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.
The origin of the word "fungo" is unknown and argued upon as there are many possible options as to the origins of this unique word. It is assumed by many to be derived from the Scottish word fung meaning to pitch, toss, or fling. This would make sense, as fungo bats are designed to do just that. Or, the alternative to this origin is that fungo comes from 1937 where David Shulman, writer for the American Speech, said, "My guess is that the word, which is baseball slang, may be explained through the elements of a compound word, fun and go." Lastly, a third belief is that the word fungo comes from an old game, similar to that of baseball, where the players used to chant, "One go, two goes, fun goes."
Fungo bats are typically only used by coaches, to consistently place grounders and pop flies to their fielders for practice purposes. And with a fungo bat in their hands, some coaches can pull off wicked accuracy – as one story goes, the late California Angels player and coach Jimmie Reese once shot an 82 on an 18-hole golf course using nothing but a putter and a fungo bat.
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.”
To figure out who shoots first, players usually throw or roll a baseball to a certain object (usually at close range) and whoever is closest shoots first. The first person then gets to choose the first hole and tees off. To tee off (and for most shots) players hit the ball like they were playing baseball, but depending on the distance from the hole the player may choose to ‘putt’ the ball instead of hitting it. To putt the ball, the player places the ball on the cup (the end of the fungo bat), and can toss the ball from the cup in hopes of getting a more accurate shot. In shooting or putting, the player must have one foot where the ball landed during the entire duration of their swing or putt, failure to keep the foot planted results in a loss of a stroke. Scorekeeping is identical to traditional golf; the player with the fewest strokes essentially wins the hole. Players traditionally play nine or eighteen holes of fungo golf, and at the end the person with the fewest strokes in the set number of holes wins the game.