If you have attended a Major League Baseball game in the last 15 years, pregame infield practice, known simply as infield, may be unfamiliar. All but abandoned by the early 2000s, the ritual lives on at the C.W.S. and at college stadiums all over the country. On Monday night, the routine will be repeated before Virginia takes on Vanderbilt in the first game of the finals.
It is not clear why pregame infield fell out of favor in the majors. Today, coaches hit balls to infielders and outfielders during batting practice. Most players go at it leisurely, lobbing balls back in or across the diamond. That rankles old-school players like Jerry Kindall, a former major league infielder who coached Arizona to three N.C.A.A. titles before retiring in 1996.
Within league standards there is ample latitude for individual variation, many batters settling on their own bat profile, or one used by a successful batter. Formerly, bats were hand-turned from a template with precise calibration points; today they are machine-turned to a fixed metal template. Historically significant templates may be kept in a bat manufacturers' vault; for example, Babe Ruth's template, which became popular among major-league players, is R43 in the Louisville Slugger archives.
To practice throwing around the infield, Bates recommends several drills you can use. The first involves placing four fielders in a square, about 15 feet apart. The players flip the ball underhanded to each other, like in a double play. Keep their arms straight, using a stiff wrist, with gloves on their hips once the ball is out. Every fielder follows their flip, glove side first, rotating around the square. The idea is to have a sequence of catch, flip and follow. The ball should be caught with two hands, palms open. After about two minutes, repeat the process rotating the other way for another two minutes.
Many players "bone" their bats, meaning that before games, they rub their bats repeatedly with a hard object, believing this closes the pores on the wood and hardens the bat. Animal bones are a popular boning material, but rolling pins, soda bottles and the edge of a porcelain sink have also been used. Pete Rose had his own way of hardening his bats: he soaked them in a tub of motor oil in his basement then hung them up to dry.
Fungo bats are usually 36 or 37 inches long. Due their thinner, lighter design, they are a very versatile tool for any coach. It is so much easier to hit hundreds of grounders and fly balls with a fungo than with a regular bat. As well, with the prices of today’s top end bats, a $35 fungo makes more sense. Don’t dent the $350 war clubs in your bat bag.
Baseball bats are made of either wood, or a metal alloy (typically aluminum). Most wooden bats are made from ash. Other woods include maple, hickory, and bamboo. Hickory has fallen into disfavor over its greater weight, which slows down bat speed, while maple bats gained popularity following the introduction of the first major league sanctioned model in 1997. The first player to use one was Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays. Barry Bonds used maple bats the seasons he broke baseball's single-season home run record in 2001, and the career home run record in 2007. In 2010, the increased tendency of maple bats to shatter has caused Major League Baseball to examine their use, banning some models in minor league play.