Crystal Gonzalez of Oxnard was 7 years old when her dad took her to her first Dodger game — and from that point on, “I fell in love with the sport of baseball.”
That love continued as she entered the fourth grade, and her best friend started playing softball.
“I asked her, ‘what is softball?’ ” Crystal, now 20, recalled. “She said it’s like baseball but for girls. I was like, ‘No way,’ and I got home and told my dad, ‘I want to play softball.’ ”
Her dad, Jorge V. Gonzalez, was supportive from the start and enrolled her in the Mermaids Softball League in Oxnard. He soon realized his daughter faced challenges due to the fact that she was physically smaller than many of the other players, and new to the sport.
“She was really petite and all the players got picked up and my daughter and the smaller girls didn’t get picked up,” he recalled. “So I became an assistant coach because I was fully committed to helping my daughter with her softball experience. And we went out shopping to find equipment that would help her with her swing.”
This shopping excursion was “a shock,” he said, “because there wasn’t anything out there.”
One evening in 2010, Jorge went to sleep and woke up around 3 a.m. with an idea.
“I had this perfect picture of this machine,” he remembered. “So I sketched it out on a piece of paper and went back to sleep.”
The next morning, he went back to the sketch, “and I was really nervous and excited because it was like, wow, this is real,” he said. “Throughout the next day I started doing some research, cleaned up the sketch, and it was in the office in my house.”
His daughter saw the sketch and said, “ ‘Daddy, what are you doing?’ I told her, ‘I invented this machine to help you with your swing,’ ” he continued. “She said, ‘Wait a minute, daddy. It should have a base on it,’ so we put a base on it. Then she said, ‘Daddy, it should have wheels.’ So I started fixing the sketch that I already created. It’s neat, because we’re both inventors now — we built this together.”
Their invention, called The Batting Pro, was officially made available on Dec. 12, 2018. The retail cost of the machine is $397, but it’s currently being sold online for $267 at www.thebattingpro.com.
“I’m trying to launch it in Ventura County first; we want to give back to the community that inspired us,” Jorge said. “We want to do it here first, then branch out to the United States.”
The Batting Pro
The Batting Pro is described as a specially designed baseball and softball batting training aid. Created for ages 5 to 17, the machine was built so that young players could practice their batting techniques, perfect their level swing and enhance muscle memory.
Both baseball and softball players can benefit from The Batting Pro, Jorge said, because the intent of the design is to provide baseball and softball players — particularly youth and other beginners — with a simple and effective means of improving and perfecting their swing.
“A specially designed mounted ball system that simulates pitches, this clever device will offer highly visible, easily attained target for landing a hit in a perfect manner,” Jorge said.
Repeated practice with The Batting Pro will “handily improve” a player’s stance and swing, essential to achieving more base hits and home runs, he noted.
“The major thing about The Batting Pro is the level swing, the muscle memory and the repetition that is so center-focused to your level swing,” Jorge explained. “Every two seconds, you’re getting more effective swinging hits — that’s the main part of the machine.”
“Wasn’t good enough”
Crystal was 10 years old when she tried out for the Mermaids Softball League in Oxnard.
“After working my ass off at try outs, I was not picked to be on a team because I was too small and wasn’t good enough,” she remembered. “That being said, I wasn’t going to play softball at all.”
With her dad being unemployed at the time, he volunteered to be an assistant coach, “and that’s where it all started.” She noted, however, that as a new player, “I didn’t have much confidence at all.”
After buying machine after machine across all athletics stores, “my father and I just couldn’t find the right one to help me improve as a batter,” she said. “And this is when the dream was created.”
Within her first year of softball, she and her father created their own prototype made out of scraps lying around from previous toys she had owned.
“The first one that I designed, Crystal used to hit in the living room because she was so small . . . she was practicing with a little Dodger bat,” her father recalled. “She’s always been very coachable . . . which is another reason why she was able to excel so much.”
Using that prototype, his daughter improved as an overall player, being named Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and a 5-time All-Star.
“Without this machine I wouldn’t have succeeded as much as I did,” she said. “This being said, my vision with this machine is to help all those children in the softball and baseball community to help build confidence and perform as a player overall.”
Her dad added that “we want to inspire other people.”
“I want the youth to get the results that my daughter got — and I want other parents to experience that same thing,” he said. “It’s such a fulfilling experience seeing your child go from somebody who was never wanted to somebody everybody wants. I want to give that to others.”
A Long Road
Looking back on the past 10 years of his life, Jorge said the time was “scary and very challenging.”
Before he invented The Batting Pro, he was unemployed for three years, and when he was finally able to get a job, he had a work-related accident in 2012 that hurt his lower back and put him out for about three more years.
Following this, “I fell into a depression, and I also had my first cancer scare,” Jorge recalled. “But if that was not enough I had to have a heart stress test done, got kidney stones and my second cancer scare all in 2016. In 2017, I was involved in a car accident where another car hit me while parked and my car was completely totaled.”
While launching his invention “has taken me a few years longer than I wanted, I know in my heart that The Batting Pro is needed on the field and in the hands of our youth.”
“I made a commitment and a promise that I would not take this to the grave with me,” he continued. “I was not going to die with my idea in my head and my heart. I was going to launch this product, our product, the product that my daughter and I invented together. This was not just my legacy, this is our legacy.”
The hardest part
At the beginning, the hardest part for Jorge was contemplating the questions: Who was going to help me bring this to life? Who could I trust? And would anyone steal my idea?
“I was paranoid to say the least,” he said. “The first company that I tried to utilize didn’t help me like they said they would. They said they would help me get it licensed and they said they were reaching out to manufacturers, but nothing came of it.”
At that time, Crystal was already utilizing the prototype, “and she was getting much better by the day she was using it,” he continued.
“And I believed in my product so much, even though the first company failed to help me get it licensed. . . . I thought, how cool it could have been to have it licensed by Easton Sports, but that never happened.”
He gave up on launching his product for a couple of years, “even though I kept seeing how it benefited Crystal’s game.”
The journey from sketch to product was an arduous one at best, with a serious investment of time and money, “about $50,000 and six and a half years.”
“Had I known what I know now it would not have taken that long nor that amount of money,” Jorge said. “But when you’re in a new journey by yourself, you learn the hard way of what it really takes. Maybe this is why people are so scared of following their dreams, as they think they are too expensive to follow.”
“I decided to go all in . . . I found a company in Florida that helped me bring a ready-to-market product with the help of an amazing engineering team with manufacturing connections,” he said. “I trademarked The Batting Pro™ and filed for full patent protection and we pre-launched on Dec. 12 of 2018 at thebattingpro.com.”