself ready for the 17- and 18-year-olds he'll be throwing against when the sophomore moves up to the varsity team this year. His dad, Dan, has been driving him 35 minutes each way since November to use the facility.
"There's nothing of this capacity around us," Dan Frazier said.
For Alec, the reason he comes to the dome is simple.
"I needed a place to pitch, and it's great in ... the wintertime," he said.