Before we get started, we have to define the word "fungo" or "fungoes." To summarize, fungo (fungoes for plural) is a ball tossed into the air by the batter and struck as it comes down during practice sessions. If you are a coach, you are more than likely familiar with a fungo bat. Or, if you are a player who has ever worked on ground balls or pop-flys in practice, you should know what a fungo bat is, as well. For the rest of us, a fungo bat might as well be a foreign object. What is that oddly shaped, extra long practice bat? So, let's answer the most common fungo bat questions:
A baseball bat is divided into several regions. The "barrel" is the thick part of the bat, where it is meant to hit the ball. The part of the barrel best for hitting the ball, according to construction and swinging style, is often called the "sweet spot". The end of the barrel is called the "top", "end" or "cap" of the bat. Opposite the cap, the barrel narrows until it meets the "handle". The handle is comparatively thin, so that batters can comfortably grip the bat in their hands. Sometimes, especially on metal bats, the handle is wrapped with a rubber or tape "grip". Finally, below the handle is the "knob" of the bat, a wider piece that keeps the bat from slipping from a batter's hands.
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One of the major advantages of wood fungo has to do with the feel of your hands. While the metal ones feature a conventional metal bat knob, their wood counterparts usually come in 2 knob designs. The conventional metal-bat style knob is excellent for folks whose hands are sweaty. The flared knob is amazing for those that do not want the knob beating their hand’s bottom which is uncomfortable during practice.
If fungoes are a ball tossed into the air by a batter and then struck as it comes down then a fungo bat is a baseball bat used for hitting fungoes. To go into more detail, a fungo bat is a long, lightweight baseball bat used by coaches (or parents) during pregame hitting or practice to help them hit grounders and pop flys with more consistency and less fatigue. To be one of the best in baseball, countless hours of practice are a must and fungo bats are intended for both infield and outfield practice. Plus, they help tremendously with control and accuracy so that coaches and parents can place a ball where they want when they want.
Do this for about three minutes, then collect the balls and work on 5-3, 6-4, and 4-6 plays for another three minutes. This is followed by hitting balls to the 5-6 hole. If the third baseman doesn’t get it, he retreats back to third, and the shortstop flips to third for a force-out, rather than throwing across or turn a long double play. The other fungo batter hits balls to the second baseman, who works on throwing to first.
Though entertaining enough, this play appears in its entirety as a small part of Sorrentino's magnum opus MULLIGAN STEW. You can read it as easily there as in this form. Plus you'll have the rest of Mulligan Stew as well. So I recommend you only buy this volume if you're the sort of collector who owns books because of what they are, not what they say.
Fungo bats have been around since the beginning of baseball and as most of us may know, baseball was said to be invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York during the summer of 1839. Since fungo bats were much easier to swing and gave off a ton of pop, they were almost seen as cheating back in the day. In a book from 1897 named "The Technical Terms of Baseball," the sportswriter Henry Chadwick stated,"The weakest batting is shown when the batsman indulges in fungo hitting." It wasn't until baseball bat regulations came around that fungo bats were only used by coaches and parents.
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.
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.
Versatile fungo bats are the ones tailored for both outfield and infield practice. Infield bats are effective for those that desire to rip their ball to the young ball hawks. These bats are thicker and heavier through the center in order to give you more oomph. Thicker bats work better especially to softball coaches to hit bigger balls utilized for softball.
This is the drill we ran all through high school. It is the most time effective and skill intensive way to warm up a team, but your boys must be able to play catch! Fungo-ers stand in the "fungoe circles" that any good field has (and if it doesn't, you know where they're supposed to be - just outside of the home-plate dirt circle, towards the dugouts). The catch to this method is this - you have two first basemen, allowing both sides of the infield to throw across. Herein lies the only danger - one of the firstbasemen has a lengthy throw back to a shagger, so caution must be excersized (a catcher with a good head on his shoulders really helps).
There are limitations to how much and where a baseball player may apply pine tar to a baseball bat. According to Rule 1.10(c) of the Major League Baseball Rulebook, it is not allowed more than 18 inches up from the bottom handle. An infamous example of the rule in execution is the Pine Tar Incident on July 24, 1983. Rules 1.10 and 6.06 were later changed to reflect the intent of Major League Baseball, as exemplified by the league president's ruling. Rule 1.10 now only requires that the bat be removed from the game if discovered after being used in a game; it no longer necessitates any change to the results of any play which may have taken place. Rule 6.06 refers only to bats that are "altered or tampered with in such a way to improve the distance factor or cause an unusual reaction on the baseball. This includes, bats that are filled, flat-surfaced, nailed, hollowed, grooved or covered with a substance such as paraffin, wax, etc." It no longer makes any mention of an "illegally batted ball". In 2001, MLB approved the use of Gorilla Gold Grip Enhancer in major and minor league games as an alternative to pine tar.
Next, third base fungo hits to left, who throw to second, SS cuts (make a few of these the "cut off a double on a ball hit into the corner" variety - timing becomes important here, as the other fungo needs to hit many fewer balls than the fungo hitting to left). First base fungo hits to right, who come home, first baseman is cutoff, 60' from home (about pitchers mound - this postitioning puts him out of harms way should the SS overthrow second). On the throws home from right, make sure that they are the "normal" kind - hit the cutoff man, and don't hit too many. The right fielders will get to go again, as they're last throws will be the "do-or die" variety.
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.
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.
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.”