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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.
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:
Four historically significant baseball bats showcased in the National Baseball Hall of Fame's traveling exhibit "Baseball As America". From left to right: bat used by Babe Ruth to hit his 60th home run during the 1927 season, bat used by Roger Maris to hit his 61st home run during the 1961 season, bat used by Mark McGwire to hit his 70th home run during the 1998 season, and the bat used by Sammy Sosa for his 66th home run during the same season.
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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."
If your high school or travel team has at least two coaches, you can use what Bates calls a two-fungo drill. One coach can hit to third and second, while the other hits to short and first. If catchers are finished working with the pitchers, they can feed balls to the fungo hitters. The idea is for the third baseman to practice turning a 5-4-3, with the first baseman moving up toward second base about 60 feet instead of 90, with a net behind him to catch overthrows. The shortstop works on throwing across on 6-3s.
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.
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.
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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.