Title:
Baseball umpire training apparatus and method
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An apparatus for training a baseball umpire to visualize a strike zone over a home plate, the strike zone having high and low inside and outside corners. The apparatus comprises a frame, first and second inside baseballs, and first and second outside baseballs. The frame is adapted to extend about home plate. The inside baseballs are coupled to the frame and located such that they are adjacent to the inside corners of the strike zone, respectively. The outside baseballs are coupled to the frame and located such that they are adjacent to the outside corners of the strike zone, respectively. A method of training oneself to call balls and strikes includes the steps of positioning oneself behind the above-described training apparatus, assuming a desired plate stance, and examining the positions of the inside and outside baseballs relative to the home plate.



Inventors:
Trapani, Lawrence P. (Manlius, NY, US)
Application Number:
10/307575
Publication Date:
06/03/2004
Filing Date:
12/02/2002
Assignee:
TRAPANI LAWRENCE P.
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B69/00; A63B71/06; (IPC1-7): A63B71/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
ARYANPOUR, MITRA
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Lawrence P. Trapani (Manlius, NY, US)
Claims:

What I claim is:



1. An apparatus for training a baseball umpire to visualize a strike zone over a home plate, the strike zone having an inside side between high and low inside corners and an outside side between high and low outside corners, said apparatus comprising: a see-through frame, configured and dimensioned to extend substantially about the home plate and extend to the inside and the outside corners of the strike zone; first and second inside baseballs coupled to said frame and located such that the first and the second inside baseballs are adjacent to the high and the low inside corners of the strike zone, respectively, when said frame is operatively positioned about the home plate; and first and second outside baseballs coupled to said frame and located such that the first and the second outside baseballs are adjacent to the high and the low outside corners of the strike zone, respectively, when said frame is operatively positioned about the home plate.

2. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising a third outside baseball coupled to said frame and located such that said third outside baseball is adjacent to the outside. side of the strike zone, between said first and said second outside baseballs, when said frame is operatively positioned about the home plate.

3. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising a third inside baseball coupled to said frame and located such that said third inside baseball is adjacent to the inside side of the strike zone, between said first and said second inside baseballs, when said frame is operatively positioned about the home plate.

4. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein a plurality of inside baseballs are coupled to said frame and located such that said plurality of inside baseballs are adjacent to the high inside corner of the strike zone when said frame is operatively positioned about the home plate.

5. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein a plurality of inside baseballs are coupled to said frame and located such that said plurality of inside baseballs are adjacent to the low inside corner of the strike zone when said frame is operatively positioned about the home plate.

6. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein a plurality of outside baseballs are coupled to said frame and located such that said plurality of outside baseballs are adjacent to the high outside corner of the strike zone when said frame is operatively positioned about the home plate.

7. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein a plurality of outside baseballs are coupled to said frame and located such that said plurality of outside baseballs are adjacent to the low outside corner of the strike zone when said frame is operatively positioned about the home plate.

8. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising: means for adjusting the positions of said first inside baseball and said first outside baseball such that when said frame is operatively positioned about the home plate, said first inside baseball and said first outside baseball are adjustable up and down relative to the home plate.

9. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein said frame includes— first and second elongate inside support members, said first and said second inside baseballs being coupled to said first and said second inside support members, respectively; first and second elongate outside support members, said first and said second outside baseballs being coupled to said first and said second outside support members, respectively; and means for adjusting the positions of said first inside support member and said first outside support member such that when said frame is operatively positioned about the home plate, said first inside support member and said first outside support member are adjustable up and down relative to the home plate.

10. The apparatus of claim 9, wherein said frame further includes— means for adjusting the positions of said second inside support member and said second outside support member such that when said frame is operatively positioned about the home plate, said second inside support member and said second outside support member are adjustable up and down relative to the home plate.

11. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein said frame includes: first and second inside uprights and first and second outside uprights, said inside and said outside uprights being substantially vertically positioned; first and second inside ball support members and first and second outside ball support members, said first and said second inside baseballs being coupled to said first and said second inside ball support members, respectively, said first and said second outside baseballs being coupled to said first and said second outside ball support members, respectively, said first and said second inside ball support members being mounted to said first and said second inside uprights and being substantially horizontally positioned, said first and said second outside ball support members being mounted to said first and said second outside uprights and being substantially horizontally positioned.

12. The apparatus of claim 11, wherein said first and said second inside uprights and said first and said second outside uprights each comprise first and second upright members arranged in a telescoping manner, such that the first upright member can be extended and retracted relative to the second upright member, said first inside ball support being mounted to the first upright members of said inside uprights, and said first outside ball support being mounted to the first upright members of said outside uprights, whereby the positions of said first inside ball support and said first outside ball support are adjustable as the upright members of said uprights are extended and retracted.

13. The apparatus of claim 11, wherein said first and said second inside baseballs are slidably mounted to said first and said second inside ball support members, respectively, and wherein said first and said second outside baseballs are slidably mounted to said first and said second outside ball support members, respectively.

14. A baseball umpire training apparatus, comprising: a home plate having an inside edge and an outside edge; a see-through frame extending about said home plate; first and second inside baseballs coupled to said frame and located at high and low inside positions, respectively, the high and the low inside positions being substantially aligned with the inside edge of said home plate; and first and second outside baseballs coupled to said frame and located at high and low outside positions, respectively, the high and the low outside positions being substantially aligned with the outside edge of said home plate.

15. The apparatus of claim 14, wherein said home plate includes a strike zone associated therewith, the zone having an inside side and an outside side, and wherein said first and said second inside baseballs are located outside of and substantially tangent to the inside side of the zone, and wherein said first and said second outside baseballs are located outside of and substantially tangent to the outside side of the zone.

16. A baseball umpire training apparatus involving a strike zone having high and low inside corners and high and low outside corners, said apparatus comprising: a home plate having an inside edge and an outside edge, the high and the low inside corners of the strike zone being associated with the inside edge of said home plate, and the high and the low outside corners of the strike zone being associated with the outside edge of said home plate; first and second inside baseballs; first and second outside baseballs; and means for supporting said first and said second inside baseballs along the high and the low inside corners of the strike zone, respectively, and for supporting said first and said second outside baseballs along the high and the low outside corners of the strike zone, respectively.

17. A method of training oneself to call balls and strikes more accurately and consistently using the umpire training apparatus of claim 1, said method comprising the steps of: (a) positioning the frame of said umpire training apparatus on a surface and about a home plate; (b) positioning oneself behind the training apparatus such that one is positioned behind the home plate; (c) assuming a desired umpire plate stance, such that the inside baseballs, the outside baseballs, and the home plate are substantially visible with both eyes; and (d) examining the positions of at least the second inside baseball and the second outside baseball relative to the home plate.

18. The method of claim 17, further comprising the steps of: (e) withdrawing from the desired plate stance; (f) attempting to resume the desired plate stance; and (g) assessing whether one's position in the resumed plate stance is the same as one's position in the desired plate stance.

19. The method of claim 17, further comprising the step of: (e) examining the position of the second outside baseball relative to a reference mark.

20. The method of claim 17, further comprising the steps of: (e) making a reference mark on the surface; and (f) examining the position of the second outside baseball relative to the reference mark.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0001] 1. Technical Field

[0002] The present invention relates generally to baseball umpires, and more particularly to apparatus and methods for training baseball umpires.

[0003] 2. Background Art

[0004] The primary responsibility of an umpire in baseball is to call balls and strikes. If the umpire cannot perform this job accurately and consistently, he or she will not have a future in baseball umpiring. When calling balls and strikes, umpires are taught to position themselves behind the plate such that they have a clear view of the pitch. The umpire must track the ball with both eyes (i.e., use “binocular vision”) from the time the ball is released by the pitcher to the time it is caught (or not caught) by the catcher. The umpire should track the ball with his or her eyes only. The head should remain still.

[0005] The umpire must also be aware of the strike zone. In major league baseball, the strike zone is defined as “that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the knee cap.” The strike zone is determined from the batter's stance as the batter prepares to swing at a pitch. The umpire must visualize, for each batter, a three-dimensional strike zone—an imaginary box suspended over home plate. If the ball passes through the box it is a strike, and if it passes outside the box it is a ball.

[0006] In order to visualize the strike zone box, the umpire must first determine its corners. This can be tricky, because the umpire's eyes are usually positioned at one side of the box (i.e., “in the slot”) when viewing the pitch, thus creating a parallax of the other side of the box relative to the plate (“positional parallax”). A further parallax occurs if the umpire uses one eye (e.g., a dominant eye) to pinpoint the other side of the box relative to the plate (“monocular parallax”). The right eye is usually the dominant eye for right-handers and the left eye is usually the dominant eye for left-handers.

[0007] Understanding now that parallax is a factor, it becomes clear that an umpire cannot perceive an accurate and consistent strike zone without first establishing a consistent set position behind the plate. But, the inexperienced umpire is still learning how to establish a proper and consistent stance and position. Only after many hours of practice, game experience, and feedback from other umpires does the umpire begin to achieve some level of consistency in position. This is why a consistent strike zone is so elusive for the inexperienced umpire.

[0008] Gerry Davis, a professional umpire and umpire trainer, teaches that an important factor of plate positioning is consistent head-height. Mr. Davis further teaches that consistent head-height can be achieved by employing a “lock-in mechanism,” i.e., a specific and habitual placement of the arm(s) and/or hand(s) on the leg(s) when assuming a plate stance. These concepts are employed to ensure that the umpire sees the strike zone the same way on every pitch (i.e., no parallax shift from one pitch to the next).

[0009] Consistent positioning is a physically and mentally demanding task. Fatigue, distractions, and the catcher's movements can all cause the umpire to alter his or her position. This is why an accurate and consistent strike zone remains a challenge, even for the experienced or professional umpire.

[0010] It is no wonder that umpires are reluctant to adopt a new or alternate stance or position behind the plate. In so doing, they would essentially have to learn a new strike zone.

[0011] Even if an umpire is able to establish a consistent position behind the plate, it may take some time during a game for him or her to begin visualizing the strike zone. For example, it may take an inning or two for an experienced “weekend warrior” umpire to feel confident about his or her strike zone. This inability to quickly lock into a well-defined strike zone adversely affects the quality of the game and may lead the players, coaches and spectators to believe that you are inconsistent.

[0012] In striving for a high level of accuracy and consistency, umpires have even considered the design and position of their masks. The plate umpire views the pitch through a protective mask which comprises an arrangement of bars. A bar of the mask may block vision in one eye as the ball passes through the strike zone. This could cause an apparent shift in position of the ball due to monocular parallax. To avoid this problem, umpires have tried different masks and/or have adjusted the position of their mask on their face. Umpires may work many games before grasping this problem and taking corrective action.

[0013] Two umpire training aids have been devised for positioning or passing a baseball over the plate. One aid consists of a baseball mounted on a stick. The stick is used to manually position the ball over and around the plate. This aid requires a trainer or other person to position the ball while the umpire trainee is positioned behind the plate.

[0014] The other aid consists of a rope having one end attached to a trainer (a person) located at the pitcher's mound and the other end attached to an upright stand behind the plate. A baseball is suspended from the rope by means that allow the ball to travel down the rope from the trainer to the pole. The path of the ball can be adjusted relative to the plate by adjusting the position of the upright stand. This aid, too, requires the services of another person while the trainee is positioned behind the plate.

[0015] There are patents disclosing training apparatus for pitchers, which apparatus include a baseball strike zone. These patents are: U.S. Pat. No. 4,629,188 to Mahieu; U.S. Pat. No. 4,295,648 to Stromback; and U.S. Pat. No. 3,583,703 to Brown. The patents to Mahieu and Stromback disclose pitching targets having adjustable strike zones. The targets are constructed of tubular or bar-like members. The patent to Brown also discloses a strike zone target as part of a larger structure. The apparatus disclosed in these patents are not particularly suited for training umpires, because they do not position baseballs (or facsimiles thereof) about the strike zone.

[0016] U.S. Pat. No. 5,394,564 to Rodriguez discloses an umpire's “strike zone mask,” which displays an image of a strike zone by means of lenses, scored lines, and an adjustable bar. Rodriguez illustrates the problem that umpires face in trying to visualize a strike zone. (See col. 1, lines 29-45, of Rodriguez.)

OBJECTS AND SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0017] It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide a training apparatus which aids a baseball umpire in overcoming the above-mentioned challenges and problems.

[0018] It is another object of the present invention to provide an umpire training apparatus that does not require the assistance of a trainer or other individual (i.e., a self-training aid).

[0019] It is a further object of the present invention to provide a training apparatus that helps the umpire visualize the strike zone for a particular stance and position behind the plate.

[0020] It is still another object of the present invention to provide a training apparatus that helps the umpire establish a consistent position (including head-height) behind the plate.

[0021] It is still a further object of the present invention to provide a training apparatus that gives the umpire immediate visual feedback concerning his or her position behind the plate and view of the strike zone.

[0022] It is yet another object of the present invention to provide a training apparatus that enables the umpire to develop good binocular vision of the ball as it enters the strike zone.

[0023] It is yet a further object of the invention to provide a training apparatus that enables the umpire to learn and use more than one plate stance or position from one game to the next.

[0024] It is still yet another object of the invention to provide a training apparatus that is especially useful to the “weekend warrior” umpire, for tuning up his or her plate stance or position and for refreshing his or her memory of the strike zone before a game.

[0025] It is still yet a further object of the present invention to provide a training apparatus that is useful to an experienced or professional umpire for periodically reviewing his or her position, stance, and strike zone.

[0026] It is still yet another object of the present invention to provide an umpire training apparatus that is adjustable or reconfigurable for adult and youth batters.

[0027] It is still yet another object of the present invention to provide an umpire training apparatus that is portable and easily assembled and disassembled.

[0028] These and other objects are attained in accordance with the present invention, wherein there is provided an apparatus for training a baseball umpire to visualize a strike zone over a home plate. The strike zone has high and low inside corners and high and low outside corners. The apparatus comprises a see-through frame, first and second inside baseballs, and first and second outside baseballs. The frame is configured and dimensioned to extend substantially about home plate and extend to the inside and outside corners of the strike zone. The inside baseballs are coupled to the frame and located such that they are adjacent to the high and low inside corners of the strike zone, when the frame is positioned about home plate. The outside baseballs are coupled to the frame and located such that they are adjacent to the high and low outside corners of the strike zone, when the frame is positioned about home plate.

[0029] In one particular embodiment, a means is provided for adjusting the positions of the first inside baseball and the first outside baseball such that when the frame is positioned about home plate, the first inside baseball and the first outside baseball are adjustable up and down relative to home plate. In another embodiment, the first and second inside baseballs and the first and second outside baseballs are adjustable up and down relative to the plate. In a further embodiment, a home plate is included with the training apparatus.

[0030] A method of training oneself to call balls and strikes is also contemplated by the present invention. The method includes the use of the training apparatus of the present invention, as described above. The method comprises the steps of: (a) positioning the frame of the training apparatus on a surface and about a home plate; (b) positioning oneself behind the training apparatus such that one is positioned behind home plate; (c) assuming a desired umpire plate stance, such that the inside baseballs, the outside baseballs, and home plate are visible with both eyes; and (d) examining the position of at least the second outside baseball relative to home plate.

[0031] The method may further comprise the steps of: (e) withdrawing from the desire plate stance; (f) attempting to resume the desired stance; (g) reexamining the position of at least the second outside baseball relative to home plate; and (h) assessing whether the position of the second outside baseball in the resumed stance is the same as it was in the desired stance.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING

[0032] Further objects of the present invention will become apparent from the following description of the preferred embodiments, with reference to the accompanying drawing, in which:

[0033] FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a baseball umpire training apparatus constructed in accordance with the present invention;

[0034] FIG. 2 is a side elevation view of the apparatus of FIG. 1;

[0035] FIG. 3 is a rear elevation view of the apparatus of FIG. 1, where the view is aligned along the left side of the apparatus;

[0036] FIG. 4 is a rear elevation view of the apparatus of FIG. 1, where the view is centered behind the apparatus;

[0037] FIG. 5 is a perspective view of a second embodiment of the present invention;

[0038] FIG. 6 is a perspective view of a third embodiment of the present invention;

[0039] FIG. 7 is a perspective view of a fourth embodiment of the present invention;

[0040] FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a fifth embodiment of the present invention;

[0041] FIG. 9 is a perspective view of a sixth embodiment of the present invention;

[0042] FIG. 10 is a perspective view of a seventh embodiment of the present invention; and

[0043] FIG. 11 is a perspective view of an eighth embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

[0044] With reference to FIGS. 1 and 2, there is shown a baseball umpire training apparatus (or trainer) 10 constructed in accordance with the present invention. Trainer 10 is used for training a baseball umpire to visualize a strike zone 12 over a home plate 14. Home plate 14 has left and right edges 14′ and 14″. Strike zone 12 is a pre-defined imaginary box, having a left side 16 between high and low left corners 18, 20 and a right side 22 between high and low right corners 24, 26.

[0045] Trainer 10 comprises a “see-through” frame 28 configured and dimensioned to extend substantially about home plate 14 and extend to the four corners (18, 20, 24 and 26) of strike zone 12. Frame 28 supports four sets of baseballs 30a-30b, 32a-32b, 34a-34b, and 36a-36b. Frame 28 locates baseballs 30a-30b, 32a-32b, 34a-34b, and 36a-36b adjacent to the four corners (18, 20, 24, 26) of strike zone 12, respectively, when frame 28 is operatively positioned about home plate 14.

[0046] The term “see-through,” as applied to frame 28, means that the frame does not substantially obstruct the vision of one looking through the frame. The skeletal framework of frame 28 is one example of a see-through frame. Other examples are shown in FIGS. 7-11, and will be described below.

[0047] With further reference to FIGS. 1 and 2, frame 28 includes a rectangular framework of elongate members 38a-38s, connected together by variously configured connectors 40a-401. Elongate members 38a-38s may be, for example, rods, dowels or tubes. Members 38a-38d are connected together by corner connectors 40a-40d to produce a base 39 for frame 28. Members 38a and 38c are about 24 inches long, and 38b and 38d are about 19.9 inches long.

[0048] Upright members 38e-38h are connected to corner connectors 40a-40d at one end and to tri-axial connectors 40e-40h at the other end, respectively. In this embodiment, the length of members 38e-38h establishes the bottom of strike zone 12. Members 38e-38h locate baseballs 32a-32b and 36a-36b just below strike zone 12. The length of members 38e-38h may, for example, be in the range of about 15-22 inches to accommodate strike zones from child to adult batters.

[0049] Members 38i-381 are connected to tri-axial connectors 40e-40h, as shown in FIG. 1. Members 38i and 38k serve as horizontal support members for baseballs 32a-32b and 36a-36b, respectively. Members 38i and 38k are about 24 inches long. The length of members 38j and 381 is set to about 19.9 inches to locate baseballs 32a-32b and 36a-36b just outside of strike zone 12 (assuming a 17-inch wide home plate and 2.9 inch diameter baseballs coaxially mounted on members 38i, 38k). In this embodiment, baseballs 32a-32b are tangent to a projection 16′ of side 16 (below strike zone 12) and baseballs and 36a-36b are tangent to a projection 22′ of side 22 (below strike zone 12).

[0050] Upright members 38m-38p are connected to tri-axial connectors 40e-40h, respectively, at one end and to connectors 40i-401, respectively, at the other end (FIG. 1). In this embodiment, the length of members 38m-38p establishes the top of strike zone 12. Members 38m-38p locate baseballs 30a-30b and 34a-34b just above strike zone 12. The length of members 38m-38p may, for example, be in the range of about 22-35 inches to accommodate strike zones from child to adult batters.

[0051] Members 38q-38s are connected to connectors 40i-401, as shown in FIG. 1. Members 38q and 38s serve as horizontal support members for baseballs 30a-30b and 34a-34b, respectively. Members 38q and 38s are about 24 inches long. The length of member 38r is set to about 19.9 inches to locate baseballs 30a-30b and 34a-34b just outside of strike zone 12 (assuming a 17-inch wide home plate and 2.9 inch diameter baseballs coaxially mounted on members 38q, 38s). In this embodiment, baseballs 30a-30b are tangent to a projection 16″ of side 16 (above strike zone 12), and baseballs and 34a-34b are tangent to a projection 22″ of side 22 (above strike zone 12).

[0052] The locations of the baseballs, as described above, represent but one arrangement. The invention is not so limited. The balls should, however, be adjacent to corners 18, 20, 24 and 26 (when frame 28 is operatively positioned about home plate 14). For example, the balls may be tangent to the corners, or tangent to sides 16 and 22 and near the corners. Also, depending on the strike zone defined for trainer 10, the locations of the baseballs may be specified relative to their alignment with left edge 14′ and right edge 14″ of home plate 14. For example, in FIGS. 1 and 2, baseballs 30a-30b and 32a-32b are aligned with left edge 14′, and baseballs 34a-34b and 36a-36b are aligned with right edge 14″.

[0053] The height of baseballs 30a-30b and 34a-34b can be adjusted by replacing upright members 38m-38p with longer or shorter upright members, as desired. Similarly, the height of baseballs 32a-32b and 36a-36b can be adjusted by replacing upright members 38e-38h with longer or shorter upright members, as desired.

[0054] In the embodiment of FIGS. 1 and 2, baseballs 30a-30b, 32a-32b, 34a-34b, and 36a-36b are hollow white plastic spheres (about 2.9 inches in diameter), each containing twenty-six (26) holes. At least two of the holes in each ball are diametrically opposed, which allows the ball to be both coaxially and slidably mounted on a support member. In FIGS. 1 and 2, baseballs 30a-30b are coaxially and slidably mounted on support member 38q, baseballs 32a-32b are coaxially and slidably mounted on support member 38i, baseballs 34a-34b are coaxially and slidably mounted on support member 38s, and baseballs 36a-36b are coaxially and slidably mounted on support member 38k. Baseballs 30a-30b, 32a-32b, 34a-34b, and 36a-36b are manually slidable along their respective strike zone corners, 18, 20, 24, and 26. Thus, the baseballs can be positioned and repositioned at any desired location along the corners of strike zone 12.

[0055] Frame 28 may have a square “foot print” or horizontal cross-section (i.e., base 39 may be square rather than rectangular). A square cross-section may be more optimum for a low cost, production version of trainer 10, in that uniform lengths for members 38a-38d, 38i-381, and 38q-38s can be used. However, the range over which the baseballs can be positioned on their respective support members is reduced (i.e., from 24 inches to 20 inches). A 20-inch ball support member would still allow positioning of an official size baseball from the front edge to the back edge of plate 14 (a 17 inch range).

[0056] The term “baseball” as used herein means any reasonable representation or facsimile of a baseball including, but not limited to, an actual baseball, a softball, a hollow plastic replica of a baseball, an inflatable baseball, papier-mache ball, a hollow or solid rubber baseball, a sponge rubber baseball, a styrofoam or urethane foam baseball, etc.

[0057] Home plate 14 can be an actual baseball home plate or a facsimile thereof. In the embodiment shown in FIGS. 1-4, home plate 14 is imprinted on a floor 50, using white ink or paint. Floor 50 is preferably made of a rectangular piece of flexible sheet material, such as nylon or canvas, and is preferably removably attached to base 39 (e.g., by way of snap fasteners). In the preferred embodiment, home plate 14 has a shape and size prescribed by the official baseball rule books.

[0058] The strike zone as defined herein is not limited to the definition given in the Major League Baseball rule book. It may be any defined strike zone, such as defined in the NCAA, Federation, or Little League Baseball rule books, or, it could be an arbitrarily defined strike zone.

[0059] Frame 28 may also be configured as a plurality of independent uprights or posts, each of which supports a baseball at a corner of the strike zone, or supports a baseball at a high corner and a baseball at a low corner of the strike zone. For example, frame 28 may consist of two self-standing posts, each supporting two spaced-apart baseballs. In operation, the posts would be positioned on each side of home plate 14, and the baseballs would be spaced apart such that they are located at the high and low corners of the strike zone.

[0060] Referring now to FIGS. 3 and 4, rear elevation views of trainer 10 are shown. In FIG. 3, the view is aligned along the left rear side of trainer 10, and, in FIG. 4, the view is centered behind trainer 10. FIG. 3 illustrates the concept of positional parallax, and FIG. 4 illustrates the concept of monocular parallax.

[0061] FIG. 3 shows the typical view of an umpire when positioned in the slot, between a right-handed batter and the catcher. Baseballs 30a-30b and 32a-32b are aligned with left edge 14′ of home plate 14. Baseballs 34a-34b and 36a-36b appear shifted out and away from right edge 1411, when, in fact, they are actually aligned with right edge 14″. This apparent shift is the umpire's positional parallax from the slot position (for a right-handed batter). Umpires need to understand this parallax to accurately determine the outside corner of the strike zone (as viewed from the slot). Trainer 10 allows oneself to train one's eye to compensate for positional parallax and locate the true outside corner.

[0062] FIG. 4 shows a view of an umpire when he or she is centered directly behind trainer 10. Note that baseballs 30a-30b and 32a-32b appear shifted out and away from plate edge 14′, and baseballs 34a-34b and 36a-36b appear shifted out and away from edge 14″. This is due to the positional parallax at this centered position. Also note that balls 30a-30b and 32a-32b appear further shifted out than balls 34a-34b and 36a-36b. This is due to the monocular parallax of a right-eye dominant umpire. The right-eye dominant umpire is focusing more with his or her right eye, which is further way from balls 30a-30b and 32a-32b than balls 34a-34b and 36a-36b (assuming the umpire's nose is centered behind trainer 10). For a left-eye dominant umpire, balls 34a-34b and 36a-36b would be shifted out more than balls 30a-30b and 32a-32b.

[0063] Monocular parallax is important to understand because it adds and subtracts from positional parallax when setting up in the slot on each side of the plate. For example, a right-eye dominant umpire will see less of a shift at the outside corner for a right-handed batter than he or she will see at the outside corner for a left-handed batter. The umpire needs to be aware of and train for these parallax shifts, to accurately locate both outside corners. In one recorded example, a left-eye dominant umpire saw baseballs 36a-36b shifted out about 10.25 inches from edge 14″ when positioned in the left slot (right-handed batter) and saw baseballs 32a-32b shifted out about 8.5 inches from edge 14′ when positioned in the right slot (left-handed batter).

[0064] A method of training oneself to locate the outside corners, and call balls and strikes more accurately and consistently, will now be described with reference to FIG. 3. First, frame 28 of trainer 10 is placed on a surface 52 about home plate 14. In the embodiment of FIG. 3, home plate 14 is printed on sheet 50, and sheet 50 is attached to the bottom of frame 28. (Sheet 50 can be removed and frame 28 placed around an actual home plate on an actual baseball diamond.) Second, one positions oneself behind trainer 10. Third, one assumes a desired umpire plate stance (e.g., a box stance in the left slot), and views baseballs 30a-30b, 32a-32b, 34a-34b, and 36a-36b and home plate 14 (e.g., as shown in FIG. 3). Fourth, one examines the positions of the baseballs relative to home plate 14, especially the positions of baseballs 32a-32b and 36a-36b. (During this step, one begins to understand the parallax shift and train oneself to locate the true outside corner.) Fifth, one withdraws from the desired plate stance. Sixth, one attempts to resume that stance. Seventh, one then assesses whether one's position in the resumed stance (especially head-height) is the same as it was in the original stance.

[0065] The method of present invention can be performed and repeated more easily and with more precision if a reference or calibration mark 54 (See FIG. 3) is made on surface 52. Mark 54 can help the umpire determine (without the aid of another person) whether his or her position/stance (especially head-height) is consistent. After the umpire practices assuming a desired stance and position behind trainer 10, he or she is able to locate mark 54 tangential to baseballs 36a-36b (as viewed from the desired position). Mark 54 can then be used to gauge whether one has assumed the same desired position on every attempt. Mark 54 will be tangent to baseballs 36a-36b if the correct position is achieved. A similar mark can be made, and used similarly, relative to baseballs 32a-32b (as viewed from a position on the right side of plate 14). The reference marks can be made by any suitable marking means. For example, the mark can be made with chalk on a hard surface (e.g., a basement floor) or with a stick in the soil (e.g., on a baseball field).

[0066] Once the umpire achieves consistent positioning behind trainer 10, and begins to locate the low outside corners relative to baseballs 36a-36b and 32a-32b, the umpire can then mentally project those corners upward to baseballs 34a-34b and 30a-30b, and train him or herself to locate the high outside corners.

[0067] Referring to FIG. 5, trainer 10 has been modified to include two additional horizontal support members 38t and 38u, which support additional baseballs 31a-31b and 35a-35b, respectively. Support member 38t is connected to upright members 38m and 38p by T-connectors 40m and 40n, respectively. Support member 38u is connected to upright members 38n and 38o by T-connectors 40o and 40p, respectively. In a further modification, additional baseballs may be located on members 38j and 38r (not shown).

[0068] Referring now to FIG. 6, a trainer 110 is shown, which is identical to trainer 10 of FIG. 1, except modified to include posts 138v-138y. Corner connectors 40a-40d of trainer 10 have been replaced with tri-axial connectors 140a-140d. Posts 138v-138y are connected to connectors 140a-140d. This particular embodiment is most suited for use outside on a baseball field. In FIG. 6, trainer 110 has been placed about an actual home plate 114. Posts 138v-138y make it easier to level trainer 110 on ground that is not level.

[0069] Referring now to FIG. 7, there is shown an adjustable embodiment of the present invention. An adjustable trainer 210 includes a see-through frame 228 having four telescoping uprights 228a-228d. Frame 228 is configured and dimensioned to extend substantially about a home plate 214 and extend to the four corners of a strike zone (not shown). Frame 228 supports four sets of baseballs 230a-230b, 232a-232b, 234a-234b, and 236a-236b, and locates the baseballs adjacent to the four corners of the strike zone, respectively, as with the embodiment of FIG. 1.

[0070] Telescoping uprights 228a-228d include base upright members 238e-238h, respectively, and extending upright members 238m-238p, respectively. Base upright members 238e-238h are coupled to a square tubular base 239, via male T-connectors 240a-240d. Base upright members 238e-238h are tubes which mate with male T-connectors 240a-240d. Upright members 238m-238p are, for example, tubes, rods or dowels which fit closely inside upright members 238e-238h, respectively. Upright members 238m-238p telescope in and out of upright members 238e-238h, like a telescoping radio antenna.

[0071] As shown in FIG. 7, baseball pairs 230a-230b, 232a-232b, 234a-234b, and 236a-236b are supported on frame 228 by horizontal support members 238q, 238i, 238s, and 238k, respectively. Support members 238q, 238i, 238s, and 238k may, for example, be thin dowels or rods. Support member 238i is coupled to upright members 238e and 238h by way of locking sleeves 240e and 240h. Sleeves 240e and 240h closely fit around upright members 238e and 238h, respectively, and are locked in place by manual set screws 241e and 241h, respectively. Similarly, support member 238k is coupled to upright members 238f and 238g by way of locking sleeves 240f and 240g. Sleeves 240f and 240g closely fit around upright members 238f and 238g, respectively, and are locked in place by manual set screws 241f and 241g, respectively.

[0072] Support member 238q is connected to upright members 238m and 238p by fitting the opposing ends of member 238q into opposing holes in members 238m and 238p. Similarly, support member 238s is connected to upright members 238n and 2380 by fitting the opposing ends of member 238s into opposing holes in members 238m and 238p. Upright members 238m, 238n, 2380 and 238p can be locked in place with manual set screws 241m, 241n, 241o and 241p, respectively, which thread into members 238e, 238f, 238g, and 238h, respectively.

[0073] An auxiliary horizontal support member 238t, with additional baseballs 231a and 231b, may be employed on either or both sides of frame 228. A series of holes 243 are contained in upright members 238e and 238m and in upright members 238h and 238p (not shown). Holes 243 in upright members 238e and 238m are opposing and in alignment with the holes in upright members 238h and 238p, respectively, to receive and support the ends of auxiliary member 238t at various heights. A similar arrangement of holes is provided in upright members 238f, 238n and 238g, 238o.

[0074] As shown in FIG. 7, uprights 228a and 228b are spaced apart from each other, center-to-center, by about 19.9 inches. Similarly, uprights 228c and 228d are spaced apart from each other, center-to-center, by about 19.9 inches. This spacing positions the baseballs tangential to the edges of home plate 214. Base upright members 238e-238h are each approximately 30 inches in length, and extending upright members 238m-238p are each approximately 28-30 inches in length. These lengths will allow one to adjust the height of baseballs 230a-230b and 234a-234b<-over a useful range for the top of the strike zone. That is, baseballs 230a-230b and 234a-234b can be positioned at the top of a strike zone for a small child (e.g., 32 inches) and for a tall adult (e.g., 56 inches), and at every point in between.

[0075] The 30-inch length for base upright members 238e-238h allows baseballs 232a-232b and 236a-236b to be adjusted in height over a useful range for the bottom of the strike zone. That is, baseballs 232a-232b and 236a-236b can be positioned at the bottom of a strike zone for a small child (e.g., 16 inches) and for a tall adult (e.g., 24 inches), and at every point in between.

[0076] The embodiment of FIG. 7 does not require a locking mechanism for horizontal support members 238i and 238k, if sleeves 240e, 240h and 240f, 240g fit tightly enough around their respective upright members. In such an embodiment, the sleeves could be manually adjusted in height with the aid of a finger lug projecting out from each of the sleeves. In another embodiment, sleeves 240e, 240h and 240f, 240g could be configured to snap onto their respective upright members.

[0077] Upright members 238m-238p do not need to be locked in place by set screws 241m-241p, if upright members 238m-238p fit tightly enough within upright members 238e-238h, respectively. In another embodiment, spring-loaded detents could be employed to release and lock upright members 238e-238h.

[0078] Base 239 may also include four small (e.g., ¾ to 1 inch long) posts (not shown) at each corner, on the bottom, so trainer 210 can be place about an actual home plate on a baseball field. The posts would help avoid any rocking of trainer 210 if the ground is uneven.

[0079] A collapsible embodiment of the present invention is also contemplated. The collapsible chair mechanism shown and described in U.S. Pat. No. 3,136,272 to Arthur Sprigman (1964) may be employed, for example, to modify trainer 210 of FIG. 7. The mechanism is shown in FIGS. 9 and 15, and described at column 3, line 47-column 4, line 42, of the Sprigman patent. The modification of trainer 210 is described as follows: posts 61 of Sprigman (FIG. 9) are replaced with telescoping uprights 228a-228d of trainer 210; arm rests 64, back rest 65 and seat 66 of Sprigman are removed; cross members 57, 58 of Sprigman are allowed to be collapse down to the bottom of uprights 228a-228d to form a supporting base for the uprights; and horizontal support members 238i, 238k, 238q, and 238s, carrying baseballs 230a-230b, 232a-232b, 234a-234b and 236a-236b, respectively, are snapped or clamped onto uprights 228a-228d. The collapsible trainer of the present invention would fold up as shown in FIG. 15 of Sprigman, after support members 238i, 238k, 238q, and 238s are removed. The collapsible trainer and its removable support members (and baseballs) could be easily stored in an elongate (e.g., cylindrical), fabric carrying case containing a shoulder strap or handle. U.S. Pat. No. 3,136,272 is incorporated herein by reference.

[0080] Referring now to FIGS. 8-11, other embodiments of the present invention are shown. FIGS. 8-11 illustrate different examples of how a see-through frame can be implemented. In FIG. 8, a trainer 310 includes a see-through frame 328 which, in turn, includes a base 339 and eight upright posts 338. Mounted at the top of posts 338 are baseballs 330. The shorter posts support their respective baseballs adjacent to the bottom corners of a strike zone, and the taller posts support their respective baseballs adjacent to the top corners of the strike zone. Base 339 is dimensioned such that the baseballs are tangent to the side edges of a home plate 314, as projected upward. Posts 338 may be removable to allow easier storage of trainer 310.

[0081] In FIG. 9, a trainer 410 includes a see-through frame 428 which, in turn, includes a base 439 and four upright posts 438. Three horizontal support members 437a-437c are connected to posts 438. Baseballs 430 are suspended from support members 437a and 437c by rods 432. Each rod 432 includes a sleeve 433 slidably engaging one of support members 437a or 437c. The longer rods support their respective baseballs adjacent to the bottom corners of a strike zone, and the shorter rods support their respective baseballs adjacent to the top corners of the strike zone. Base 439 is dimensioned such that the baseballs are tangent to the side edges of a home plate 414, as projected upward. Baseballs 430 can be positioned and repositioned along respective support members 437a and 437c by means of sleeves 433.

[0082] In FIG. 10, a trainer 510 includes a see-through frame 528. Frame 528 includes two transparent side panels 538a and 538b and one transparent base panel 539. A right-angle corner connector 537a connects panels 538a and 539 together, and a right-angle corner connector 537b connects panels 538b and 539 together. Side panels 538a and 538b each contain four holes, each dimensioned to closely receive and support a baseball 530. Each baseball 530 may be further supported by use of a short bendable dowel 531, passing through the ball and engaging the side panel. Transparent panels 538a, 538b and 539 may be made of, e.g., plexiglass or lucite. Corner connectors 537a and 537b are preferably made of aluminum. Baseballs 530 are positioned about a home plate 514 as previously describe with respect to earlier embodiments.

[0083] As shown in FIG. 11, a trainer 610 includes a see-through inflatable frame 628. Frame 628 is made of a durable transparent plastic which is inflated through an air valve 629. Frame 628 includes four transparent, sonic-welded, plastic pockets 638, each of which contains and supports two baseballs 630. Frame 628 is dimensioned, and pockets 638 are spaced, such that baseballs 630 are positioned about a home plate 614 as previously described with respect to earlier embodiments.

[0084] While the preferred embodiment of the invention has been particularly described in the specification and illustrated in the drawing, it should be understood that the invention is not so limited. Many modifications, equivalents, and adaptations of the invention will become apparent to those skilled in the art without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention.