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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Helmet worn by batter to protect the head and the ear facing the pitcher from the ball. Professional models have only one ear protector (left ear for right-handed batters, right ear for lefties), amateur and junior helmets usually have ear protectors on both sides, for better protection from loose balls, and to reduce costs to teams (all players can use the same style of helmet).
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.
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.
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.”
Maple bats in particular were once known (circa 2008) to potentially shatter in a way that resulted in many sharp edges, sometimes creating more dangerous projectiles when a bat broke. Maple bat manufacture evolved significantly, in cooperation with Major League Baseball, paying special attention to grain slope, and including an ink spot test to confirm safest wood grain orientation.
As to who created the first ever fungo, baseball fans may never know. The word fungoes and fungo batting have been referenced since the early 1800's, but nobody has been able to pinpoint the original source. Baseball fans and historians both agree that the creator of the first ever fungo is somewhat of a mystery. Here at JustBats, we may not know who created the first ever fungo, but we are sure glad that they did!