Title:
Athletic Game Marking Device
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An athletic game marking device for use in baseball, softball, and other activities to greatly reduce injuries from sliding into and stepping onto the marking device and to improve the visibility of the marking device. One or more layers of resilient materials are attached to a base member. Side projections are attached along the peripheral sides of the base member and extend vertically upward. The side projections are made of a material selected to allow the side projection to deform or bend when a force is applied, such as when stepped on by a base runner, then return to essential the original upright position. The side projections may be colored or imprinted with a design to increase visibility.



Inventors:
Mescher, David G. (Raleigh, NC, US)
Application Number:
11/562636
Publication Date:
05/31/2007
Filing Date:
11/22/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B71/00
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
ARYANPOUR, MITRA
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
The Law Office of David P. Hendricks, PLLC (Raleigh, NC, US)
Claims:
I claim:

1. An athletic game marking device for preventing injury when stepping on or sliding into the marking device, comprising: a. a base member further comprising: i. a generally planar top surface; ii. a generally planar bottom surface; and iii. one or more peripheral side surfaces; b. one or more resilient side projections attached to at least one of the peripheral side surfaces such that the side projections are oriented generally normal to the top surface; c. a resilient material layer fixed to the top surface; and d. an anchoring device for securing the marking device to the ground.

2. The marking device of claim 1 wherein the side projections are comprised of a material capable of deforming when subjected to downward and lateral forces and returning essentially to a position normal to the top surface when the forces are released.

3. The marking device of claim 2 wherein the side projection material is selected from the group consisting of natural rubber; synthetic rubber; foam rubber; plastic; natural sponge; synthetic sponge; elastomers, packets filled with solid, liquid, or gaseous substances; and fabric, and combinations and mixtures thereof.

4. The marking device of claim 3 wherein the side projections further comprise a covering material to enclose the resilient side projection material.

5. The marking device of claim 4 wherein the covering material is a color selected to enhance visual aspects.

6. The marking device of claim 4 wherein the covering material is selected such that it is imprintable with writings and markings.

7. The marking device of claim 1 wherein the number of peripheral side surfaces has a value in the range between 1 and 10, inclusive.

8. The marking device of claim 1 wherein a portion of the anchoring device extends below ground level.

9. The marking device of claim 1 wherein the anchoring device is a material fixed to the bottom surface to arrest lateral movement of the marking device.

10. The marking device of claim 1 wherein the base member is formed of a material selected from the group consisting of metal, plastic, fiberglass, reinforced and unreinforced composites, rubber, and wood, and combinations and mixtures thereof.

11. The marking device of claim 1 wherein the resilient material fixed to the top surface is selected from the group consisting of natural rubber, synthetic rubber, vinyl, and cloth, and combinations and mixtures thereof.

12. The marking device of claim 1 wherein the length of the base member is approximately twice that of the width of the base member.

13. An athletic marking device for preventing injury when stepping on or sliding into the marking device comprising a base member of rectangular shape having a top surface, a bottom surface, and peripheral side surfaces; at least one side projection attached to at least one peripheral side surface such that the side projection is oriented essentially normal to the top surface, the side projections being comprised of a material capable of deforming when subjected to downward and lateral forces and returning essentially to a position normal to the top surface when the forces are released; and an anchoring device for securing the marking device to the ground.

14. The marking device of claim 13 wherein the side projections further comprise a covering material to enclose the side projection, the covering material selected such that it is imprintable with writings and markings.

15. The marking device of claim 14 wherein the color of the covering material is selected to enhance visual aspects.

16. The marking device of claim 13 wherein the length of the base member is approximately twice that of the width of the base member.

17. An athletic marking device for preventing injury when stepping on or sliding into the marking device comprising a base member of rectangular shape having a top surface, a bottom surface, and peripheral side surfaces; at least one side projection attached to at least one peripheral side surface such that the side projection is oriented essentially normal to the top surface, the side projections being comprised of a material capable of deforming when subjected to downward and lateral forces and returning essentially to a position normal to the top surface when the forces are released; and a material fixed to the bottom surface to arrest lateral movement of the marking device.

18. The marking device of claim 17 wherein the side projections further comprise a covering material to enclose the side projection, the covering material selected such that it is imprintable with writings and markings.

19. The marking device of claim 18 wherein the color of the covering material is selected to enhance visual aspects.

20. The marking device of claim 17 wherein the length of the base member is approximately twice that of the width of the base.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

The present application claims the benefit of Provisional Application No. 60/740,745 filed Nov. 30, 2005, entitled “Athletic Game Marking Device.”

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates generally to marking devices used in athletic games, and more particularly to bases used in baseball and softball games that are intended to reduce injury to the players and increase visibility during play of the games.

BACKGROUND

In the United States, playing baseball and softball results in about 500,000 injuries per year requiring medical attention, more than any other sport. The most common baseball and softball injuries are related to the bases, whether caused by stepping on the base while running or sliding into the base. An estimated $2 billion in medical costs is spent annually just for injuries associated with sliding into bases.

A regulation baseball base is square, measuring 14 to 15 inches on a side and 2 to 3 inches thick. The bases are typically canvas or rubber coated, or alternatively may be molded rubber. Each base is anchored to the ground so that it does not move during the course of play. Given the size and thickness of the bases, it is not surprising that ankle and knee injuries occur from sliding into a fixed object or stepping on the edge of the base when running full speed. The two most common methods used today to reduce the occurrence of base-related injuries are the breakaway base and the energy absorbing base.

There are many designs of breakaway bases, but they all generally operate in the same fashion. When a player slides into the base and applies sufficient force to the base, the anchoring mechanism gives way and the base is dislodged. As the base is dislodged, the impact energy is dissipated and the number and extent of injuries are reduced. A common problem with the breakaway base is that it can cause an interruption of play. For example, suppose there is a runner on first base and the batter makes a hit into the outfield. The ball is retrieved by the outfielder who then throws the ball to the second baseman trying to get the runner from first base out. The runner attempts to slide into second base and dislodges the base. At the same time, the second baseman fails to catch the thrown ball from the outfielder. The runner at second base attempts to run to third base and the batter now attempts to run to second base. However, second base has already been dislodged and the batter has no base in proper position to run to. The umpire must then stop play and make a ruling on the proper outcome of the play. This disruption of play has the potential of affecting the outcome of the game. Additionally, breakaway bases do nothing to prevent injuries from stepping on the raised edge of the base.

Energy absorbing bases do not break away from their anchoring mechanism. Rather, they rely on the base being able to partially “give” or compress when a force is applied to the side of the base. These bases are typically of a one-piece molded design with a series of ribs and hollow spaces internal to the base. These ribs can deflect when a force is applied to the side of the base and absorb a portion of the energy when a player slides into the base. While this design is effective in reducing the number of base-related injuries, the player is still presented with a fixed obstruction. As with the breakaway base, the energy absorbing base is not designed to reduce injury from stepping on the raised edge of the base. Additionally, most energy absorbing base designs use a rounded edge that can get covered by dirt during play. This buildup of dirt results in reducing visibility making it more difficult for the runner to see the base.

Although the breakaway base and the energy absorbing base are effective in reducing some injuries resulting from sliding into the base, the basic underlying problem of a thick obstruction in the sliding and running path will still result in such injuries. These designs also do little to reduce injuries from stepping on the base, and injury to fingers, hands, and wrists when sliding head first into the base. A need exists, therefore, for a base that will eliminate nearly all injuries from sliding into the base. A need also exists for a base that will eliminate nearly all injuries from stepping on the base. Additionally, a need exists to combine these injury-reducing features with a marking device designed to increase visibility, be compatible with existing base mounting systems, and be affordable.

SUMMARY

The present invention is directed to an apparatus that fulfils the need for an athletic game marking device that eliminates nearly all injuries from sliding into and stepping on the marking device. One aspect of the invention comprises a base member that is generally planar, or flat, on the top and bottom. Attached to the top surface of the base member is a resilient material such as, for example, rubber or vinyl. Attached to the bottom surface of the base member is a device for anchoring the marking device to the ground. The base member also consists of a number of peripheral side surfaces. Attached to one or more of the side surfaces are one or more resilient side projections. The side projections are oriented generally normal to the top surface of the base member; that is, the side projections extend vertically upward when the marking device is placed on the ground. The side projections can be releasably attached to the side surfaces to facilitate replacement and repair, or may be permanently attached.

One embodiment of the present invention comprises side projections constructed of a material that will deform or bend when subjected to downward and lateral forces, such as when stepped on by a player, then return to essentially its original position. For example, such a material would be natural rubber; synthetic rubber; foam rubber; plastic; natural sponge; synthetic sponge; elastomers; packets filled with a solid, liquid, or gaseous substance; or fabric, or a combination or mixture of these materials, although other materials may also be used.

A number of embodiments of the side projections are possible for the present invention. One embodiment comprises one rectangular side projection attached to each side of the marking device. The side projection can be equal in length to the side, or be of a shorter length. Another embodiment comprises more than one side projection attached to the sides of the base member. While the exact number of side projections is not critical to the present invention, the number will vary based on the specific embodiment chosen for the side projections. For example, if a nipple-like projection is chosen, then the number of side projections per side will be high, perhaps numbering as many as 50 or more. In yet another embodiment, the side projections are shaped like flags and extend upward from the marking device. In other embodiments, the side projections have a rectangular shape, and there may be five or more side projections per side of the base member.

Other embodiments of the present invention may comprise a covering material, such as cloth or fabric, enclosing one or more of the side projections. In still other embodiments, the covering material further comprises imprinting on the covering material, such as a product or team logo. In yet other embodiments, either the side projection or the covering material is of a color that enhances visibility.

Other embodiments of the present invention comprise a base member with as few as one side and as many as about ten sides. Other embodiments may comprise more than ten sides. Another embodiment of the present invention comprises a rectangular shape wherein the length is approximately twice that of the width. When this embodiment is used as first base when playing baseball, softball, or a similar game, the marking device can be positioned to straddle the first base foul line so that both the runner and the fielder have a portion to tag or step on, thus further reducing injuries from collisions.

There are a number of anchoring devices known in the art that may be used with different embodiments of the present invention. Examples of such anchoring devices include, but are not limited to, a stake that can be pressed into the ground, a tube mounted to the bottom surface of the base member that will join with another tube mounted in the ground, and a strap connected to the bottom of the base member that attaches to a stake mounted in the ground. In another embodiment of the present invention, the bottom surface of the base member is covered with a material that arrests lateral movement of the marking device. This embodiment is suited for use indoors where an anchor cannot be placed in the ground, but may also be used outdoors.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

These and other features, aspects, and advantages of the present invention will become better understood with regard to the following description, appended claims, and accompanying drawings where:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of the athletic game marking device showing the side projections.

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of the marking device showing how the side projections deform when stepped on by the runner.

FIG. 3 is a side view of the marking device mounted in the ground and showing another embodiment for the side projections.

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of the marking device showing an embodiment where the length is about twice the width for use in the first base position on a baseball or softball field.

FIG. 5 is a perspective view of the marking device showing an embodiment for use on surfaces where a penetration into the ground cannot be made, such as indoors.

FIG. 6 is a perspective view of the marking device showing an embodiment where flags mounted on flexible posts are used as the side projections.

FIG. 7 is a perspective view of the marking device showing an embodiment with a plurality of side projections.

FIG. 8 is a perspective view of the marking device showing an embodiment with cone-shaped side projections.

FIG. 9 is a perspective view of a side projection showing how the projection can be enclosed in a removable covering.

FIG. 10 is a perspective view of the marking device showing an hexagonal-shaped embodiment.

DESCRIPTION

It is understood that the embodiments described herein are intended to serve as illustrated examples of certain embodiments of the present invention. Other arrangements, variations, and modifications of the described embodiments of the invention may be made by those skilled in the art. No unnecessary limitations are to be understood from this disclosure, and any such arrangements, variations, and modifications may be made without departing from the spirit of the invention and scope of the appended claims. Stated ranges include the end points of the range and all points within the end points.

Referring in detail to the drawings, wherein like numerals represent like elements in multiple drawings, in FIG. 1 there is indicated generally an athletic game marking device 1 intended to reduce injury to players. The marking device 1 is comprised of a rigid base member 5 that has generally planar, or flat, top and bottom surfaces. Typical materials of construction for the base member 5 include, but are not limited to, metal, plastic, fiberglass, reinforced and unreinforced composites, rubber, and wood, and combinations and mixtures of these materials. The material selected for the base member 5 is particular to the intended application and is not critical to the present invention. For example, one embodiment of the present invention may focus on low cost, and the selection of plastic may be appropriate. In another embodiment, the intended use may be for professional sports applications where a metal base member 5 may be more desirable. Thus, many different materials may be suitable for use as the base member 5, all of which are within the intended scope of the present invention. Additionally, it may be desirable to combine layers of material (not shown) to form the base member 5, such as a metal layer and a wood layer. Regardless of the number of layers chosen for the construction of the marking device 1, the total thickness of all layers is about ¼ inch to about 2 inches. Attached to the top surface is a resilient material layer 4. The resilient material layer 4 provides a tough, tear- and wear-resistant upper surface 3 for when a player with spiked shoes steps on the marking device 1. Similar to the base member 5, any appropriate material may be selected for the resilient material layer 4, and material selection is particular to the intended application and is not critical to the present invention. Typical materials of construction for the resilient material layer include, but are not limited to, natural rubber, synthetic rubber, vinyl, cloth, and combinations of these materials. As shown in FIG. 1, the resilient material layer 4 is about the same dimensions of length and width as the base member 5 so that the edges of the two layers are generally flush when they are attached. In another embodiment of the present invention (not shown), the resilient material layer 4 is slightly larger in length and width than the base member 5. This allows the resilient material layer 4 to wrap around the edges of the base member 5 so that the resilient material layer 4 can be attached to bottom surface of the base member 5 rather than the top surface. Attached to the bottom surface of the base member 5 is a mounting device 6. The mounting device 6 may take any of numerous forms depending on the anchoring method selected for the particular embodiment. In one embodiment, the mounting device 6 is selected to be compatible with standard mounting equipment known in the art consisting of a square post 1¾ inches on a side that fits into a square receiving tube that is mounted in the ground. In another embodiment, the mounting device 6 is a stake that can be pressed into the ground. The specific mounting device 6 chosen for a particular application is not critical to the present invention.

The base member 5 is also comprised of a plurality of peripheral side surfaces numbering from about 1 to about 10. Attached to one or more side surfaces are one or more resilient side projections 2. The side projections 2 are attached so that they are generally normal to the upper surface 3; that is, the side projections 2 extend vertically upward when the marking device 1 is placed on the ground. The side projections 2 provide a visual reference for the players without subjecting the players to a raised surface that can cause injury. The side projections 2 are made of a material that is capable of deforming or bending when subjected to downward and lateral forces, such as when stepped on, and then returning essentially to a position normal to the upper surface 3 of the marking device 1. Examples of these materials include, but are not limited to, natural rubber, synthetic rubber, foam rubber, plastic, natural sponge, synthetic sponge, elastomers, and fabric, and combinations and mixtures of these materials. Additionally, the side projections 2 can be made of a packet filled with a solid, liquid, or gaseous substance, such as gell packs, water packs, and air packs. The exact material chosen for the side projections 2 is not critical to the present invention; rather, the characteristic property is the material's ability to deform or bend when subjected to a force, then return to essentially its original position.

Because the side projections 2 provide a visual reference for the players, other embodiments of the present invention enhance the visual aspect of the side projections 2. In one embodiment, the side projections 2 are made of a material having one or more highly visible colors, such as bright yellow, bright orange, or lime green, to name just a few examples. Alternatively, the side projections 2 may be colored in a high contrast pattern, such as a black and white checkerboard pattern. Other embodiments may employ other high visibility colors and patterns. Combinations of colors other than black and white may also be used. The shape of the side projections 2 will vary among the many embodiments of the present invention. As shown in FIG. 1, the side projections 2 are rectangular, but other shapes are within the scope of the present invention.

FIG. 2 shows how the side projections 2 function in practice. The player's foot, indicted generally at 16, steps on the marking device 1 and depresses one or more side projections 2. Because the marking device 1 has a very small side profile, the player is not subjected to a surface that will cause tripping or result in injury.

FIG. 3 is a side cutaway view of the marking device mounted to the ground 8. The mounting device 6 extends below ground level 8 into a receiving tube 7. The base member 5 is situated on top of the ground level 8, and the side projections 2 extend vertically upward from ground level 8. Alternatively, the base member 5 may be situated just below ground level 8 (not shown).

FIG. 4 shows a double-width embodiment of the present invention for use as first base in a baseball or softball application. In this embodiment, the first base foul line is aligned with the middle of the marking device as indicated by broken line 9. Thus, half of the marking device will be in its normal position on the playing field and the other half will extend into the first base basepath in foul territory. The portion of the marking device that extends into foul territory allows the base runner to run along the first base basepath and step on the portion of the marking device in foul territory, while the first baseman can tag the portion of the marking device in the normal first base position. The double width embodiment allows greater separation between the runner trying to tag first base at the same time the first baseman is trying to tag first base, resulting in reduced injuries from collisions.

FIG. 5 shows another embodiment of the present invention without the mounting device 6 shown in FIG. 1 for use when securing the marking device 1 to the ground is impractical, such as on a temporary field or indoors. In this embodiment, the bottom surface of the base member 5 is covered with a material 17 that arrests lateral movement of the marking device. For indoor applications, the material 17 may be a soft elastomeric material that will not slide easily on a hard surface, such as the floor of a gymnasium. For outdoor applications, the material 17 may be an elastomeric or other material with a roughened surface to prevent sliding on dirt or grass. Other materials 17 may be used in other embodiments.

FIG. 6 shows another embodiment of the present invention where flags 10 are used as the side projections. As shown, flags 10 are located at each corner of the marking device 1, but no limitation to the present invention is intended by this configuration. Any number of flags 10 that is practical can be used. The shaft of the flag 10 is constructed of a material similar to that described for the side projections 2 in FIG. 1. The flags 10 will deform or bend when subjected to a force, then return to essentially their original position. FIG. 6 illustrates that the side projections can take many forms and are not limited to the embodiments shown in the previous drawings.

FIG. 7 shows that the number of side projections 2 on each side of the marking device 1 is not critical to the present invention. Here, four side projections 2 are shown. A greater or lesser number of side projections 2 may also be used, as is appropriate for the particular application. FIG. 7 also shows that the side projections 2 can be used on less than the full number of sides of the base member 5.

FIG. 8 shows another embodiment of the present invention where conical-shaped side projections 11 are used. Similar to the flags 10 in FIG. 6, the side projections may take numerous forms, all of which are within the intended scope of the present invention.

For the present invention, it is desirable to place removable coverings over the side projections. The coverings can be used to vary the color of the side projections, for example to change from the colors of one team to another, or to change from one high visibility color to another. The coverings can also be used to display a logo or other markings. FIG. 9 demonstrates how a covering 12 can be slipped over the side projection 13. In this embodiment, the covering 12 displays a logo 14. Typically, the covering 12 is made of a coated or uncoated cloth or fabric material suitable for printing. Other materials, such as vinyl, may also be used for the covering 12. While the use of a logo is shown in this embodiment as being imprinted on a covering 12 over the side projection 13, the logo may alternatively be imprinted or molded directly on the side projection 13. A logo may also be placed on any embodiment of the side projections, such as on the flags 10 shown in FIG. 6.

Although the previous Figures display the marking device in a rectangular form, other embodiments may have other than four sides. One such embodiment is shown in FIG. 10, which shows a hexagonal embodiment. Possible shapes of the marking device include, but are not limited to, circular, semicircular, triangular, rectangular, quadrilateral, parallelogram, trapezoidal, rhombic, pentagonal, hexagonal, heptagonal, octagonal, and the like. The shape of the marking device may be regular or irregular.