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1. Field of Invention
The invention relates to sports equipment, and more particularly to equipment that enables a player to practice striking a ball in a manner similar to actual play of a game.
2. Background Information
In many sports the object is to kick, hit or otherwise strike a ball. The skill of the player in such sports is usually directly related to the player's ability to efficiently and repeatedly strike the ball accurately and with appropriate force. To do this well requires extensive and repeated practice. When a player wishes to practice, however; he or she often finds that it is inconvenient or difficult to recruit another person to throw or otherwise deliver the ball so that the player can practice his or her hitting or kicking. To that end a number of different devices have been developed to enable a single person to practice hitting or kicking without the assistance of any other person. Particularly useful of such devices are those described and claimed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,296,582 and 6,514,161.
Such devices have normally been attached to poles which are sunk vertically into the ground, are mounted vertically in deep sockets drilled into the ground or into some other playing surface, or are otherwise securely fastened in a vertical position. While poles thus mounted are quite functional for holding the hitting practice device, they are of course usable only in the specific location and are often permanently fixed in place. Those that can be removed usually become unusable until replaced in the same socket, hole or mounting from which they were removed. It will also be apparent that bases and sockets for such fixed poles can only be placed in a limited number of locations and once in place can be an impediment to other uses of the surrounding area. It would therefore be of significant value to have a support pole which can be moved from one location to another easily and conveniently and will function well in many locations.
Some sports devices mounted on poles (such as basketball backboards/nets) have in the past been attached to a simple heavy, circular base such as a concrete filled tire which supports the pole and still allows it to be moved to various locations by tipping it and rolling it by the edge of the base or tire. This works suitably for basketball because in basketball a player's attempting to score a basket does not normally impart any major stresses to the pole other than the relatively modest impact of the basketball itself hitting the backboard or net. On the other hand, in sports such as baseball, soccer, softball, tennis and the like, hitting a ball which is tethered by a cord to the pole imparts significant torque to the pole, since in most such devices the tether holding the struck ball wraps itself rapidly and strongly around the pole and then resiles and rapidly unwinds in the opposite direction to propel the ball backwards toward the player to be struck or kicked again. Such torque from the tether rapidly and repeatedly reversing directions frequently causes poles mounted on simple bases such as tires to wobble severely, to the point where the flight of the ball is adversely affected and the pole can easily overturn.
The present invention is of sturdy and stable apparatus having a pole to which a ball for striking practice can be tethered, and which is sufficiently stable to withstand the torque and other forces produced in the pole by such striking, but which is also completely portable and can be easily transported from place to place and readily set up for use and taken down following such use. The pole of this invention folds easily into a compact package which can be stored, transported in a car or other vehicle, and subsequently can easily be unfolded and rapidly set up and locked into position for use.
The apparatus or device of the present invention has a pole, a baseplate on which the pole is mounted, and legs which are hinged to the baseplate and which can be folded or unfolded, and means for locking the legs in either folded or unfolded position. With the legs folded the device can easily be stored or transported, and with the legs unfolded and locked the device holds the pole in vertical orientation such that a player can repeatedly and vigorously strike a ball tethered to the pole. The player thus can practice his or her skills of batting, kicking, swatting or otherwise striking a ball for extended periods, with the ball after being struck returning quickly to the same position to enable the player to strike the ball again. A player can thus practice his or her batting, kicking, etc. over and over again, to rapidly improve proficiency. The presence of another person to deliver the ball to the player is eliminated, thus enabling the player to practice his or her skills alone and on his or her own schedule.
In a broad aspect, the present invention involves apparatus for supporting a tethered ball for ball striking practice which comprises an elongated pole; a baseplate attached to an end of said pole; a collar slidably mounted on said pole; a plurality of legs hingedly attached to said baseplate; a like plurality of braces hingedly connecting said plurality of legs to said collar; and locking means for releasably securing said collar to said pole at a position which will enable said pole to be disposed in a vertical position; whereby when said collar is so positioned said braces bias said legs outwardly from said baseplate to form an open configuration supporting said apparatus with said pole in said vertical position such that said ball may be repeatedly struck as part of said practice.
Other embodiments, aspects and details will be evident from the description below.
FIG. 1 is an pictorial view showing an embodiment of the device of the present invention in its open configuration.
FIG. 2 is a side elevation view of the device of FIG. 1 in open configuration.
FIG. 3 is a side elevation view of the device of FIG. 1 in its closed configuration.
FIG. 4 is a detail view of a portion of a modified embodiment of the device of FIG. 1.
FIG. 5 is a detail view partially in cross-section and phantom of a bracket and latch pin for locking the device in open configuration.
The device 1 of the present invention is most easily understood by reference to the Figures of the drawings. The device comprises a pole 2 which in use is mounted vertically and is attached firmly to a baseplate 4. Also attached to the baseplate 4 are a plurality of legs 6 (commonly four) to support device 1 in its open position; the legs 6 are preferably essentially equally spaced around the periphery of the base plate 4 and when extended radially are disposed generally horizontally. The legs 6 are designed to fold up toward the pole 2 somewhat in the manner of an umbrella so that the device 1 can be readily transported or stored. When folded the device 1 assumes the configuration of an elongated bar-like structure with a small cross-sectional profile. The ease of opening, closing and transporting, and the stability of the device 1 when opened, makes the device 1 very attractive for use by traveling sports teams, college and school athletic departments, and athletic training and fitness facilities.
The pole 2 preferably extends to a length (vertical height) appropriate to permit adequate tethering of a ball 8 at the desired ball batting or kicking height. Typically the pole 2 will be on the order of 6-9 ft (2-3 m) in length, depending on the space available for its use and the heights of the players who will be using the device 1. The pole 2 itself will be of sufficient diameter to withstand the repeated stresses of a batted or kicked ball 8 and its tether 10 rapidly and forcefully wrapping and unwrapping around the pole 2. Typically the pole 2 will be in the form of a hollow elongated cylinder, be made of metal, preferably steel or heavy gauge aluminum, and have a diameter of about 2-6 in (5-15 cm). If desired for storage and transport, the pole 2 made be configured in two or more shorter lengths 2A and 2b which can be joined to form a single pole 2 of full length (as indicated by the dashed line 12 in FIGS. 1 and 3. The separate sections 2A and 2B can be designed to telescope together or they may be joined with a butt joint secured in the manner of pipe joints, such as by a threaded sleeve. Any jointed or sectional pole 2 must, of course, have rigidity equivalent to that of an unitary single pole 2 when assembled.
The baseplate 4 to which one end of the pole 2 is joined will be a flat metal plate, generally square and commonly of about 6-12 in (15-30 cm) on a side and of about 0.5-1.0 in (12-25 mm) in thickness. The plate 4 alternatively may be circular or regular polygonal in shape and of similar dimensions. It is possible to have base plates 4 of oval, rectangular or other shapes with dimensions extended in one direction relative to the another dimension, but such shapes are not necessary to the operation of the device 1 and may have adverse effects on its portability or storage capability, and may also impede its stability when placed on an uneven ground surface 50, and therefore are not preferred. The end of the pole 2 and the baseplate 4 are most conveniently joined by welding, but could be removably attached such as by bolting. However, non-welded joints are more susceptible to loosening from the strong and rapidly shifting forces exerted on the pole and baseplate during use, and are therefore less favored.
The baseplate 4 has extending from it a plurality of extended legs 6 each of which is mounted to it by a first hinge 14. The hinges 14 are mounted on the top of the baseplate 4 so that the hinged legs 6 move in an arc from being aligned adjacent and parallel to the pole 2 (FIG. 3) to being aligned slightly below horizontal (i.e., at an angle of about 100° from the pole 2; FIG. 2). The movement past horizontal upon opening will be described further below. When open the legs 6 serve to stabilize the baseplate 4 and pole 2 and to align the pole 2 in a vertical position. Each leg 6 preferably terminates in an integral or attached ground-contacting foot 16 at its end distal to the pole 2. In the embodiment shown there are four legs 6. It is preferred that there be four or five legs to insure sufficient stability of the device. However, as few as three legs may be used and still have the requisite stability and greater than five legs may also be used, but greater numbers of legs do not materially further enhance the stability. Also, as a practical matter the number of legs will be constrained by the space available on the collar 18 for attachment of each leg's brace 20 as well as accommodation of one or more locking devices 22 on the collar 18. It has been found that in practice four or five legs 6 are the number than can be conveniently accommodated, which provide sufficient stability of the device 1 when open, and which can conveniently be transported and stored when the device 1 is closed.
Each of the legs 6 also has a brace 20 attached to it by a second hinge 24 located intermediate the length of the leg 6. Each brace 20 at its other end is mounted by a third hinge 26 to the collar 18 which loosely encircles the pole 2 at a point above the level of the baseplate 4. The inner diameter of the collar 18 should be slightly greater than the outer diameter of the pole 2 so that the collar 18 will traverse freely along the length of the pole 2, but not so great that the latch pins 28 mounted on the collar 18 (see below) will have unduly long distances to traverse to lock the collar 18 to the pole 2 when the device 1 is in its open configuration. As the legs 6 are folded upward toward the pole 2 by pivoting on the hinges 14 mounted on the baseplate, the rigid braces 20 rotate in the second and third hinges 24, 26 at their opposite ends and urge the collar 18 upward and the braces 20 and legs 6 move into parallel alignment with the pole 2, as the closed configuration illustrated in FIG. 3. In this closed position the device 1 is readily transported or stored. If the pole 2 is sectional it is desirable that section separation 12 be at least slightly above the ends of the folded legs 6 in the closed configuration, as indicated by line 12 in FIG. 3, to avoid having the ends of the legs 6 or the leg feet 16 become snagged on the top of the lower section 2A of the pole 2 and impede reopening of the device 1 after closing. Such location of the section separation 12 also allows the user to assemble a sectional pole 2 either before or after opening of the device 1, since the collar 18 need not be sized to clear a section joint 12. When it is it is desired to use the device 1, the legs 6 can be unfolded back to their horizontal position and as the braces 20 open downward and outward they simultaneously urge the collar 18 downward along the pole 2 toward the baseplate 4.
In order to secure the pole 2 in position there are a plurality of locking devices 22 mounted on the collar 18, which allow the collar 18 to be locked into position at a certain point 30 on the pole 2 so that the legs 6 are restrained from folding and the device 1 is retained in an upright position. Each locking device 22 consists of a bracket 32 attached to the outer side of the collar 18 and which has mounted on it a movable latch pin 28. A hole 36 is drilled in the collar 18 in alignment with the inward end of each latch pin 28 and a corresponding hole 38 to receive the latch pin 28 is drilled in the pole 2 at the vertical position where it is desired for the collar 18 to be positioned to lock the legs 6 as supports for the device 1. The outer end of each latch pin 28 is attached to a small handle 40 and within the bracket 32 is a spring 42 which biases the pin 28 through the two holes 36, 38 when the handle 40 is released, as indicated as 28′, thus locking the collar 18 into position with the collar hole 36 and pole hole 38 in alignment and the latch pin 28 extended through them. Since the braces 20 are rigid they cause the legs 6 to be locked into their support position and the pole 2 to be held in vertical alignment. When it is desired to fold up the device 1, the user grasps the handle 40 attached to a pin 28 and retracts the pin 28 so that it withdraws from at least the pole hole 38 and retracts into the collar hole 36. A land 43 is provided on the bracket 32 to hold the handle 40 in the outward retracted position, which in the embodiment exemplified in FIG. 5 is accomplished by having an oval or elliptical shape of the base of the handle 40 and of the retraction hole 44 in the bracket 32, so that the handle 40 can be withdrawn to the outer side of the bracket 32 and then turned to rest on the land 43 of the bracket 32, thus maintaining the pin 28 in its withdrawn position. The collar 18 thus being disconnected from the pole 2, it can now moved vertically upward along the pole 2, allowing the legs 6 to be folded upward as described above. To relock the pin 28, the handle is turned back, as indicated at 40′, allowing the spring 42 to again bias the pin 28 into the collar hole 38 as shown at 28′.
The pole 2 may also have a second hole or plurality of holes 46 aligned with one or more of the pins 28 when the device 1 is closed, so that the pins 28 can be engaged with the second hole or plurality of holes 46 to retain the device 1 in its closed configuration. This will prevent the device 1 from undesired opening during transport or storage.
In another embodiment the braces 20 may themselves be jointed at an intermediate position as indicated in phantom at 48 in FIG. 1. This can shorten the travel of the collar 18 as the device 1 is opened or closed. However, such is not preferred, since jointing or hinging of the braces 20 may serve to reduce their rigidity and can introduce a potential failure point into the structure. As the device is subjected to strong, abrupt and rapidly changing stresses in use, introduction of locations which could be subject to stress failure is not advisable.
While the baseplate 4 of the device 1 could be allowed to rest on the underlying surface 50 (e.g., the ground, a driveway, playground pavement, sports facility floor, or the like) with the legs 6 extending essentially horizontally from the baseplate 4, it is preferred in order to provide better stability to have the collar 18 lock into the pole 2 at a position which causes the legs 6 to project downward below the horizontal by a few degrees, as best illustrated in FIG. 2. This raises the baseplate 4 by a short distance above the ground surface 50 as indicated at 51. Conveniently when the device 1 is locked by the pins 28 projecting into the holes 36 in the pole, the baseplate 4 is elevated approximately 2-6 inches (5-15 cm) above the underlying surface. The contact of the device 1 with the ground surface is therefore only at the outward ends of the legs 6, conveniently through the feet 16 which are mounted at the ends of the legs 6. The device 1 thus is supported only at the outer ends of the legs 6, which results in the greatest degree of stability against the device 1 leaning or tipping, since the device 1 has no tendency to pivot on a contact point between the baseplate 4 and the ground surface 50.
In a preferred embodiment illustrated in FIG. 4, there is a set of wheels 34 attached to the underside of the baseplate 4 so that when the device 1 is folded for transport or storage, it can be rolled along the ground, floor, sidewalk or other surface 50 and does not need to be lifted or carried. Since the device 1 is made of strong metal, preferably steel, it has substantial weight and is much more easily moved by being rolled on its wheels than by a user trying to carry the device. When the device is unfolded and mounted for use, it is preferred that the legs 6 project sufficiently downward below horizontal so that the elevation of the baseplate 4 above the underlying surface 50 also allows for clearance of the wheels 34 above the surface 50, so that as discussed above the device 1 is supported entirely at the ends of the extended legs 6. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 4 there are a pair of wheels 34 on one side of the baseplate 4, which allows the device 1 to be tipped and rolled on that pair of wheels 34. Alternatively there could be additional wheels (shown in phantom at 34′) on the other side so that the device 1 when folded could rest entirely on the wheels 34. Depending on the material from which the wheels 34 are made, this could be advantageous for storage to avoid damage to a storage area floor from the metal baseplate 4 or in a storage location where it is inconvenient of difficult to tip the device 1 to move it; with additional wheels 34 the device 1 when folded could be rolled in an upright position without needing to be tipped. The manner of mounting the wheels 34, 34′ is not critical, and they may be mounted in any convenient manner. Typically they will be mounted by bolting or welding the axles to the baseplate 4, as in the embodiment shown in FIG. 4, or alternatively by having a two-wheel axle assembly with wheels on each end, which is bolted or welded to the baseplate 4, or by having the baseplate 4 itself be formed with downwardly protruding brackets (not shown) having apertures through which axles could be extended, with the wheels 34 then mounted on the external ends of the axles. The axles can be fixed in place with the wheels turning on them or the wheel-axle assembly can be unitary with the axles turning in the holes in the brackets. The wheels 34 in the embodiment shown are conveniently about 3-5 inches (7-10 cm) in diameter and are made of a sufficiently hard plastic or rubber material to allow the device 1 to be rolled easily across rough and uneven services 50 repeatedly without undue wear on the surface 50 or the wheels 34.
The device 1 may be used for many different sports, including baseball, softball, soccer, tennis or other racquet, bat or kicking sports. If a normal size device 1 is considered, whether the device 1 is to be used for a batting sport or a kicking sport will be reflected merely by where along the vertical pole 2 the ball 8 must be tethered. For batting or racket sports such as baseball or tennis the ball 8 will be tethered to be generally level with the upper part of the player's body, whereas in the kicking sports the ball 8 will be tethered lower on the pole 2 so that the player can readily kick the ball 8 as it is unwound from the pole 2. However, the size of the device 1 may also be adjusted for the sport for which its use is intended and also for the facility in which it will be used and for the players who will use it. The dimensions mentioned above are suitable for devices 1 to be used by adult players of up to high levels of proficiency, strength and agility. Smaller size devices 1 could be provided to use by children. Also, pole heights can be varied if use of a device 1 is to be devoted entirely to a single sport. For instance, devices 1 made solely for soccer kicking practice may be shorter than those made for baseball hitting practice, since a soccer ball is usually on or near the playing surface when it is kicked while a baseball is usually at waist or chest height when it batted, so the device sizes can reflect these differences.
Tethering the ball 8 to the pole 2 may be by suitable securing devices 54 such as clamps, adhesive or mounting straps, as shown in the prior art. A preferred securing device 54 comprises a pair of elongated straps to which the respective ends of a tether cord are bound. The straps have mounted on them strips of opposed hook-and-loop fasteners (e.g., those available under the trademark Velcro®) which will lock together when the straps are wrapped around the pole 2 and the strap ends overlap on each other. Different balls 8 and striking locations may be accommodated by moving the securing devices 54 to different locations on the pole 2 or by adjusting the location of the ball 8 on the tether cord 56, also as described in the prior art.
It will be evident that there are numerous embodiments of the present invention which, while not expressly set forth above, are clearly within the scope and spirit of the inventive concept. The description above is therefore to be considered exemplary only, and the scope of the invention is to be limited solely by the appended claims.