Title:
Strike zone for return throw pitching assemblies
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A strike zone target is provided for a training device for pitchers that includes a frame and an elastic net disposed across the frame for absorbing energy of a ball thrown by a player and redirecting the ball back to the player. The strike zone target includes a fabric body having four corners and a fastening element disposed at each of the four corners. The fastening elements permit the strike zone target to be detachably secured to the net while permitting easy repositioning of the strike zone anywhere along the net.



Inventors:
Cosenza, Anthony (Bay Shore, NY, US)
Application Number:
10/389338
Publication Date:
09/16/2004
Filing Date:
03/14/2003
Assignee:
REGENT SPORTS CORPORATION
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B69/00; (IPC1-7): A63B69/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
ARYANPOUR, MITRA
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
DARBY & DARBY P.C. (Post Office Box 5257, New York, NY, 10150-5257, US)
Claims:

What is claimed is:



1. A strike zone target for a training pitching device that has a frame and an elastic net disposed across the frame for absorbing energy of the thrown ball and redirecting the ball back to the player, the strike zone target comprising: a fabric body having four corners; and a fastening element disposed at each of the four corners, the fastening elements permitting the strike zone target to be detachably secured to the net while permitting easy repositioning of the strike zone anywhere along the net.

2. The strike zone target of claim 1, wherein the fabric body is formed of a nylon material.

3. The strike zone target of claim 1, wherein the fastening elements are constructed such that the strike zone target is releasably secured to the net in a snap fit manner.

4. The strike zone target of claim 1, wherein each fastening element is formed of a strip of fabric that is fixedly attached at one end to the fabric body near one corner thereof, the fabric strip having a free end and includes a fold line that divides the fabric strip into two sections with a first fastening element being disposed on one side of the fold line and a second fastening element being disposed on another side of the fold line, the strip of fabric being securely attached to a cord member of the net by capturing the cord member between the mated first and second fastening parts and the folded fabric strip.

5. The strike zone target of claim 4, wherein the strip is formed of the same fabric as the fabric body.

6. The strike zone target of claim 1, wherein the fabric body has a color different than a color of the net.

7. The strike zone target of claim 6, wherein the fabric body has a red color.

8. The strike zone target of claim 1, wherein the fabric body is attached to a rear face of the net that faces away from the player.

9. The strike zone target of claim 4, wherein the first fastening element is a male part and the second fastening element is a female part that snap fittingly receives the male part.

10. The strike zone target of claim 1, wherein the fabric body is rectangular shaped.

11. The strike zone of claim 4, wherein the fabric strip is fixedly attached to the fabric body at its one end by stitching.

12. The strike zone target of claim 4, wherein the first and second fastening elements are of a hook and loop type.

13. A training pitching device comprising: a frame and an elastic net securely attached to the frame so that it is under tension and is capable of absorbing energy of a ball thrown by a player and redirecting the ball back to the player; and a strike zone target that its detachably secured to the net and is freely positionable across the net, the strike zone target including a fabric body having four corners; and a fastening element disposed at each of the four corners, the fastening elements permitting the strike zone target to be detachably secured to the net by capturing a section of the net.

14. The training pitching device of claim 13, wherein the net is formed of horizontal and vertical cords that are arranged in a grid manner, each corner of the strike zone target being securely attached to one horizontal cord between adjacent vertical cords.

15. The training pitching device of claim 13, wherein the fabric body is formed of a nylon material.

16. The training pitching device of claim 13, wherein the fastening elements are constructed such that the strike zone target is releasably secured to the net in a snap fit manner.

17. The training pitching device of claim 13, wherein each fastening element is formed of a strip of fabric that is fixedly attached at one end to the fabric body near one corner thereof, the fabric strip having a free end and includes a fold line that divides the fabric strip into two sections with a first fastening element being disposed on one side of the fold line and a second fastening element being disposed on another side of the fold line, the strip of fabric being securely attached to a cord member of the net by capturing the cord member between the mated first and second fastening parts and the folded fabric strip.

18. The training pitching device of claim 17, wherein the strip is formed of the same fabric as the fabric body.

19. The training pitching device of claim 13, wherein the fabric body has a color different from a color of the net.

20. The training pitching device of claim 19, wherein the fabric body has a red color.

21. The training pitching device of claim 13, wherein the fabric body is attached to a rear face of the net that faces away from the player.

22. The training pitching device of claim 17, wherein the first fastening element is a male part and the second fastening element is a female part that snap fittingly receives the male part.

23. The training pitching device of claim 13, wherein the fabric body is rectangular shaped.

24. The training pitching device of claim 13, wherein the fabric strip is fixedly attached to the fabric body at its one end by stitching.

Description:

TECHNICAL FIELD

[0001] The present invention relates generally to sporting goods products, and more particularly to a strike zone target for a training device for pitchers.

BACKGROUND

[0002] There are a number of baseball related products that are available to assist a user in developing certain baseball skills. One of the most important and difficult aspects of the game of baseball is pitching. As is well known, the pitcher is given the task of throwing the ball to a catcher while a batter attempts to hit the ball into play. While the pitcher's goal is to throw the ball past the batter, the pitcher is also aiming to throw the ball within a defined region which is known as the strike zone. The strike zone is dependent upon a number of different factors, including the height of the batter, etc. In addition, the strike zone in professional or organized play is also subject to the interpretation of league officials.

[0003] One mechanism that is available to beginning players is a pitchback or return throw device that is used by one player to simulate the art of pitching. This device typically includes a frame and a tensioned net that is securely attached to the frame. The user stands a prescribed distance from the device (usually the same distance as from a pitching mound to home plate) and the player throws a ball against the tensioned net. As the ball strikes the net, the net absorbs the velocity of the ball and then translates the motion into a return force where the ball is propelled back to the player. The player catches the ball and is then able to pitch another ball towards the net.

[0004] Conventionally, some of these return throw devices have incorporated features that are designed to represent the strike zone. For example, the net can include stitching or the net can be colored differently to define a strike zone (e.g., a box shape). The goal of the player is to pitch the ball towards the device so that the ball contacts the strike zone (box) and is then propelled back to the player. The player repeats this over and over to simulate and practice the art of pitching.

[0005] However, this type of strike zone has a number of disadvantages including that the strike zone is fixedly defined relative to the net itself. In other words, the location of the strike zone can not be varied. Also, in the event that the pitcher does not want to have the strike zone displayed at all times, the conventional return throw devices offer no flexibility and are non-accommodating since the strike zone target is an integral part of the net and therefore can not be separated therefrom.

[0006] In addition, these conventional strike zone targets are simply thin line targets that define the peripheral edges of the strike zone. In other words, the targets only define the boundary of the strike zone or box and thus, the majority of the strike zone is defined by the net area that lies within the targets. Because of this arrangement, it may be difficult for some pitchers to see the actual strike zone since most of the strike zone has the same color as the surrounding net and therefore, it is difficult to see.

[0007] It is therefore desirable to provide a baseball return throw that has a strike zone that overcomes the above disadvantages.

SUMMARY

[0008] A strike zone target or marking is provided for a training device for pitchers that includes a frame and an elastic net disposed across the frame for absorbing energy of a ball thrown by a player and redirecting the ball back to the player. The strike zone target includes a fabric body having four corners and a fastening element disposed at each of the four corners. The fastening elements permit the strike zone target to be detachably secured to the net while permitting easy repositioning of the strike zone anywhere along the net.

[0009] In one exemplary embodiment, the fastening element is formed of a strip of fabric that is fixedly attached at one end to the fabric body near one corner thereof. The fabric strip has a free end and includes a fold line that divides the fabric strip into two sections with a first fastening element being disposed on one side of the fold line and a second fastening element being disposed on another side of the fold line. The strip of fabric is securely attached to a cord member of the net by being captured between the mated first and second fastening parts and the folded fabric strip.

[0010] In contrast to conventional return throw devices, the present strike zone target is detachably removable from the net and also is positionable anywhere along the net and therefore is not fixed in one location of the net. This permits the strike zone to be adjusted as need be when different sized batters are present or if the player desires to practice pitching to a different location of the net.

[0011] Further aspects and features of the exemplary apparatus disclosed herein can be appreciated from the appended Figures and accompanying written description.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0012] The invention will be more fully understood by reference to the following drawings which are for illustrative purposes only:

[0013] FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a return throw pitching assembly according to a first embodiment;

[0014] FIG. 2 is an enlarged close-up of a strike zone target attached to a rear surface of a net by fastening elements according to a first embodiment;

[0015] FIG. 3 is an enlarged close-up of a corner of a strike zone target showing the fastening element of FIG. 2 in an open position;

[0016] FIG. 4 is an enlarged close-up of the corner of the strike zone target showing the fastening element of FIG. 2 in a closed position;

[0017] FIG. 5 is an enlarged close-up of a corner of a strike zone target showing a fastening element of a second embodiment in an open position;

[0018] FIG. 6 is an enlarged close-up of the corner of the strike zone target showing the fastening element of FIG. 5 in a closed position; and

[0019] FIG. 7 is a perspective view of the return throw pitching assembly illustrating the strike zone target in an alternative position.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

[0020] FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a return throw device 100 (pitchback device) that generally is formed of a frame 110 and a net 200 that is securely attached to the frame 110. Because the device 100 is a self-supporting structure, the frame 110 is of the type that stands upright during use and is constructed so that it can withstand the force of a thrown ball and generate a return force through the net 200 to propel the ball back to the player without having the device 100 topple or otherwise be unstable. The device 100 can therefore be formed of a number of different frames 110 so long as they are suitable for the intended use. Accordingly, the frames 110 can come in a number of different shapes and sizes and the amount of frame parts needed to construct the device 100 also varies.

[0021] The exemplary frame 110 is formed of a first part 120, a second part 130, and a third part 140. The first part 120 is generally square shaped and lies within a first plane and has a first side 122, an opposing second side 124, a third side 126 and an opposing fourth side 128. The first part 120 serves as the base of the frame 110 and receives and secures the net 200. A plurality of net fastener hooks 150 are disposed around the frame 110. More specifically, each fastener hook 150 is formed of a closed loop section 152 that is preferably formed of an elastic cord (e.g., bungee cord) and a rigid hook member 154 that is formed opposite the loop section 152. The loop section 152 is movable along the frame 110 and the elastic nature thereof permits the loop to be elongated or stretched where necessary to accommodate fitting of the net 200 in a stretched or tensioned manner within the border of the first frame part 110. As illustrated in FIG. 1, the fastener hooks 150 are arranged along the first frame part 120 so that there are a number of fastener hooks 150 on each of the sides 122, 124, 126, and 128.

[0022] The hook members 154 engage and secure the net 200 by placing the outer edge 202 of the net 200 within the hook members 154. Because the net 200 is purposely smaller in dimensions than the dimensions of the area defined by the sides 122, 124, 126, and 128, the net 200 is pulled or tensioned into the position shown in FIG. 1 where the net 200 is tightly disposed (tensioned) across the area between the sides 122, 124, 126, 128. The net 200 is securely held by the fastener hooks 150 so that when a ball is thrown thereagainst, the net 200 will absorb the velocity and direction of the ball by locally deforming and then the resilient or elastic nature of the net 200 causes the energy to be translated into energy that propels the ball away from the net 200 back to the player.

[0023] As illustrated in FIG. 1, in the normal playing position, the first frame part 120 is positioned so that the second side 124 lies at or near a ground surface and the first frame part 120 is slightly offset relative to a plane that is perpendicular to the ground surface. In other words and in order to provide the proper trajectory for returning the ball to the player, the first frame part 120 is not disposed perpendicular to the ground surface but rather it is disposed less than 90 degrees so that the net 200 faces slightly towards the sky so as to produce an optimum trajectory for returning the ball to the player.

[0024] The second part 130 of the frame 110 is a generally U-shaped ground contacting section that seats against the ground when the device 100 is being used. The second part 130 has a rear section 132, and side sections 134, 136 that are perpendicular to the rear section 132. Opposite to where the side sections 134, 136 are integrally attached to the rear section 132, each side section 134, 136 has an angled end section 137 that extends upwardly when the device 100 is positioned for use. These end sections 137 are fixedly attached to the third and fourth sides 126, 128 using conventional means.

[0025] The third part 140 of the frame 110 is a pair of elongated support posts 142, 144 that extend between the fist and second parts 120, 130. Each of the support posts 142, 144 has a first end 146 that is fixedly secured to the first part 120 and a second end 148 that is fixedly secured to the second part 130. The second ends 148 of the support posts 142, 144 are disposed near where the rear section 132 and side sections 134, 136 join one another and the first ends 146 are disposed proximate to where the third and fourth sides 126, 128 join the first side 122.

[0026] When completely assembled, the device 100 has a triangular shaped frame as viewed from the sides of the device 100 and this provides the necessary structural support for the device 100.

[0027] The frame 110 is preferably a heavy duty welded steel tubing frame. Because each of the parts 120, 130, 140 has a tubular construction, two parts can be securely attached to one another by passing a fastener 160, such as a threaded bolt, through openings formed through the respective parts and then using a nut or the like, such as a wing nut 162, that mates with the fastener 160 to securely attach the respective parts to one another.

[0028] The net 200 is a conventional net that is formed of a nylon or another suitable material and is formed in a grid like (square) pattern with the outer edge 202 being reinforced and of greater dimension than the rope-like elements (horizontal and vertical cord members) that define the grid like pattern. The net 200 has a front face 204 that faces the player during use and contacts the thrown ball and an opposing rear face 206 (FIG. 2) that is opposite and faces the second and third parts 130, 140.

[0029] A strike zone target 300 that is made for use with the device 100 is also illustrated in FIG. 1 as well as FIGS. 2-4. Unlike the conventional strike zone targets that are described above and are permanently a part of the net, the present strike zone target 300 is freely removable from the net 200 as well as being freely positionable anywhere on the net 200. The strike zone target 300 is a square or rectangular shaped piece of fabric that has four corners 302. The fabric is preferably a synthetic fabric, such as nylon or other types of polymeric materials; however, other types of materials can be used so long as they are suitable for the intended use. It will also be appreciated that the fabric strike zone target 300 can be manufactured in any number of color, such as a solid color, or the strike zone target 300 can include a decorative pattern or other type of indicia, if desired. In one exemplary embodiment, the fabric strike zone target 300 has a red color and in an alternative embodiments, the target 300 is yellow or orange colored. Bright colors, such as red, are advantageous since they permit the player to easily see the strike zone target and therefore, the player can identify the strike zone and practice directing the pitch thereto.

[0030] At each corner 302 of the fabric strike zone target 300, a fastening element 310 is provided for securely but releasably attaching the strike zone target 300 to the net 200. The fastening element 310 is formed of a strip of fabric material 320 that has a fixed end 322 and a free end 324. The strip 320 can be formed of the same fabric material that is used to form the fabric strike zone target 300 or it can be a different material. According to one exemplary embodiment, the strip 320 is formed of the same material as the fabric strike zone target 300. The end 322 is attached to a rear face of the fabric strike zone target 300 using conventional techniques, such as using stitching. The strip 320 is free to move except for the section that is securely attached to the rear face.

[0031] The fastening element 310 is of a snap lock type and includes a first male part 312 and a second female part 314 that receive the first part 312 in a detachable snap locking manner (e.g., the fastening element 310 can be in the form of a button). The first and second parts 312, 314 are spaced apart from one another and more specifically, the exemplary strip 320 is a generally rectangular member that is divided in half along a fold line 327. The first part 312 is disposed on one side of the fold line 327 and the second part 314 is disposed on the other side of the fold line 327 and when the two parts 312, 314 mate together, one half of the strip 320 is folded over the other half along the fold line 327. It will therefore be appreciated that when the two parts 312, 314 mate together, the strip 320 assumes more of a square shape and a space 321 is formed between the mated parts 312, 314 and the fold line 327. As previously mentioned, each corner 302 of the strike zone target 300 includes a strip 320 and fastening element 310 with the fixed end 322 of the strip 320 facing the center of the strike zone target 300. When the strip 320 is in an open position, the free end 324 preferably extends beyond the edge of the fabric strike zone target 300 with the fold line 327 lying above the fabric strike zone target 300 and not beyond the edge of the fabric strike zone target 300.

[0032] The attachment of the fabric strike zone target 300 to the net 200 is now described in greater detail. Each of the fastening elements 310 are opened so that the two parts 312, 314 are disengaged from one another. Because the strike zone target 300 is configured to be positionable anywhere along the net 200, a desired location for the strike zone target 300 is selected by the player. The strike zone 300 is then positioned relative to the rear face 206 of the net 200 and one corner 302 of the strike zone target 300 is attached to the net 200 by looping the strap 320 over one of the horizontal cords of the net 200. When the strap 320 is looped over the horizontal cord in this manner, the strip 320 is folded along the fold line 327 which is adjacent the horizontal cord of the net 200. The first and second parts 312, 314 are then mated together in a snap fit manner resulting in the horizontal cord being disposed within the space 321. Because the net 200 is formed of horizontal and vertical cords that are arranged in a grid, the looping and securing of the strip 320 to one of the horizontal cords locates and fixes the respective corner 302 relative to the net 200 since the surrounding vertical cords prevent the strip 320 from laterally moving. In other words, the folded and attached strip 320 can only travel along the horizontal cord between the two vertical cords. Since the strike zone target 300 is attached to the rear face 206 of the net 200, the thrown ball does not primarily contact the strike zone target 300 but rather the thrown ball contacts the net 200, which absorbs the energy of the ball and causes the ball to be propelled back to the player in the manner described hereinbefore.

[0033] The process is repeated for the other three corners 302 of the fabric strike zone 300. This results in the strike zone target 300 being securely attached to the net 200 in a manner that permits the strike zone target 300 to be easily repositioned or even completely removed from the net 200. Because the strike zone target 300 can be positioned anywhere along the net 200, the player can practice a number of different pitches. FIG. 7 illustrates an alternative position of the strike zone target 300. Also, the strike zone target 300 can be adjusted as necessary to accommodate different sized batters that stand in front of the device 100 and attempt to hit the thrown ball.

[0034] FIGS. 5 and 6 show alternative fastening elements 400 for securely yet releasably attaching the target 300 to the net 200. In this embodiment, the fastening elements 400 are of a hook and loop type in that a first part 410 which can be either the hook or the loop part is securely attached at the free end 324 of the fabric strip 320 and a second part 420 which is the other of the hook and loop parts is securely attached at the fixed end 322 of the fabric strip 320. The fastening elements 400 work in much the same way as the fastening elements 300 in that the user loops the free end 324 over the horizontal cord and then the two parts 410, 420 are brought together and securely attached to one another. To release the fastening element 400, the first part 410 is simply pulled away from the second part 420.

[0035] It will be understood that the frame 110 described above is merely exemplary in nature and there are a number of other return throw devices that have different frame constructions (e.g., some that permit frame adjustment and angle adjustment of the frame section that carries the net); however, the common element is the net 200 that is attached under tension across the frame. Thus, the present strike zone target 300 can be used with any number of different frames as it only requires that the presence of the net.

[0036] While this invention has been particularly shown and described with references to preferred embodiments thereof, it will be understood by those skilled in the art that various changes in form and details may be made therein without departing from the scope of the invention encompassed by the appended claims.





 
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