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On June 17, 1890, Emile Kinst patented the ball-bat, or banana bat. The bat is shaped with a curve, hence the name banana bat. The creator of the bat, Kinst wrote: "The object of my invention is to provide a ball-bat which shall produce a rotary or spinning motion of the ball in its flight to a higher degree than is possible with any present known form of ball-bat, and thus to make it more difficult to catch the ball, or if caught, to hold it, and thus further to modify the conditions of the game".
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.”
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.
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.
Fungo bats are usually 36 or 37 inches long. Due their thinner, lighter design, they are a very versatile tool for any coach. It is so much easier to hit hundreds of grounders and fly balls with a fungo than with a regular bat. As well, with the prices of today’s top end bats, a $35 fungo makes more sense. Don’t dent the $350 war clubs in your bat bag.
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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.
Manufacturers position each bat's label over the mechanically weaker side of the wood. To reduce chance of fracture, and maybe deliver more energy to the ball, a bat is intended to be held so the label faces sky or ground when it strikes the ball during a horizontal swing. In this orientation, the bat is considered stiffer and less likely to break.