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:
There are limitations to how much and where a baseball player may apply pine tar to a baseball bat. According to Rule 1.10(c) of the Major League Baseball Rulebook, it is not allowed more than 18 inches up from the bottom handle. An infamous example of the rule in execution is the Pine Tar Incident on July 24, 1983. Rules 1.10 and 6.06 were later changed to reflect the intent of Major League Baseball, as exemplified by the league president's ruling. Rule 1.10 now only requires that the bat be removed from the game if discovered after being used in a game; it no longer necessitates any change to the results of any play which may have taken place. Rule 6.06 refers only to bats that are "altered or tampered with in such a way to improve the distance factor or cause an unusual reaction on the baseball. This includes, bats that are filled, flat-surfaced, nailed, hollowed, grooved or covered with a substance such as paraffin, wax, etc." It no longer makes any mention of an "illegally batted ball". In 2001, MLB approved the use of Gorilla Gold Grip Enhancer in major and minor league games as an alternative to pine tar.
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).
This is the drill we ran all through high school. It is the most time effective and skill intensive way to warm up a team, but your boys must be able to play catch! Fungo-ers stand in the "fungoe circles" that any good field has (and if it doesn't, you know where they're supposed to be - just outside of the home-plate dirt circle, towards the dugouts). The catch to this method is this - you have two first basemen, allowing both sides of the infield to throw across. Herein lies the only danger - one of the firstbasemen has a lengthy throw back to a shagger, so caution must be excersized (a catcher with a good head on his shoulders really helps).
Fungo bats aren’t typical bats like the ones Mike Trout takes with him to a game situation. Rather, they’re more of practice bats. The bats are specially made for coaches to utilize when testing the fielding of their players. For example, a coach would break out his or her fungo bat when he or she is looking to hit his or her shortstop a couple of ground balls or when he/she hits pop flies to the centerfielder.
Next, the third base fungo hits to left, who come home, third baseman cuts (again, 60' from home, about the pitchers mound). First base fungo hits to right, who throw again to second (this is where we practised cutting off doubles on balls hit into the right field corner - it's really practiseing hitting your cutoff man quickly than anything else - also the reason it's safe to do while left field goes home).
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.
Shirt and pants worn by all players, coaches and managers. Each team generally has a unique pattern of colors and designs. Traditionally, the home team's uniform is predominantly white with the team's nickname, and the visiting team's is predominantly gray with (usually, but not always) the team's city. Teams often have white, gray and colored jerseys; colored jerseys can be worn at home or on the road, depending on the team's preference.
Do this for about three minutes, then collect the balls and work on 5-3, 6-4, and 4-6 plays for another three minutes. This is followed by hitting balls to the 5-6 hole. If the third baseman doesn’t get it, he retreats back to third, and the shortstop flips to third for a force-out, rather than throwing across or turn a long double play. The other fungo batter hits balls to the second baseman, who works on throwing to first.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.”