Pour one out for a neighborhood favorite: Everybody Hits has closed its doors for good. After nearly seven years in business, the popular batting cage, music venue and unique hangout in lower North Philly is hanging up the cleats.
According to founder David Gavigan, the owner of the building that houses the cages moved suddenly to sell the storied property at 6th and Girard. “It was very abrupt,” Gavigan said.
When he opened the business in 2013, it was one of the only machine-pitch cages in the city. But the 5,000-square foot warehouse space quickly took on an identity that went beyond America’s favorite pastime.
Everybody Hits was an after-school hangout for neighborhood teens, whom Gavigan and current owner Malik Collier helped coach over the years. By night, the venue transformed into an underground performance stage, hosting hundreds of all-ages shows and something like a thousand different artists. On any other given evening, you could’ve found birthdays, benefits or political fundraisers in the space.
While its run was relatively short, long time regulars remembered the cultural role the cages played in shaping this gentrifying quarter of Philly for the better part of the decade as a hybrid venue of sports, music and mentorship.
“This is one of those things that could only have happened in Philadelphia,” said Scott Troyan, a photographer who snapped hundreds of pictures at the cages.
“In New York, this would have been ruined in six months somehow. The property would have been sold. Something would’ve ruined it. Here, it was able to grow and nurture for years — because of the people behind it.”
A place where kids were welcomed
Long before he became owner of a batting cage operation, Malik Collier grew up nearby on Lawrence Street in Northern Liberties.
About a decade ago, he met Gavigan via a local baseball league, and the soon-to-be Everybody Hits operator took him under his wing. Collier later went on to play college ball, and when he came back to his hometown, Gavigan brought him into the indoor bullpen.
Now 26, Collier says the cages presented an opportunity to give back. He could mentor the new generation of kids from his neighborhood — a place where dreams of the big league are often way out in left field.
“Growing up in Philly, I didn’t have any resources,” he said. “Sure, if you had the money, you could go out and join the private leagues. I had to go to New Jersey or the suburbs just to use the training facilities.”
He and Gavigan made an unlikely duo in the redeveloping neighborhood. Theirs was a mostly evening business, but they kept the space open on weekday afternoons — with a purpose.
Around that time, there was some public outcry around teenage “flash mobs” erupting in businesses around town. Gavigan, who now works as a high school English teacher in the Philly School District, didn’t see the kids as the whole problem — it was also the lack of places to hang out, he thought.
So they opened Hits to the after-school crowd. “Kids were acting transgressively against spaces that they didn’t feel they were welcome in,” Gavigan said. “I was moving into their space, I wanted to get to know them.”
The kids came in — and then brought their friends and siblings. He often just let them bat for free. He occasionally paid some of them for help with housekeeping duties.
“They were always respectful of the space,” Gavigan added. “Of course, we would have issues sometimes, but we always sorted it out. I had their parents phone numbers.”
Gavigan and Collier have watched some the regulars grow through their teenage years and into adulthood. “Me growing up in Philly and Dave having such a huge heart, we could reach them — and they appreciated it,” Collier said. “We could save them from some of the negativities. That’s one afternoon you don’t have someone telling them they’re worthless.”
When Gavigan handed over the keys to Collier six months ago to pursue teaching full-time, he thought the business would be able to live on for a few more years.
He choked up when he had to make the Dec. 21 announcement on Facebook that the cages had to call it quits.
Inspiring positivity, from baseball to music
The “batting cages” might sound like the clever name some West Philly punk house might give itself. But the bands that showed up several nights a month for the last five years learned quickly that it was the real deal — a neighborhood business moonlighting as a DIY music venue.
Gavigan said it started with one friend’s band needing a space for a show, and snowballed from there. By the end, he was booking four nights of music a month. Local outfits who are now rising on the national stage — newly signed punk band Mannequin Pussy is one — cut their teeth at the cages. Touring acts began to see it as a viable stop where 100-plus fans would pack the house. It was all-ages too, a rarity on Philly’s bar-centric music scene.
For several years, that stretch between 5th and 6th on Girard was an underground music destination. In addition to Everybody Hits, there was Borderline Records, and at one point, another DIY venue known as Girard Hall. (The latter was shut down by the city two years ago.)
While not necessarily up to code, regulars said Gavigan ran a tight ship and neighbors never complained. The shows were mostly weekends only, ended before midnight and rarely got out of hand, noted Troyan, the photographer.
“It was operating more responsibility than some above-ground venues that I know,” said Troyan. “In the music community it’s so easy to get jaded and burnt out sometimes, but this space was such a renewing source of positivity.”
Troyan began taking photographs for novelty baseball cards for visitors of the cages. He estimates doing over 500 over the years. His subjects included a legion of musicians — and the occasional city councilmember or two who’d rent the space for a fundraiser.
As Gavigan started to phase down his ownership of the cages last summer, he booked his biggest show: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. “We ended on an embarrassingly strong note,” he said with a laugh. “I handed the keys to Malik the next day.”
The writing was on the wall for the cages and other tenants of the building. Owned by the same family since the 1950s, the odd mixed-use property dates back to the 19th century, according to Hidden City. Over the decades, it has housed an indoor farmer’s market, a 1960s movie theater, a pool hall and at one point a makeshift porn studio.
With real estate booming around the area, the current owner, Franklin Berger, had reportedly been looking for a buyer for the 10,000-square foot building for several years. Berger could not be reached for comment.
For Gavigan and Collier, it’s time to clean out the shop. They need to unload the machine-pitch equipment, pitching screens and other cage gear. Anyone looking to get in the business? Hit them up.
Seriously, they say. Both of the cages owners are eager to support another Everybody Hits-type venue somewhere in the city, particularly North Philly, and would be happy to advise an aspiring young entrepreneur.