Title:
Strike Zone Apparatus
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An apparatus is provided for defining a strike zone of a batter positioned to bat a ball thrown in the general direction of the batter. The apparatus includes a support and a strike plate operatively connected to the support and configured to be positioned so as to be struck by the ball when the ball passes through the strike zone of the batter. The apparatus further includes an adjustment mechanism operatively connecting the support and the strike plate to permit adjustable orientation of the strike plate relative to the support.



Inventors:
Will, Chis M. (Loveland, OH, US)
Honerkamp, Anthony Joseph (Cincinnati, OH, US)
Application Number:
11/466943
Publication Date:
03/08/2007
Filing Date:
08/24/2006
Assignee:
WILL GEAR, LLC (Loveland, OH, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B69/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
ARYANPOUR, MITRA
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
DINSMORE & SHOHL LLP (CINCINNATI, OH, US)
Claims:
Having described the invention, what is claimed is:

1. An apparatus for defining a strike zone of a batter positioned to: bat a ball thrown in the general direction of the batter, comprising: a support; a strike plate operatively connected to the support and configured to be positioned so as to be struck by the ball when the ball passes through the strike zone of the batter; and an adjustment mechanism operatively connecting the support and the strike plate and operable to provide adjustable orientation of the strike plate relative to the support.

2. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the adjustment mechanism comprises a linkage assembly.

3. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the adjustment mechanism is operable to provide folding and unfolding of the strike plate relative to the support.

4. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the adjustment mechanism is operable to provide tilting of the strike plate relative to the support.

5. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the adjustment mechanism is operable to provide raising and lowering of the strike plate relative to the support.

6. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the strike plate is made of plastic.

7. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the strike plate is made of wood.

8. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein the strike plate is made of metal.

9. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein said linkage assembly comprises a first link pivotally coupled to said support and a second link coupled to said first link and said strike plate; and said strike plate can be raised and lowered relative to said support by pivoting said first link relative to said support to adjust an angular orientation of said first link relative to said support.

10. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein: said linkage assembly comprises a first link coupled to said support and a second link pivotally coupled to said first link and coupled to said strike plate; and said strike plate can be raised and lowered relative to said support by pivoting said second link relative to said first link to adjust an angular orientation of said second link relative to said first link.

11. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein: said linkage assembly comprises a first link pivotally coupled to said support and a second link pivotally coupled to said first link and coupled to said strike plate; and said strike plate can be raised and lowered relative to said support by pivoting said first link relative to said support to adjust an angular orientation of said first link relative to said support and by pivoting said second link relative to said first link to adjust an angular orientation of said second link relative to said first link.

12. The apparatus of claim 11, wherein: said linkage assembly further comprises a support member extending between and connected to said first and second links; and said support member is releasably connected to at least one said first and second links, said support member releasably latching said second link in said angular orientation of said second link relative to said first link.

13. The apparatus of claim 9, wherein: said adjustment mechanism further comprises an adjustable bracket secured to said support; said first link is pivotally coupled to said support with said adjustable bracket; and said adjustable bracket is operable for releasably locking said first link in said angular orientation of said first link relative to said support.

14. The apparatus of claim 4, wherein: said adjustment mechanism comprises an adjustable bracket secured to said strike plate and a linkage assembly coupled to said support and said adjustable bracket; and said adjustable bracket is operable to permit tilting of said strike plate relative to said support.

15. The apparatus of claim 1, wherein: said support defines a cavity having an open top; and said adjustment mechanism is operably foldable into said cavity.

16. The apparatus of claim 15, wherein: said strike plate is operably foldable onto said support when said adjustment mechanism is folded into said cavity; and further wherein said support and said strike plate at least partially enclose said adjustment mechanism.

17. The apparatus of claim 16, wherein: said strike plate is releasably latched to said support when said strike plate is folded onto said support and said support comprises a handle.

18. The apparatus of claim 15, wherein: said support comprises a base, a pair of spaced apart side members secured to and extending upwardly from said base, and at least one end member secured to and extending upwardly from said base; and said base, said side members and said at least one end member define said cavity therebetween.

19. The apparatus of claim 2, wherein: said adjustment mechanism further comprises a frame coupled to said strike plate; and said linkage assembly is coupled to said support and said frame and is operable for permitting said frame and said strike plate to be raised and lowered relative to said support.

20. The apparatus of claim 19, wherein: said linkage assembly comprises first and second spaced apart pairs of parallel links, each said link of each of said pairs of parallel links being pivotally coupled at one end thereof to said support and coupled at an opposite end thereof to said frame.

21. The apparatus of claim 20, wherein: said frame comprises first and second spaced apart side members; said adjustment mechanism further comprises first and second braces; said first brace is connected to said first side member and to one of said links of said first pair of parallel links, said second brace being connected to said second side member and to one of said links of said second pair of parallel links; and said braces are operable for releasably latching said frame in a fixed position above said support.

22. The apparatus of claim 19, wherein: said frame comprises a plurality of longitudinally spaced notches formed therein; said adjustment mechanism further comprises at least one support member coupled at one end thereof to said strike plate and having an opposite end releasably engaged with one of said notches when said apparatus is in a use position, wherein said strike plate is inclined at an angle relative to said support; said adjustment mechanism is operable for adjusting said angle by releasably engaging said at least one support member with another one of said notches.

23. The apparatus of claim 19, further comprising: a beverage holder supported by said frame; wherein said beverage holder comprises at least one recess formed therein that is configured to receive a beverage container.

24. The apparatus of claim 1, further comprising: a sound module secured to said strike plate; and at least one sensor secured to said strike plate and electrically coupled to said sound module; wherein said sound module is operable to play a recorded message, in response to input from said at least one sensor, when a pitched ball hits said strike plate.

25. An apparatus for defining a strike zone of a batter positioned to bat a ball thrown in the general direction of the batter, comprising: a support; and a strike plate dimensioned to define the strike zone; wherein said strike plate is movably mounted relative to said support for movement to and between a storage position generally parallel to said support and a strike-zone-defining position inclined to said support.

Description:

This application claims the filing benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/714,167, filed Sep. 2, 2005, the disclosure of which is expressly incorporated by reference herein in its entirety.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to an apparatus that can be used to provide an objective indication of pitched balls and strikes in a game such as wiffleball.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Wiffleball is a variation of the game of baseball and is played using a Wiffle® Ball and a relatively narrow plastic bat. A Wiffle® Ball is a hollow, plastic ball having a plurality of perforations formed in one hemisphere of the ball that allow the ball to curve easily. Accordingly, a pitcher can throw the ball with a wide variety of trajectories.

Wiffle® Balls cannot be hit or thrown very far. As a result, the game of wiffleball can be played indoors or outdoors, in relatively confined areas. Consequently, wiffleball can be enjoyed by children or adults in residential backyards, picnic areas, etc. The game has enjoyed increasing popularity since its origin in the 1950's and now is also played in various organized leagues. Wiffleball is typically played with 1-5 players per team.

Regardless of whether wiffleball is played informally in a backyard for instance, or in more formal organized leagues, calling balls and strikes can be difficult due to the many possible trajectories of the Wiffle® Ball. This can be further complicated when an impartial person is not available to serve as an umpire, during informal play for example.

In an attempt to solve this problem, various inanimate objects such as boards, chairs, etc. have been used as objective indicators of strikes and balls. For example, if a batter doesn't swing and the pitched ball hits the inanimate object, it is called a strike. If it does not, a ball is called. However, known devices that have been used in this regard have been incapable of adjusting the position of the strike zone to accommodate players of different size. Also, some have been cumbersome and difficult to transport and store. Further, objects of this type such as a board, can obstruct the vision of a catcher positioned behind the object, depending upon its size, configuration etc.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention overcomes the foregoing and other shortcomings and drawbacks of devices heretofore known that have been used to determine strikes during a ball game, such as a wiffleball game. While the invention will be described in connection with certain embodiments, it will be understood that the invention is not limited to these embodiments. On the contrary, the invention includes all alternatives, modifications and equivalents as may be included within the spirit and scope of the present invention.

In one embodiment of the present invention, an apparatus is provided for defining a strike zone of a batter positioned to bat a ball thrown in the general direction of the batter. The apparatus includes a support and a strike plate operatively connected to the support and configured to be positioned so as to be struck by the ball when the ball passes through the strike zone of the batter. The apparatus further includes an adjustment mechanism operatively connecting the support and the strike plate to permit adjustable orientation of the strike plate relative to the support.

In other embodiments, the apparatus can include one or more additional features. For example, the adjustment mechanism may be operable to permit folding and unfolding of the strike plate relative to the support, to permit tilting of the strike plate relative to the support and to permit raising and lowering of the strike plate relative to the support. The strike plate may be made of a variety of materials that may include plastic, wood and metal.

The adjustment mechanism may comprise a linkage assembly and, in one embodiment, the linkage assembly may comprise a first link pivotally coupled to the support and a second link pivotally coupled to the first link and coupled to the strike plate. In this embodiment, the strike plate can be raised and lowered relative to the support by pivoting the first link relative to the support to adjust an angular orientation of the first link relative to the support and by pivoting the second link relative to the first link to adjust an angular orientation of the second link relative to the first link.

The apparatus may include an adjustable bracket secured to the support and the first link may be pivotally coupled to the support with the adjustable bracket wherein the adjustable bracket is operable for releasably locking the first link in an angular orientation relative to the support. The apparatus may include an adjustable bracket secured to the strike plate, with the linkage assembly being coupled to the support and the adjustable bracket, wherein the adjustable bracket is operable to permit tilting of the strike plate relative to the support.

In another embodiment, the adjustment mechanism may comprise a frame coupled to the strike plate and the linkage assembly may be coupled to the support and the frame and may be operable for permitting the frame and the strike plate to be raised and lowered relative to the support. The linkage assembly may comprise first and second spaced apart pairs of parallel links, with each link of each pair being pivotally coupled at one end to the support and coupled at an opposite end to the frame. The frame may comprise a plurality of longitudinally spaced notches formed therein and the adjustment mechanism may further comprise at least one support member coupled at one end to the strike plate and having an opposite end releasably engaged with one of the notches when the apparatus is in a use position, wherein the strike plate is inclined at an angle relative to the support. The adjustment mechanism may be operable for changing the angle of inclination by releasably engaging the at least one support member with another one of the notches.

The support may define a cavity having an open top and the adjustment mechanism may be operably foldable into the cavity. The strike plate may be operably foldable onto the support when the adjustment mechanism is folded into the cavity, wherein the support and the strike plate at least partially enclose the adjustment mechanism wherein a portability of the apparatus is enhanced. The strike plate may be releasably latched to the support when the strike plate is folded onto the support and the support may comprise a handle, wherein the portability of the apparatus is enhanced further.

The apparatus may further comprise a sound module secured to the strike plate and at least one sensor secured to the strike plate and electrically coupled to the sound module, wherein the sound module may be operable for playing a recorded message in response to input from the at least one sensor when a pitched ball hits the strike plate. The apparatus may further comprise a beverage holder supported by the frame wherein the beverage holder comprises at least one recess formed therein that is configured to receive a beverage container.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and constitute a part of this specification, illustrate embodiments of the invention and, together with a general description of the invention given above, and a detailed description of the embodiments given below, serve to explain the principles of the present invention.

FIG. 1 is a front perspective view of a strike zone apparatus according to one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is a rear perspective view of the strike zone apparatus shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 2A is an enlarged view of the encircled area 2A of FIG. 2;

FIG. 3 is a side elevation view of the strike zone apparatus shown in FIGS. 1-2A, with the apparatus shown in a use position;

FIG. 4 is a side elevation view of the apparatus shown in FIGS. 1-3, with the apparatus shown in a folded or collapsed storage position;

FIG. 5 is a rear perspective view of a strike zone apparatus according to another embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 5A is an enlarged view of the encircled area 5A of FIG. 5;

FIG. 6A is a side elevation view of the apparatus shown in FIGS. 5 and 5A, with the apparatus shown in a use position;

FIG. 6B is a side elevation view similar to FIG. 6, but with the apparatus shown in a partly folded or collapsed position;

FIG. 6C is a side elevation view similar to FIG. 6a, but with the apparatus shown in a completely folded or collapsed position;

FIG. 7 is a top plan view, with the apparatus completely folded or collapsed, with the strike plate shown partially broken away for purposes of illustration;

FIG. 8 is a perspective view of the apparatus shown in FIGS. 5-7, with the apparatus completely folded or collapsed and with the strike plate and support defining a portable casing; and

FIG. 9 is a fragmentary perspective view similar to FIG. 5 schematically illustrating a sound module and associated sensors applied to the strike plate shown in FIGS. 5-8.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

FIGS. 1-4 illustrate a strike zone apparatus 10 according to one embodiment of the present invention. The strike zone apparatus 10 is useful for providing an objective indication of a strike or ball in games such as wiffleball where a ball is pitched to a batter. In use, the strike zone apparatus 10 is positioned behind a batter and includes a support 12 and a strike plate 14 operatively connected to the support 12 and configured to be positioned so as to be struck by the pitched or thrown ball when the ball passes through the strike zone of the batter. Apparatus 10 further includes an adjustment mechanism indicated generally at 16 that operatively connects the support 12 and the strike plate 14 to permit adjustable orientation of the strike plate 14 relative to the support 12.

Support 12 may have a wide variety of configurations. In the illustrated embodiment, support 12 includes a pair of spaced members 18 that may be generally parallel to one another, or may be inclined relative to one another, and that may be adapted to be secured to the playing surface, such as the ground, by various means such as stakes or pins (not shown), for example. Support 12 may further include a cross member 20 extending between and secured to the spaced apart members 18. However, in other embodiments, support 12 may have a wide variety of other configurations. Such configurations may include, but are not limited to, one or more flat plates, different configurations of members such as members 18 and 20, etc.

Plate 14 may be made of a variety of materials that include various plastic materials, wood, metal and composite materials. One or more reinforcement member, such as reinforcement members 22 can be secured to a rear surface 24 of strike plate 14 to reinforce the strike plate 14 for increased durability and sturdiness. The use of one or more reinforcement members, such as member 22, can depend upon the particular material used to construct strike plate 14 and the particular application. For example, in wiffleball the pitched ball would produce relatively low impact on the strike board 14 while in other games the pitched ball may impart greater impact to the strike board 14.

The adjustment mechanism 16 is operable to permit folding and unfolding of the strike plate 14 relative to support 12 and is operable to permit tilting of the strike plate 14 relative to support 12, as subsequently discussed. Additionally, the adjustment mechanism 16 is operable to permit raising and lowering the strike plate 14 relative to the support 12. In the embodiment shown in FIGS. 1-4, adjustment mechanism 16 includes a linkage assembly 30 and a pair of adjustable brackets 32, one being shown in an enlarged view in FIG. 2A. One of the adjustable brackets 32 is secured to support 12 and the other adjustable bracket 32 is secured to strike plate 14.

Linkage 30 includes a link 34 coupled to the support 12 and a link 36 coupled to link 34 and to the strike plate 14. Link 34 may be pivotally coupled to the support 12 and this may be accomplished using one of the adjustable brackets 32. Accordingly, the strike plate 14 may be raised and lowered relative to the support 12 by pivoting the link 34 using the adjustable bracket 32 as subsequently discussed further, to adjust an angular orientation illustrated as angle 38 in FIG. 3, of link 34 relative to support 12. In other embodiments, the angular orientation of link 34 relative to support 12 may be fixed so that angle 38 does not vary, with strike plate 14 being raised and lowered by pivoting link 36 as subsequently discussed.

Link 36 may be pivotally coupled to link 34 and this may be accomplished using a pin such as pin 40 shown in the illustrated embodiment, or by using other pivot members. Accordingly, the strike plate 14 may be raised and lowered relative to support 12 by pivoting the link 36 relative to the link 34 to adjust an angular orientation of link 36 relative to link 34, illustrated as angle 42 in FIG. 3. In other embodiments, link 36 may be fixed relative to link 34 such that angle 42 cannot be varied. In such an embodiment, link 34 may be pivotally coupled to the support 12 so that strike plate 14 may be raised and lowered by adjusting the angle 38 as discussed previously.

In the illustrated embodiment, strike plate 14 can be raised and lowered by adjusting the magnitude of one or both of angles 38 and 42, corresponding to the angular orientation of link 34 relative to support 12 and of link 36 relative to link 34, respectively.

In the illustrated embodiment, wherein link 36 is pivotally coupled to link 34, apparatus 10 includes a support member 43 releasably connected to links 34, 36 that maintains the desired angular orientation 42 of link 36 relative to link 34. Support member 43 may be releasably secured at one end to link 36 using loop pin 44 shown in the illustrated embodiment or with other conventional means. Similarly, the opposite end of support member 43 may be releasably secured to link 34 with a conventional fastener 45 that may include a bolt and nut or with another loop pin for example. Member 42 may be disconnected from one or both of the links 34, 36, by removing the pin 44 and/or bolt 45, to adjust the angular orientation 42 of link 36 relative to link 34 and may then be reconnected at a different location on one or both of the links 34, 36 to maintain the desired adjusted angular orientation 42. Support member 43 and link 34 may have a plurality of holes formed therein to accommodate the desired positioning of support member 43. Link 36 may also have a plurality of holes (not shown) formed therein to accommodate this positioning.

One of the brackets 32 is shown in an enlarged perspective view in FIG. 2A. Each bracket 32 may include a base 46 that may be secured to support 12 or strike plate 14 by conventional means such as a plurality of screws 48. Bracket 32 may further include a gear member 50 that is fixedly secured to base 46 and includes a plurality of circumferentially spaced notches 52. Bracket 32 may further include a support arm 54 releasably secured to gear member 50 by conventional means such as bolt 56 and a nut (not shown). Arm 54 may include a receptacle 60 adapted to receive one of the links 34, 36. Links 34, 36 may be coupled to the corresponding one of receptacles 60 by conventional means such as set screw 62. Support arm 54 may further include a tooth 64 that engages one of the notches 52 of gear member 50. Tooth 64 may be engaged in a different notch 52 of the corresponding gear member 50 as required to adjust the angular orientation 38 of link 34 relative to support 12, or to adjust the angular orientation or tilt of strike plate 14 relative to support 12, which is illustrated as angle 66 in FIG. 3.

FIGS. 1-3 illustrate apparatus 10 in a use position, suitable for playing a game such as wiffleball, wherein the strike plate 14 is inclined relative to support 12. This angular orientation, or angle of inclination of plate 14 relative to support 12 is illustrated by the angle 66. FIG. 4 illustrates the apparatus 10 in a storage position wherein strike plate 14 has been collapsed or folded relative to support 12 such that strike plate 14 is generally parallel to support 12. This may be accomplished by pivoting link 34 relative to support 12, disconnecting support member 43 from one or both of the links 34, 36, pivoting link 36 relative to link 34 and by pivoting strike plate 14 relative to link 36. In this position, apparatus 10 requires less space for storage and is easily portable.

FIGS. 5-9 illustrate a strike zone apparatus 100 according to another embodiment of the present invention. Similar to apparatus 10, the strike zone apparatus 100 is useful for providing an objective indication of a strike or ball in games such as wiffleball where a ball is pitched to a batter. In use, the strike zone apparatus 100 is positioned behind a batter and includes a support 102 and a strike plate 104 operatively connected to the support 102 and configured to be positioned so as to be struck by the pitched or thrown ball when the ball passes through the strike zone of the batter. Apparatus 100 further includes an adjustment mechanism indicated generally at 106 that operatively connects the support 102 and the strike plate 104 to permit adjustable orientation of the strike plate 104 relative to the support 102.

Support 102 defines a cavity 108 having an open top as shown in FIGS. 5 and 7. Support 102 may include a base 110, a pair of spaced apart side members 112 that are secured to and extend upwardly from the base 110 and an end member 114 secured to and extending upwardly from base 110. The base 110, side members 112 and end member 114 combine to define the cavity 108. The adjustment mechanism 106 is operably foldable into the cavity 108 in a storage position. Support 102 may further include a handle 116 that may be secured to, or integral with, a portion of the support 102 such as end member 114. Support 102 may be made of a plastic material, including molded plastic materials, or other suitable materials that may include composite materials, wood and metal.

Strike plate 104 may be made of a variety of materials that include various plastic materials, including molded plastic materials, or other suitable materials that may include composite materials, wood and metal. Strike plate 104 may have a variety of dimensions. In one embodiment, strike plate may have a width of about 23 inches and a height of about 27 inches, in accordance with the dimensions stipulated by at least one organization sanctioning organized wiffleball. Strike plate 14 may have similar dimensions. One or more reinforcement members (not shown) may be secured to a rear surface 118 of strike plate 104 for increased durability and sturdiness. The use of any reinforcement members may depend upon the particular material used to construct strike plate 104 and the particular application, i.e., the particular game in which apparatus 100 is to be used as discussed previously with respect to apparatus 10. Strike plate 104 may include an edge 120 that extends around a perimeter of strike plate 104 that mates with support 102, when strike plate 104 is folded onto support 102, to provide an aesthetically pleasing design when apparatus 100 is in the storage position shown in FIG. 8. Strike plate 104 may further include a slot 122, or other suitable aperture, formed therein that receives a tab 124 (FIG. 5) of support 102 when strike plate 104 is folded onto support 102, such that strike plate 104 is releasably latched to support 102. A pair of embossments 126, and another pair of embossments 128, may be secured to the rear surface 118 of strike plate 104 to receive portions of the adjustment mechanism 106 as subsequently discussed.

Similar to the adjustment mechanism 16 of apparatus 10, the adjustment mechanism 106 of apparatus 100 is operable to permit folding and unfolding of the strike plate 104 relative to support 102 and is operable to permit tilting of the strike plate 104 relative to support 102, as subsequently discussed. Additionally, the adjustment mechanism 106 is operable to permit raising and lowering the strike plate 104 relative to the support 102. Adjustment mechanism 106 may include a linkage assembly indicated generally at 130 that may include a first pair of parallel links, designated 132a and 132b, and a second spaced apart pair of parallel links designated 132c and 132d. The adjustment mechanism 106 may further include a frame 140 that is coupled to the strike plate 104. The linkage assembly 130 is coupled to support 102 and frame 140 and is operable for permitting frame 140 and strike plate 104 to be raised and lowered relative to support 102.

Frame 140 may include first 142a and second 142b side members that are spaced apart from one another. As best seen in FIG. 5, one end of the side members 142a, 142b of frame 140 is coupled to strike plate 104. In the illustrated embodiment, this is accomplished by passing a pin, or like member, through each of the side members 142a, 142b into one of the embossments 128 secured to strike plate 104. Side members 142a, 142b are mirror images of one another and each include a longitudinally extending channel 146 and a plurality of longitudinally spaced notches 148 formed therein, as best seen in the enlarged view of FIG. 5A in member 142b. Channels 146 and notches 148 may be used for a subsequently described purpose. In the illustrated embodiment, links 132a and 132b are coupled at an end 150 to one of the side members 112 of support 102 and are coupled at an opposite end 152 to side member 142a of frame 140. Similarly, each of the links 132c and 132d is coupled at end 150 to the other side member 112 of support 102 and is coupled at the opposite end 152 to the side member 142b of frame 140.

The adjustment mechanism 106 may further include a pair of braces 154 that are connected at one end to frame 140 and are releasably engaged with one of the links 132b, 132d. In the illustrated embodiment, one of the braces 154 is connected to the side member 142a of frame 140 and is releasably connected to link 132b. Similarly, the other brace 154 is connected to side member 142b of frame 140 at one end thereof and is releasably connected at an opposite end to link 132d. In the illustrated embodiment, each brace 154 is releasably engaged with one of a plurality of notches 156 formed in each of the links 132a, 132d (best seen in the enlarged view of FIG. 5A in link 132d). The braces 154 are operable for releasably latching frame 140 in a fixed position, such as that shown in FIG. 5 above support 102. The distance of frame 140 above support 102 can be adjusted by releasably engaging links 154 in a different one of the notches 156 formed in links 132b, 132d wherein the notches 156 in links 132b and 132d (not shown for link 132b) are aligned with one another.

The adjustment mechanism 106 may further include a pair of spaced apart support members 160, having opposite ends 162, 164. End 162 of each of the support members 160 is coupled to the strike plate 104. In the illustrated embodiment, this may be accomplished by passing a pin, or like member, through each of the support members 162 into one of the pair of embossments 126 that are secured to the strike plate 104. The opposite end 164 of each support member 160 is releasably engaged with one of the notches 148 in the corresponding one of side members 142a, 142b of frame 140 when apparatus 100 is in a use, or strike-zone-defining position.

In the illustrated embodiment, this may be accomplished by a pin 165, or like member, secured to end 164 of each member 160 and releasably engaged with one of the notches 148. The ends 164 may be disengaged from notches 148, and engaged with the corresponding channel 146, wherein the pins 165 are slidable within channels 146 to permit pivoting strike plate 104 onto frame 140 and positioning strike plate 104 on top of support 102 when mechanism 106 is disposed within cavity 108 in the storage position.

In a strike-zone-defining position, such as that shown in FIGS. 5 and 6A-6C, the strike plate 104 is inclined at an angle 170 relative to support 102. When strike plate 104 is disposed on support 102 in a storage position, strike plate 104 is generally parallel to support 102. Angle 170 may be adjusted by disengaging ends 164 of each of the support members 160 from one of the notches 148 formed in the corresponding side member 142a, 142b of frame 140 and engaging each end 164 in another one of the notches 148 in the corresponding side member 142a, 142b. The notches 148 formed in side member 142a (not shown) and the notches 148 formed in side member 142b are aligned with one another such that the ends 164 of each of the support members 160 are releasably engaged in aligned ones of the notches 148 in side members 142a, 142b when apparatus 100 is in use. The adjustment mechanism 106 may further include a cross member 172 extending between and secured to each of the support members 160 that may be used for purposes of structural rigidity and may facilitate a user disengaging and re-engaging ends 164 with the notches 148 formed in side members 142a, 142b as required to adjust angle 170 as desired.

Apparatus 100 may further include a beverage holder 180 supported by frame 140 that may include one or more recesses 182 formed therein that are configured to receive a beverage container. In the illustrated embodiment, the beverage holder 180 extends between the side members 142a, 142b of frame 140 and is secured to at least one of the members 142a, 142b. Beverage holder 180 may also include a plurality of apertures 184 formed therein, as best seen in the enlarged view shown in FIG. 5A, to receive stakes 185 (FIG. 7) or like members that may be used to retain apparatus in position relative to the playing surface during use. This may be done by passing the stakes 185 through apertures 186 (one shown) formed in base 110 of support 102 and into the ground, for example.

Apparatus 100 may include a plurality of spacers 190 positioned between various elements of the adjustment mechanism 106 to provide the required lateral spacing between the various elements of adjustment mechanism 106 to permit folding adjustment mechanism 106 into the cavity 108 defined by support 102. After adjustment mechanism 106 is disposed within cavity 108, the strike plate 104 may be pivoted onto support 102 and may be latched to support 102 by the engagement of tab 124 into slot 122.

If strike plate 104 has been previously pivoted onto frame 140, it will collapse onto support 102 when adjustment mechanism 106 is disposed within cavity 108. FIG. 6A illustrates apparatus 100 with strike plate 104 in a use, or strike-zone-defining position. FIG. 6B illustrates apparatus 100 in a partly folded or collapsed position in sold line wherein strike plate 104 has been pivoted onto frame 140, and FIG. 6B illustrates adjustment mechanism 106 in a partly folded position in phantom line. FIGS. 6C, 7 and 8 illustrate apparatus 100 in a storage position with strike plate 104 disposed on top of support 102. As best seen in FIG. 8, the support 102 and strike plate 104 combine to substantially enclose the adjustment mechanism 106 and define a casing having an aesthetically pleasing design, that requires reduced storage space and is easily portable using handle 116. Furthermore, the apparatus 100 can be hung on a hook or like member that engages handle 116 if desired.

Apparatus 100 may further include a sound module 192, shown in FIG. 9, secured to the rear surface 118 of strike plate 104 or other suitable location and one or more sensors 194 that may be secured to the rear surface 118. The sound module 192 may include the necessary electronics to store and play various pre-recorded messages in response to input from one of the sensors 194. For example, the sound module 192 may play the message “Strike!” when the pitched ball hits the strike plate 104. The sensors 194 may be accelerometers, or other conventional devices that generate an electric signal due to vibrations or deflection of strike plate 104 in response to a pitched ball hitting strike plate 104, typically on the front surface of strike plate 104 in a location that may be generally opposite a location on the rear surface where one of the sensors 194 is secured to strike plate 104, or proximate such a location on the front surface.

During a game such as wiffleball, the pitched ball is determined to be a strike whenever the pitched ball hits strike plate 104 anywhere, including one of the edges. To further enhance the enjoyment of playing the game, sound module 192 and sensors 194 may be optionally used to play various messages depending upon the location where the ball hits strike plate 104. For example, if the ball hits the front surface of plate 104 proximate one of the corners of plate 104, a signal may be generated by the sensor 194 closest to this location that causes the sound module 192 to play a message such as “It caught the outside corner”. Other pre-recorded messages are possible as well. It will be appreciated that apparatus 10 may also include sound module 192 and sensors 194 as well.

While the present invention has been illustrated by a description of various embodiments and while these embodiments have been described in considerable detail, it is not the intention of the Applicant to restrict or in any way limit the scope of the appended claims to such detail. Additional advantages and modifications will readily appear to those skilled in the art. The invention in its broader aspects is therefore not limited to the specific details, representative apparatus and method, and illustrative examples shown and described. Accordingly, departures may be made from such details without departing from the spirit or scope of Applicant's general inventive concept.