No, we're not talking about The Masters. We're talking about fungo golf, baseball's wonderful adaptation of frisbee golf. For those of you unfamiliar with the rules, the general goal is to hit predetermined objects or other landmarks located somewhere on a baseball field with a ball. Instead of a golf club, you use a fungo bat. All normal scoring rules of golf still apply.
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A rounded, solid wooden or hollow aluminum bat. Wooden bats are traditionally made from ash wood, though maple and bamboo is also sometimes used. Aluminum bats are not permitted in professional leagues, but are frequently used in amateur leagues. Composite bats are also available, essentially wooden bats with a metal rod inside. Bamboo bats are also becoming popular.
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“They’re not moving, their feet are apart, their gloves are on the ground, backs are flat, and they’re working down to up, out to in, basically a steady roll back and forth probably 15 to 20 each,” Bates said. “Then they’ll turn their body, work glove side for another 15 to 20, and backhand 15 to 20. No movement, really, just making sure we’re watching the ball roll into our glove, fielding it, and doing all the things fundamentally correct.”
Fungo bats aren’t typical bats like the ones Mike Trout takes with him to a game situation. Rather, they’re more of practice bats. The bats are specially made for coaches to utilize when testing the fielding of their players. For example, a coach would break out his or her fungo bat when he or she is looking to hit his or her shortstop a couple of ground balls or when he/she hits pop flies to the centerfielder.
Fungo bats typically weigh between 17 to 22 ounces and may be as long as 37 inches, making them longer than most bats used for hitting. According to Pro Bats, a typical professional baseball player uses a bat that is about 34 inches long and weighs about 32 ounces, although there is considerable variation. Fungo bats not only are longer than regular bats, they also are skinnier. Like regular bats, fungo bats can be made of metal or wood.
The fungo is used by a coach to hit balls for defense practice. It is lighter weight, so less fatiguing to hit ball after ball. The fungo sheds its weight above the hands. The severely tapered barrel to drops weight and maintains a high moment of inertia. While the bat would be at greater risk of breaking if used in a live batting exercise, it is safe to use in practice because there are much fewer mis-hits.
This sounds like a lot of information, but with a little practise on the coaches part, it runs quite smoothly. Two to three reps per player in the field per section is quite adequate, and with 14 men on the field, this whole routine should take about 7 minutes. It's quite snappy, and quite impressive. I had many a parent marvel to me after witnessing it - "you look like a professional team!" I wouldn't try the routine with anything less than a 14 yr old select team, but with the talent to do it right, it's fantastic.
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In 1990, Bruce Leinert came up with the idea of putting an axe handle on a baseball bat. He filed a patent application for the 'Axe Bat' in 2007 and the bat started being used in the college and pro ranks over the following years. In 2012, the Marietta College Pioneers baseball team won the NCAA Division III World Series using axe handled bats. Several Major League Baseball players have adopted the bat handle including Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, George Springer, Kurt Suzuki and Dansby Swanson.
Chris Coste, a former catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies who coaches at Division III Concordia, in Moorhead, Minn., agreed. “When baseball is every single day, you’ve got to do things differently,” he said. “In the big leagues, they get so many ground balls during batting practice that infield is more for the fans and more for the scouts and things like that. At this level, we need it, and we love doing it.”
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Even in those formative years, authorities on the game warned the practice of hitting fungoes should be limited to coaches. Henry Chadwick, one of baseball’s earliest proponents, claimed “The weakest batting is shown when the batsmen indulges in fungo hitting,” according to the Art of Batting. Others agreed that the practice was bad for training a batter’s reflexes: “While watching some of our freshmen practicing ‘fungo’ batting the other afternoon it occurred to me that it was about the worst kind of practice a batsman could imagine in training his eye in batting,” a writer claimed in the March 3, 1886 edition of The Sporting Life. “It trains the eye to meet the ball in batting it in a manner which never occurs in actual play. It ought to be prohibited on every well regulated ball field.”