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.
Alright, let’s get to the drill. “Fungo Baseball/Softball” is a great drill for fielding and base running. It’s the same as playing an inter-squad scrimmage, except the pitchers do not throw live, and the hitters toss the ball to themselves and hit fungoes where they want. It is set up as a competitive game with an endless amount of teaching points. I really like to do this drill early in the season in order to simulate some real game like situations, and also when you’re on a hot streak and you’re looking to keep your team sharp on the little things like relays, backing up, and communication.
Fungo bats are, simply put, a long, skinny, and lightweight baseball bat used for fielding practice. Typically, they are around 34 to 37 inches in length and between 17 and 24 ounces in weight, give or take a couple of ounces. They will also almost always feature a 2 1/4 inch barrel diameter to allow for more control during a swing. As you can tell, fungo bats are longer than a normal baseball bat and much more lightweight in comparison. Most fungo bats are going to be made up of ash wood while there are some maple and bamboo wood fungo bats, some composite wood fungo bats, and very few aluminum alloy fungo bats. Almost all of these designs will be under $100 with very few eclipsing that mark.
“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.”
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Baseball bats are made of either wood, or a metal alloy (typically aluminum). Most wooden bats are made from ash. Other woods include maple, hickory, and bamboo. Hickory has fallen into disfavor over its greater weight, which slows down bat speed, while maple bats gained popularity following the introduction of the first major league sanctioned model in 1997. The first player to use one was Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays. Barry Bonds used maple bats the seasons he broke baseball's single-season home run record in 2001, and the career home run record in 2007. In 2010, the increased tendency of maple bats to shatter has caused Major League Baseball to examine their use, banning some models in minor league play.
Break your team up into 2 or 3 teams. If you do 2 teams you’ll need 8 or 9 on a team with a player for each defensive position. If you only have 8 on a team you can eliminate either the pitcher, catcher, or one outfielder based on what is a priority for your team that day. If you only have 12-15 players on your team break it up into 3 teams of 4-5. Then place two of the teams on defense and one team hitting fungoes. No matter what, have the teams and batting orders pre-made before practice. This will eliminate unnecessary downtime during practice.
First base fungo hits fly balls to center field (helps here if both fungo hitters move up and apart, hitting from about the front of the mound extended towards the bases). Center throws to second, second baseman is cutoff (for us it was, anyways - change to suit your style). Third base fungo hits balls to left field, who throw to third, with a second shortstop as cutoff (but you really don't need one, if you're shorthanded).
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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Once in a while, veteran managers revive it. The Giants took infield occasionally in 2008 and 2013 under Bruce Bochy, and Jim Leyland instituted infield drills before batting practice late in his tenure in Detroit. Molitor, for one, misses it. He took infield even as a designated hitter late in his career because he hated sitting around for almost two hours waiting to play.
For starters, we should clarify just what we’re talking about when we say fungo bat. Longer, lighter and thinner than a regulation bat (but a larger barrel), a fungo bat is typically 35 to 37 inches long, and weighs between 17 and 22 ounces. As David Allison wrote in the June 1978 edition of Country Journal, “A fungo bat looks to be a cross between a baseball bat and a broomstick.”