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.
Once the basic bat has been turned, it has the manufacturer's name, the serial number, and often the signature of the player endorsing it branded into it opposite the wood's best side. Honus Wagner was the first player to endorse and sign a bat. Next, most bats are given a rounded head, but some 30% of players prefer a "cup-balanced" head, in which a cup-shaped recess is made in the head; this lightens the bat and moves its center of gravity toward the handle. Finally, the bat is stained in one of several standard colors, including natural, red, black, and two-tone blue and white.
“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.”
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.”
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.
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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.
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.