Saturday, August 01, 2009

Shagging Fungos (Two)

And this whole line of thought actually got started in a very different place, when some friends of mine were lamenting the disclosure that David Ortiz had tested positive for steroid use back in 2003 (or whenever those supposedly "confidential" tests were administered), and I complained instead about the ubiquitous performance-enhancing substance messages in our society, including this recent Dunkin' Donuts ad, where the mere addition of a free Turbo-Shot is enough to allow the scrawny second baseman to slay the giant with a well-placed fungo.

But what I discovered instead was that a good many of these same people, passionate baseball (well, let's say Red Sox) fans all, had only a vague idea about what a "fungo" really is. The dictionary definition is fungo: n. pl. -goes Baseball. A practice fly ball hit to a fielder with a specially designed bat. [Origin Unknown] but as you'll see from the linked article, there's a lot more to it than that. Meanwhile, here's a bit of a photo essay to help those of you who are visual learners to better understand the more intimate details.

See that thing hanging down between Johnny Pesky's legs? That's his fungo, a bat designed expecially for hitting practice fly balls and grounders to players on the field. A fungo is generally both lighter and longer than a regular bat, with a much narrower barrel. The lighter weight and longer length allow the hitter to generate relatively more bat speed (and with greater control) than a regular bat, because they are simply hitting a ball that has been tossed into the air with their opposite hand, rather than a 98 mph fastball thrown at them by an opposing pitcher.

Now compare the bat of David Ortiz.  Less length, greater weight, wider barrel.  A weapon of war, rather than a practice tool...

The contrast in these photos is even more obvious.

Now look at Pesky's bat, fully extended.  Can you see the longer and more narrow barrel?

Ballplayers are often very superstitious about their bats. Some pick a style early in their career and stick with it through thick and thin, while others are constantly tinkering with weight and length and balance, trying to just the perfect weapon to compliment their swing at this point in their career. Last I heard, David Ortiz was swinging a pretty conventional 34.5" 32 oz maple Nokono bat with a cupped end (to reduce weight and move the center of gravity closer to the center of the barrel). Teammate Dustin Pedroia also swings a cupped maple bat, but smaller: 33.5" and 30.5 ozs, and his bats are made by Louisville Slugger. A-Rod swings a slightly lighter bat than Big Popi, and his bats are made of ash: 34" and 31 ozs, also from Louisville slugger.

Fungos tend to run between 33 and 37 inches in length, and weigh between 17 and 19 ounces. And as you can see from the following photos, the differences are very obvious when viewed from up close.

Here are some conventional wooden bats, in an assortment of sizes, weights and even colors. But notice the relatively-larger diameter of the barrel, and compare it with its length.

With artificial composites (like aluminum, for instance) the options become even wider, and barrel width can be expanded without adding weight. Wooden bat users sometimes try to compensate for this by "corking" larger bats to reduce their weight, but this (like the spitball) is considered cheating, as well as a topic best saved for for another day.

A fairly run-of-the-mill Louisville Slugger, probably 34" 32 ozs.

And here's a comparable fungo. Maybe 37" 17 ozs?

Fungos also come in aluminum (compare with the conventional Easton bats below)...

And are available in a Rainbow of Colors.

Here you have it, a portrait of pure and perfect joy. A man in his 80's, who has probably never ingested a steroid in his life, qne can still take it deep any time he likes, with his smooth and almost effortless fungo swing. Who was it that said that it's not the size of the wand, but the magic of the performer? That's a lot of the joy of shagging fungos. Now, Go have some Fun!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Shagging Fungos

Believe it or not, when I was a kid this used to be one of my favorite things to do in the world. Just grab my mitt on a sunny summer's day and ride my bike down to the schoolyard, in hopes of finding some kind of game of 'work-up" or "three flies and you're up" where I could join in. And eventually enough kids would show up that we could have a "real" game (even if it was just teams of five or six), but until then...well, let's just say that there's nothing in the world that feels quite as good as the feeling of running down a well-hit fly ball and dramatically gathering into your glove at the last possible second -- just watch a dog fetch a tennis ball, and you'll have some small idea of the potential for joy.

And then as I grew older and started to play more Organized Ball, I discovered that there were actually coaches whose main job was to hit fly balls for developing players like me to catch. It's not quite the same as standing in at third base and fielding the two or three hundred ground balls a day that will eventually make fielding ground balls feel almost instinctive, or shagging in the outfield during Batting Practice, which lets you practice getting a good jump on the ball at the crack of the bat as well as catching every ball that is hit your way. But the personal attention is always a great gift, and a talented fungo hitter can make the baseball do just about anything they like.

And now I find myself riding past empty schoolyards and wondering where all the kids have gone, or resting in bed on a hot summer afternoon wishing I still had the ability to run down a long fly ball, or even play a decent game of Catch. And if I concentrate really hard, I can still remember in my body the feeling of loping over a grassy outfield, closing distance with every stride until at last I snatch the ball from the air with my glove at precisely the moment we both arrive at the exact same place. There's nothing like it in the world. Except maybe doing the exact same thing in an important game, and robbing your opponent of an extra-base hit....

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Bring me home from the ball game...


There were a dozen of us up at Haddlock Field last night, to watch the Sea Dogs take on the "baby Yankees" from Trenton. A fairly uninspiring game, actually -- Sea Dogs were trailing 1-0 after the bottom of the eighth, but we still left early to avoid the traffic, and especially trying to navigate out of the ballpark with my wheelchair.

I told everyone that we could read about it in the paper, and what a ninth inning we missed! -- Trenton scored 4 more runs in the top of the ninth (which should have sent everyone running for the exits), but the Sea Dogs rallied to come back by scoring three runs of their own. But it was too little, too late, and the inning eventually ended with the batter representing the potentially-tying run striking out. So there is no joy in Mudville...just like in the original "Casey at the Bat."

What what bothered me more though was that earlier in the game, with runners on 1st and 2nd and nobody out, rather than bunting or putting on SOME sort of play, the Dogs simply sent the next three batters to the plate to fly out (twice) and hit a weak ground ball. I mean, come on! This is double A ball, for crissakes - get the base runners moving and make people field their positions!

And then in the 6th inning another exciting (but to my mind upsetting) play, when our third base coach sent a runner home (from 1st) after a bobbled ball in left field; but the left fielder made a terrific throw, and the baserunner (Bubba Bell, who seemed to run out of gas rounding 3rd, and would later strike out to end the game), a former Texas High School football player, simply lowered his shoulder and collided with the catcher hard enough to knock him off his feet.

A real Pete Rose play - some people like it and others (including me) don't - but the catcher was able to hold on to the ball, and Bubba was out...although the poor catcher (Jesus Montero, a 19-year-old $1.6 million bonus baby from Venezuela) left the game in the next inning, and was sent up to Maine Med for "precautionary tests." But I fully expect someone from Trenton to throw a 90 MPH fastball behind Bubba's head tonight. Just to remind him that playing for keeps works both ways....

For my own part, I enjoyed the game, I enjoyed the company, and I even got photographed with Slugger the Sea Dog (who also gave me a baseball).! So who am I to complain about leaving early? The only way I could have had a BETTER time is if I were still 12 years old....

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Real life has once again overtaken my ability to stay up late and follow the hoops; missed both the very exciting, down to the wire shootout in Los Angeles, and also Cleveland's upsetting loss at home against the Magic. Ouch! Nothing like getting punched in the nose in your own house. In any case, hope to do better in days ahead. Meanwhile, I'm starting to move around quite nimbly now myself with just a cane or my walker. Look out Barkley! I may be takin' you to the hole as well.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Solid Gold! (or was it Silver?)

Oh! Yea! Nuggets!!! How sweet! And so hard to believe. And yet I'm starting to believe. Can hometown hero Chauncey Billups lead Mello, Nene, K-Mart and the Bird Man thru the Lakers and into the promised land, there to confront the long-frustrated Goliath of Nike and his supporting cast, and (God Willing) defeat them? One game at a time. But it sure is hard to run with the boys from Denver a mile above sea level. And Mr Big Shot knows what it's like to wear the ring. And what you've got to do to earn that right as well.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

So what is it? Punk? Or Thug?

Actually, I just hope that Kenyon Martin takes coach Karl's advice, and Mark Cuban takes K Mart and his family to a really nice place, and that everyone has a convivial ol' time and lives happily ever after. [LINK] That is, AFTER the Nuggets finally eliminate the Mavs from the play-offs Wednesday night, and avoid any unnecessary return trips to Texas this season. At the very least I hope they stay away from wherever Chris Andersen had dinner before Game Four. Shoulda hadda sweep boys! Shoulda hadda sweep.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Death and Texas

Mark Cuban must be about ready for an aneurism, but so far he's kept his cool and held his tongue and let yesterday's no-call at the end speak for itself. But you know, with the number of fouls that WERE called in that game, what are the Mavs doing with a foul to give at the end of the fourth quarter anyway? There are some who might say that the officiating had been a little unbalanced right from the opening tip, and that those who live by the no-call die by the no-call. That sort of thing. But at the final buzzer, the Nuggets are up 3-0, and the Mavs are all but toast -- playing now for a little pride to avoid a sweep against a team that is hot, hot, hot and playing loose....

Meanwhile, down in Houston Yao Ming is gone for the season, but the Rockets responded by blasting off and evening things up with the Lakers now 2-2. And I still believe this year is destined to become an LA/Cleveland (Kobe/LeBron) showdown, but the Lakers are going to have to show me a lot better defense if they want to get past a Houston team that in many ways is a lot quicker and more difficult to match up against without Yao than with him. And with Denver waiting patiently for the winner...well, let's just hope that Dallas can extend that series long enough that the Nuggets don't get rusty sitting around waiting.

And what is really amazing to me is San Antonio's early exit. Or even just the idea that the Spurs are actually now only the third best basketball team in Texas, rather than number ONE. I guess I've just learned to expect another Spurs championship in every odd-numbered year. But they'll be back again next year for real I'm sure. And a week from now, nobody will still be playing basketball in Texas anyway....