When it comes to picking the right training aid gear, it’s important to shop around. When I first started my coaching career, I knew that there were a ton of different brands on the market. Luckily, I had experience using this equipment when I was playing. Not much has changed, so I’m here to recommend my top picks for baseball training aids.
Recommended Pitch Back Net
For youth and high school ballplayers and even for adult players who want to improve their fielding skills, nothing is better than being able to work on the basics of fielding at home. Youth ball players work on a number of drills including batting, fielding, and working on real game situations at practice, so the time spent to improve catching fly balls and grounders is extremely limited.
I can personally attest to that fact. My hitting was always pretty good, but my fielding left a lot to be desired. I asked for and received a rudimentary pitch back net when I was playing on a little league team. I saw improvement within only a few days, but the best part was how much I enjoyed using it, wanting to go back for more while noticing my skills improve!
The pitch back trainers made today are in every way superior to the one I had as a kid, because there’s more control to the ball’s action when you throw it into the net. Today, the nets are made with sturdier materials and their quality is better now than ever. One that really caught my attention for my son and I to use is the SKLZ Pitch back Trainer for help with throwing, pitching and fielding.
What Does a Pitch back Trainer Do?
What I like especially about the SKLZ trainer is the way I could adjust the pitch back angles, making it easier for my son and me to work on balls coming from different heights and from different directions. The curve of the frame makes that possible, and I learned right away just where to throw the ball for the net to return it where I needed it to be.
With this trainer, we could simulate ground balls and line drives with ease. It became second nature for my son after only a short period of time for him to deftly catch ground balls that once gave him trouble. Best of all, he could do it on his own, without needing to find a wall or a stoop somewhere that would never respond the way this does. It gives him an edge in his game, but what makes me the most satisfied is the new found confidence he has in fielding. After using the machine for a while now, he’s even starting to show an interest in pitching.
Pitch back trainers also help with players’ throwing mechanics. If you or your child pitches for your team, the SKLZ Trainer comes with a rectangular ribbon that you can set as a strike zone based on the height of your child, or yourself. The harder you throw, the further away from the trainer you can stand. I’ve reached now about 40 feet away and the ball returns to me on one hop. I also like that I get automatic feedback the moment I release the ball. I can focus on every pitch, fastballs, curves, sliders and breaking balls. I know how to modify my throw because I get instant feedback.
How Durable is This Product?
SKLZ is a company that not only manufactures products to help players work on their skill set, they also produce training videos complete with drills, and in these videos, SKLZ uses their own equipment to demonstrate. They’re invested in baseball practicing fundamentals and I was impressed at how seriously they take their work.
The SKLZ Pitch Back Trainer is built with a sturdy metal frame and a thick, 21 ply all weather net. The 21 ply net is made thick so players can throw with as much power as they want to.
I was greatly relieved by how easy it was to put together. In about 15 minutes I had the ground stakes in and the strike zone set with the ribbon, allowing us more time to practice and less in assembling. Even on windy days, the trainer stayed in place.
The trainer stands a little under 5 feet high and almost 3 feet wide, perfect size for one player practice, no more or less than needed. Throwing toward the sides produces ground balls coming back at an angle. A throw in the strike zone helps pitchers fine tune their pitching assortment, and fast throws in the middle popped back fast line drives.
Can I Adjust the Angle?
What makes pitch back nets so valuable is that you can adjust the net angle to practice fielding ground balls, pop flies and line drives. The large net is supported by two large poles fastened to either side of the frame. The poles have 10 notches and each one represents a different height. Just remove the pin, move the frame up or down to line up with the notch you want, then re-insert the pin. With this SKLZ Pitch back Trainer, you’ll have 10 different angles to choose from.
The trainer comes with ground stakes that are used in high wind conditions or if you set it on grass. It can be used hard top surfaces too. The unit weighs 5 ½ pounds and is easy to move around to wherever you practice.
Thinking back to when I used a pitch back net as an up and coming ballplayer, I loved the fact that while I was working with it, I was completely absorbed with the process of throwing the ball at the net and having it come back to me. It allowed me to give total focus on my practice, and as I see my son using our pitch back net, it’s clear that he’s enjoying it because of all the time he spends throwing and fielding balls in front of it. Perhaps the neatest aspect of having a pitch back net is how enjoyable it is to use, and how it’s never a dull practice.
My Favorite Fungo Bat
When I began coaching youth baseball years ago, I started baseball practice getting my players to take positions around the diamond in the infield and the outfield. It was very simple: as they got dropped off at the ball field, I’d wave them to an open spot on the field, continuing hitting grounders and pop flies to every position.
I went out to a couple of stores and the Louisville Slugger K100 Ash Wood Fungo Bat caught my eye. As soon as I started using it, I wondered why I’d never thought about it before. My arms no longer get tired and coaching has become a lot more enjoyable. I even place hit better with a fungo bat!
Why Coaches Like Using Fungo Bats
The first thing coaches are aware of is how light a fungo bat is. It’s also longer, thinner and lighter that a regular bat. It’s not a bat to be used during a regulation game. Its entire purpose is for coaches to use either in practice or a pregame warmup.
But the greatest benefit I found using my fungo bat was how much my ball placement improved. The bat helps me hit to the exact parts of the field I want to hit to. I don’t need to compromise any longer. If a certain player needs to work on catching high pop flies, I can hit the perfect popup to him and in a location where he doesn’t have to run after it.
Coaches love the control they get hitting pop flies, line drives and grounders. I can control the speed that ground balls are hit to my infield, fast or slow. During double play infield drills I can hit fast grounders so my shortstop and second baseman can practice their relays, without having to compensate for the ball’s speed.
Because I’m able to direct the ball more accurately, I can do more drills with my players. I can place hit to an exact spot between infield positions so players can focus on their foot work and call the catch. I can aim a line drive just over the third baseman so he can practice running backward to catch it.
I’m able to make my drills more efficient by having players practice both fielding grounders and turning double plays, all in a single drill. I can hit to an exact spot along the third base line so the player at third can practice his approach and sidearm throw to first base. Or, I can hit the ball just to the left of the first baseman, making him move off the base, catch the grounder and run back to first to try and beat the runner.
A fungo bat gives me options I didn’t have with an ordinary wood bat. Since I started to use the bat, I’ve been more creative in my team drills. We can run more intricate plays and run them longer, because the balls are going where they need to and my arms don’t get tired.
What exactly is a Fungo Bat?
No one knows the exact origin of the word fungo, but it’s believed to have originated sometime in the mid-19th century. The Scottish word “fung” means to pitch or toss so historians think it may have originated from there. On the other hand the word might have come from early 20th century baseball slang, and spoke of in a combination of “fun” and “go.”
Simply put, a fungo bats is 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. The Louisville Slugger K100 Fungo Bat weighs 16 ounces and is 36 inches long. Its barrel has a perfect width of 2 ¼ inches, which allows you more control during a swing.
These dimensions of the fungo bat reveal that it’s longer than a normal baseball bat. It’s made of 100% ash, making it lighter. Ash wood is used in normal baseball bats, too, but only a percentage of a regulation bat is ash. Fungo bats can also be made from maple or bamboo.
If a fungo bat were used as a regular bat, it would likely break at the thin handle. Home run swings would turn into routine pop flies. But a fungo bat is not meant to simulate or be like a regular baseball bat in any way. As a lightweight bat, coaches can spend more time on drills without feeling like they’ve just had an upper body workout. They can also hit the ball with much greater accuracy, improving drills.
I either toss the ball up myself to hit to players, or let my catcher lob underhanded pitches to me. The Louisville Slugger K100 Fungo Bat is easy to carry around because it only weighs one pound, and it costs half the price of a regulation bat.
The Best Bucket of Baseballs
All coaches, whether they admit it or not, spend a lot of their own money on supplies for baseball practice. It’s just one of those built in expenses, because there’s always times that some piece of equipment is needed right away, and it’s the weekend, and it can’t wait for a requisition request on Monday. I’ve come across this every time we’ve run out of baseballs. Often I’d lay out up to $90.00 for a dozen new baseballs on Saturday and forget about getting reimbursed later on. It can get expensive!
I had heard about “blemished” baseballs, or “blems.” A while ago I went online and saw a sale on blem baseballs, almost identical to new balls, except they had slight cosmetic blemishes. I looked at and purchased 3 dozen Wilson Bucket of Baseballs, as a single item purchase. 36 baseballs with some markings on them, but aside from that, exactly like the balls we used during games. The best part was that the total cost $130.00 instead of $300.00 for the same quality. It was an easy decision.
What is a Blemished Baseball?
Baseballs that are cosmetically imperfect are considered “blemished” and aren’t sorted or boxed with regular baseballs coming off the line. Instead of just discarding them, manufacturers box them separately and wrap each one individually and sell them as “blem” baseballs.
The blemish can be a paint discoloration, a smudge, or a slightly off logo placement, Baseball manufacturers like Wilson sells off blems at a huge discount. Aside from cosmetic differences, the balls are identical. They hit like regulation baseballs, so I use them for team practice.
This Wilson product is a model 1030 blemished baseball, with the same premium grade 100% leather cover, wool windings and a red cushioned cork center. The Gray wool and the red cork center are regulation and used in all the baseballs they make. The red cork gives the ball the same bounce and trampoline effect off the bat, making it as lively as a regular non-blemished ball.
Do a Lot of Coaches Use Blemished Baseballs?
When I purchased the Wilson Bucket of Baseballs, I told some of my friends who also coached youth baseball, thinking I had made some new amazing discovery. When I let them know, they laughed and assumed I already knew about blemished baseballs. Apparently they had been using them for years and thought I was doing the same. It turned out I was one of the last to know!
When we got together the subject came up again and we talked about using the balls. One of my friends thought that spending just $130.00 for a large bucket of baseballs (the bucket comes with a padded top) was a great deal, almost two thirds off regular price. He especially liked the bucket, because he uses it all the time at practice hitting balls out to his team with either a regular bat or a fungo bat.
Another friend who coaches noticed that not all the balls are blemished, and that sometimes the seams are a different color, but, aside from that, they were pretty much identical. He used them for indoor training as well, over the winter months for his 14u baseball team.
Personally, I’ve been using the Wilson baseballs for about half a year, for practice twice a week. I’ve noticed some signs of wear on the balls, but most of them are still in great shape. But they’re really in excellent condition, and the bucket is just a bonus that I can use for years to come. Some of them consist of wrinkled leather near a seam, but it’s barely noticeable. When these are worn through, I won’t think twice and will buy the same product again.
We all agreed that the price and quality combo was a bargain, and it was foolish for us to invest in a dozen brand new baseballs that would cost more than twice as much and only last a few weeks. When the option I available, and the pros heavily outweigh the cons (not any that I have yet to see), I think about the bottom line. It doesn’t make sense to pay more any longer for practice baseballs.
One of the really great things about team practice is I get to see how each player performs in almost every situation. Practice is the time where real talent is discovered, and also where player weaknesses are revealed. One of my players can really excel hitting fastballs and outside pitches. But inside pitches get him every time. Another player I had played second base, and although his fielding was good, his reaction time and coordination were a little off, and his throws to first would sometimes go wild.
Every season, new players come on the team and the process of discovering their weaknesses and building their strengths begins again. The only answer is drills, drills and more drills! I wanted to discover ways that players could practice on their own, and even more by themselves when at practice, on their hitting and fielding. What caught my eye was the PowerNet Baseball Practice Net. With over a dozen players and each needing to get better, I wasn’t able to give them all the one on one attention they required to improve. That’s just what the PowerNet Practice Net did.
There are so many uses for a practice net. The fact that it’s tall and wide – a full 7 feet by 7 feet but weighing just 12 pounds – allows me to bring it to practices and have my players work with it while I focus my attention on working with other players. Later, the players spend one on one time then switch with their partners when using the PowerNet. After 30 minutes throwing and batting into the net, they’re all warmed up and ready for me with personalized drills.
What Can Players Do With a Practice Net?
Practice nets can be used by both coaches and by players on their own time. Players that want to work on their throwing and hitting can have their own practice net at home to work with. The PowerNet Baseball Practice Net I use has 49 square feet of hitting surface, which means that, with a batting tee or a partner to soft toss, everything from fast grounders to fly ball hitting can be worked on and improved, all outside of practice.
Mine is stored in the garage, and on rainy days we work with it in the basement. When the weather gets nice we just take it out and put it on the lawn or the driveway and start throwing and hitting into it.
If you have a batting tee, a batting net is perfect. Players can team up with friends after school and take turns hitting off a tee, or one soft tosses to the other, then they switch later. What’s great about this type of equipment is that you can see if your batting stance is effective, and what you need to change to hit the ball harder.
To get higher throwing accuracy, players position themselves to the right of the practice net, about 15 feet away (this can change based on the infield position played. First base would be closest to the net and third would be furthest). A partner can throw a ground ball, the player fields it, then turns to his right and throws the ball into the net. There’s a built in scoop that holds onto the balls thrown until retrieved. For batting practice, either a batting tee or a partner can be used to lob pitches from the side. For solo practice using a tee, place a bucket of balls and hit them off the tee into the net. You can focus on your hitting instead of stopping and starting to retrieve hit balls. Practice time is thus greatly shortened, and more is accomplished in less time.
My PowerNet Baseball Practice Net, works great outdoors and indoors, and I and the players in the family use it for tee work, hitting, pitching and fielding. It can also be used as a portable backstop in the backyard and garage. I bring it to practice an assign players to use it then switch with others. It’s helped a great deal for me to get everything done I want to with the team, in less time with better results.
Are Practice Nets Hard to Put Together?
Better practice nets, like the PowerNet I have, come with a lot of extras, but their boldest claim is that the net can be assembled in about 2 minutes. Skeptical, I set the stopwatch on my phone and tried. It took me exactly 3 minutes and 37 seconds, but I admit I could have done it faster.
First I attached the metal tubes together that act as the frame for the practice net. When the base was done (just two pieces of metal tubing), I put the fiberglass poles in the slots in the base metal tubes, which then became the sides of the net. Fiberglass is used to give the neck the bend it needs for balls hit hard into it.
The net has sleeves at the end that slide onto the two fiberglass poles. I did that next. Then I pulled out the net to its full width and slid the sleeve over the opposite pole. All that was left was the top, with a minute and 40 seconds gone by. So I slid the second fiberglass pole into the first and then did the same on the opposite side. Last, I pulled down the poles on each side and slid the loop over the top. I looked at it, a foot taller than me, completed and ready to go!
What Drills Can Be Performed with the PowerNet?
The way I approached incorporating the PowerNet Practice Net into team practice was to write down all the different drills I created for my players, then see how they’d be improved by adding a practice net.
For example, I run my pitchers through hand rhythm, follow through, stride, stance, pivoting and windup drills. In each case they can now work on their body mechanics and then follow through by pitching the ball into the net. It turned the drill from being abstract to seeing how their practice improved their pitching accuracy.
For infielders, I do throwing out the runner drills, barehanded fielding drills, and a lot of catching and throwing warmup drills. With the practice net, I don’t need to have my entire infield at their positions to work through the drills. Instead, players can do it with the net on their own, while I focus on my pitchers. The practice net is great for warmup before drills, too, so that by the time my players go through the drills with the team, their performance is much better than doing the drills with them cold with no warmup.
Batters really benefit from the practice net. They can use a tee or hit soft tosses thrown from the side. Imagine being able to practice hitting 100 balls each time they use the net, instead of just a dozen or so in order for the whole team to have a chance to hit?
I chose the PowerNet Baseball Practice Net, hearing it was the most popular net that was purchased. For how well it’s made and all it can do, I can see why.
Great for outdoor and indoor use. Perfect for tee work, hitting, pitching, batting, fielding. Can be used for as a portable backstop. Perfect for training sessions. Great for any backyard, garage or on the field. Works for solo or team training.
The Hit-A-Way Swing Trainer
Hit away products have become more popular over the last few years. I’m often asked by parents eager for their kids to get the best out of their baseball playing experience, what I would suggest they get to help? I’m a youth league coach and have spent some years coaching and I’ve watched new products come along, some of them ingenious and others not so much.
Aside from pitch back nets for practice at home, and good bats and baseball gloves, I’m impressed by hit away equipment for batters to use to practice their swing. I get to see a lot of equipment from vendors and dealers, and the one hit away machine that impressed me the most is the SKLZ Hit-A-Way, not only for what it does but for how well it delivers on its promise.
How Does a Hit-A-Way Help?
Hit away batting trainers help increase batting power. Its purpose is to simulate live pitching. What’s great is how many repetitions the batter can have with this kind of trainer. He can hit pitches over and over again until he sees improvement in his swing. Come game time, he’ll remember what he did with the hit away trainer and apply it when he’s at bat.
Young kids especially are just learning how to hit a baseball. With this kind of trainer he can perfect his swing mechanics at an early age, and keep them a he grows and gets more competitive. With the SKLZ Hit-A-Way, he can adjust the height for low or high pitches, and then start swinging away. Players can also simulate inside and outside pitches, many of which he’ll see in little league play.
As batters swing over and over, their power naturally increases. Hitters can judge how well they make contact by seeing how fast the ball travels. Their timing can improve too, as they watch the ball travel around on the rope cord so they accurately time their hits. Of course, watching a fast moving object repeatedly develops eye to hand coordination, quicker response time, and reflexes.
Can Hit Away Trainers Withstand Being Used This Way?
The SKLZ Hit-A-Way Trainer is pretty tough. I had several kids on my team each use it for a couple of hours and found it in the same condition as when they started, no tears, no bends in the composite metal, no cuts in the tethered cord. The frame is built for the kind of “abuse” kids and young adults will put it through.
The trainer comes virtually assembled and ready to go. Simply connect the top pole and add a baseball. Pulling the knob makes the tripod legs at the base fold out.
The best part about the trainer is that it supplements baseball practice, and the fact that it even helps starter players improve their swing. There’s nothing like developing good habits at the start of batting, rather than needing to correct ineffective swings later on. Click here to take a look at the SKLZ Hit-A-Way Portable Baseball Trainer.
My Favorite Batting Tee
One would think it’s a no brainer when it comes to making batting tees. Yet so many have proved to be not durable enough to do what they are designed to do: hit baseballs into a batting net or out onto the field.
I’ve coached both high school and youth league players, and I saw early on the advantages of having a good batting tee with a net. I became frustrated when the tops would break off right in the middle of practice. I noticed flimsy construction and had to go out to replace them. Finally, I decided to spare no expense to find a tee that would last, and do what it’s designed to do. I bought a Tanner Tee, and have had a pair of them now for over four years, and it’s as in good a shape as it was when I bought it. Best of all, it’s less expensive than the more inferior tees I had bought.
After I got the Tanner Batting Tee, I learned that this very same tee is used by every major league baseball team, which made sense, because of how durable it is, and how intelligent and practical its design is.
What Benefits do Batting Tees Bring to Players?
Although it may appear to be a dull and unexciting exercise, batters hitting off batting tees is one of the most beneficial ways for batters to develop a consistent swing and the right batting stance for the most control and power. Practicing with a batting tee is by its very nature very repetitive, and repetition is key to fine tuning a batter’s approach to hitting a baseball.
The ball sits idly on top of the batting tee. The batter can move it as close or as far away from his body depending on what kind of hitting he wants to improve upon. It can be placed inside, close to the body, outside for outside corner pitch practice, low in the strike zone by the knees, and high up near the letters.
Hitting is all about timing and connecting the bat to the ball. With a stationary baseball, batters can try different body mechanics to see which stance allows them to hit for power, and other swings that are made to hit to the opposite field. Batting tees make it possible for players to keep repeating their motion and to adjust it to get the ball go where they want it to, with the right amount of power. Best of all, with repetition, batters develop muscle memory from repeated swinging, much like a piano player does in executing a difficult piece of music.
What’s so Special About the Tanner Tee That Makes it so Popular?
The Tanner Tee isn’t “the Cadillac of Batting Tees” because it’s real advantage isn’t style or expense. It’s instead a high end product that can cost even less than other, inferior batting tees, while coming highly recommended by major league baseball and just about every coach and player who uses it. One of the best features of the Tanner Tee is that it’s made with heavy duty materials, and first use shows how sturdy and reliable it is.
My favorite part of this tee is the hand rolled flexible top on which the baseball rets. When hitting the ball, I feel the bat contacting the ball, not the tee, so it simulates hitting an actual pitch really well. The rubber, both flexible and strong, doesn’t harm your bat like other tees can. Best of all, when hitting the ball on the tee, the top flexes when impacted, so the hit feels realistic and the top won’t break.
The forward thinking makers of this American made tee made it easy for the Tanner Tee to fit easily inside a batter’s bag, something I really liked so I wouldn’t have to carry it separately to practice, but instead on my back with the rest of the gear.
What Hitting Drills Can You do with a Batting Tee?
It’s obvious how much hitters on teams I coached improved after they started using a batting tee. As time went on and talking with other coaches, most of us have hitters try these drills:
- Warm Up Swinging: Players come to practice and before getting into game simulation hitting drills, we have them loosen up their bodies and take easy, smooth swings off the tee. After a dozen or so swings, we have them focus on specific body movements, and to align their swing on the tee with their stance in the batter’s box. We have them imagine facing a pitcher, then taking swings and aligning their feet.
- Outside ball Pitches: This drill helps them hit to the opposite field. The tee is placed farther back and on the outside of the plate. We have them hit the ball as aggressively as they can, through the ball. They also are instructed to stay on top of the ball like they need to in hit and run situations, hitting it at a downward angle to the opposite field. The bat should remain behind the hands when in contact with the ball, with hips and back facing left field for righties, and right field for lefties. Most of all, we tell them not to drop the bat head down.
- Inside Ball Pitches: Lots of hitters get jammed up and end up hitting inside pitches to the opposite field. It’s hard for beginners to adjust a proper inside pitch hitting techniques, but batting tees help a lot because players keep swing until they start pulling the ball with power. We make sure the bat head is in front of the hands when making ball contact, with hips and back foot facing left field for righties and fight filed for lefties. We ask players to keep it up at the batting tee until they consistently make contact with the sweet spot on the bat.
The Tanner Tee is one of the most reliable batting tees I‘ve ever purchased for my teams, and I like the fact that it’s American made by people who know the game of baseball. Knowing the game and knowing batting tee drills means they made a product that is built sturdily, will last for years and is easy to carry around.