"It doesn't look the same as a ball coming off a bat."
"I'm an old-school coach; that machine doesn't follow the traditions of baseball."
"That thing is out to take my job."
Old Dominion University has won 4 conference tournament titles and have been to the NCAA Tournament eight times. Their alumni include eleven players who have played in the Major Leagues and one, Justin Verlander, who played in the World Series (source).
Head Coach Chris Finwood, has a reputation of developing professional infielders and great defensive team as shown by the number of his players drafted, and the accolades his teams have achieved through the years. He was an assistant coach at Auburn, and then led Western Kentucky for six years, before stepping into the Head Coaching job at Old Dominion.
When it comes to ODU, the high quality coaching and hard working players, is paying off dividends.
They believe in using tools that work for the efficiency of their practice, and accessibility for their players to get work done outside of practice. They now own three FungoMan practice machines.
The ODU staff has a few choice words to share on their approach using FungoMan that just might answer a few myths about the automated baseball practice machine that you may love or despise.
Myth #1. If I use FungoMan, I'll become a lazy coach.
"We use the machines because we can get more work done.
I wanted the outfield and the catchers to get work in at the same time. We also have a machine always in the batting cages so players can work on breaking balls.
Logistically our window to get decent work in is condensed because of the weather, so we have to be efficient with our time management.
Having three FungoMan machines allows us to get a lot of different work done at the same time. That's the major reason. We use two in the infield at a time. We also use the machine for bunting and outfield work.
It just allows us to be a little more versatile."
Lazy coaching is NOT happening at Old Dominion.
Myth #2. If my players use FungoMan, they won't react the same way they would on a batted ball during a game.
"It's super important that our players see balls from the bat and it's also important that they receive a massive amount of solid reps.
So, we do four different types of ground balls.
1. You get your mass work off of FungoMan. The players get the reps they need, see spins, and get quality fielding work.
2. We also do fungo work. While one group is working with FungoMan, another group get's fungos.
3. Batting Practice: We use BP to give guys live balls. We can get fungos on each side this way. Working our infielders and hitters is a great way to get a lot done at the same time.
4. We also get players to hit to each other off tees with bats, which creates that same opportunity to work on reading spins and hops.
All those things together help merge reading angles, reading height of the first hop, those kinds of things. Plus, if we want to work on spins we can do that on FM. We tend to get more focused work on spins from FM, because it's hard to create 800 of those types of balls."
2 birds. 1 stone.
Myth #3. It's just not baseball to practice off of a machine.
"We use FungoMan to reproduce game like balls. We think about the tough balls we get in a game that are hard to reproduce. The same velocity or height or anything like that...we recreate that ball on the machine.
I mean, how do you make adjustments and get better? By getting the same ball over and over.
You can shag batting practice and get a couple balls in the same area over the span of 30-40 minutes. Or spend 10 minutes getting 30 balls in the same basic spot and type of ball.
Using FM for outfield practice, we put the popups on the line, in the tough triangle spot, over the shoulder and work on making that specific play. It helps us to give them balls they would see in the game, which makes them more prepared when the game starts.
I don't think there's anyway you can get the amount of reps, quality reps from a pace to a consistency with the accuracy, trying to hit fungos. Not just ground balls, but pop ups, catcher's popups, where guys can just focus on what they need to sharpen...
The wind plays a factor here everyday, so fly balls and popups can be a big deal. It's challenging. Just being able to set up two Fungoman machines doing popups on one side of the field and the other on the other side of the field helps us deal with those variables.
Guys are each getting 20-30 popups in 10 minutes.
A coach can't hit them like that... your back would blow out! Even if you were accurate. We use it for outfield and for catchers and it makes our time as coaches much more functional. Not to mention being out there on the field with the players, giving them live feedback definitely accelerates the process."
If that's not baseball, I don't know what is.
Other Thoughts on FungoMan:
Do your players use the machine on their own?
"Yeah. Even our catchers. Our guys have been getting more balls at game speed at game distance and it's consistent every time. If I want it away, it's away. If I want it in, it's in. I've stopped by the indoor facility before, and seen guys [alone] with FM set up and they're just catching. They put it on automatic, and the guys can get work on their own, because of the automatic feature. I find guys in there all the time with it set up without me."
And that is the whole goal: maximizing player's efforts and hand work. Working by yourself on the exact ball you want, just might be the most ideal way of getter better.