Title:
PRACTICE BASEBALL SWING MACHINE
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A practice swing machine and practice method for baseball batters are provided. The practice swing machine provides simultaneous hitting and power development for a batter by employing an arced “training zone” formed from a pair of opposing armatures that define an arced swing target that can be adjusted to mimic the precise trajectory of the hitter's individual swing. In optional embodiments the swing machine may be collapsible to provide easy transportation of the device.



Inventors:
Hernandez, Gus (South Gate, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/765882
Publication Date:
10/09/2008
Filing Date:
06/20/2007
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B69/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
CHAMBERS, MICHAEL S
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP (Glendale, CA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A practice swing machine comprising: a support frame; a pair of horizontally oriented curved armatures attached to said support frame and disposed in a parallel alignment relative to each other such that a curved gap is defined therebetween; and at least one resilient member disposed on an inner surface of at least one of said armatures within said curved gap such that the curved gap is at least partially occluded by said resilient member, wherein the curved gap and at least one resilient member form a swing target defining an arc corresponding to the arc of a batter's ideal swing.

2. The practice swing machine of claim 1, wherein at least one of the support frame and pair of armatures are adjustable such that the swing target may be moved relative to the batter in at least one dimension.

3. The practice swing machine of claim 2, wherein at least one adjustment to either the support frame or the pair of armatures may be made, said at least one adjustment being selected from the group consisting of the height of the swing target from the ground, the distance of the swing target from the support frame to the hitter, the angle of the swing target relative to a horizontal plane parallel to the ground, the angle of the swing target relative to a vertical axis normal to the ground, and the width of the swing target.

4. The practice swing machine of claim 1, wherein the pair of armatures are interconnected to the support frame through a pair of independent support arms.

5. The practice swing machine of claim 4, wherein the armatures are each slidingly connected to one of the support arms, such that the height of the armatures relative to the ground may be independently adjusted.

6. The practice swing machine of claim 5, wherein the armatures may be locked into position to prevent said sliding movement.

7. The practice swing machine of claim 4, wherein the support arms are slidingly connected to the support frame, such that the horizontal position of the armatures relative to each other may be independently adjusted.

8. The practice swing machine of claim 7, wherein the support arms may be locked into position to prevent said sliding movement.

9. The practice swing machine of claim 4, wherein the armatures are each pivotally connected to one the support arms, such that the angle of the armatures relative to each other may be independently adjusted.

10. The practice swing machine of claim 9, wherein the armatures may be locked into position to prevent said pivotal movement.

11. The practice swing machine of claim 1, wherein each of the armatures comprises a deformable body such that the curvature of each of the armatures may be adjusted.

12. The practice swing machine of claim 1, wherein the position of the at least one resilient member may be changed to increase or decrease the occlusion of the gap such that the force required to swing a bat through the swing target can be adjusted.

13. The practice swing machine of claim 1, further comprising at least two different interchangeable resilient elements having variable material properties such that the force required to swing a bat through the swing target can be adjusted by interchanging said at least two different resilient elements.

14. The practice swing machine of claim 1, wherein the number of the resilient members positioned within the gap may be varied such that the force required to swing a bat through the swing target can be adjusted.

15. The practice swing machine of claim 1, wherein the machine comprises at least two resilient elements oppositionally disposed on the facing surfaces of the pair of armatures.

16. The practice swing machine of claim 1, wherein the at least one resilient member takes a form selected from the group consisting of spheres, pyramids, flaps, squares and rods.

17. The practice swing machine of claim 1, wherein the at lest one resilient member is made from a material selected from the group consisting of rubber, plastics and fabrics.

18. The practice swing machine of claim 1, further comprising a pair of strike plates positioned on at least the end of each of the armatures nearest the entrance to the gap therebetween, and being angled such that a bat hitting said strike plates would be directed into the swing target.

19. The practice swing machine of claim 18, wherein the strike plates are covered with one of either a padded or resilient material.

20. The practice swing machine of claim 1, wherein the support frame is collapsible.

21. The practice swing machine of claim 1, wherein the support frame is mounted on at least one wheel.

22. The practice swing machine of claim 1, wherein the machine is formed of a material selected from the group consisting of metal, wood, plastic, and composite materials.

23. A method of providing batting practice comprising: defining a curved volume in space, the curvature of said volume being designed to match the arc defined by a batter's ideal swing; confining the batter's swing within said curved volume; and at least partially filing said volume with a resistant material such that a desired level of force is required to swing a bat through said volume.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/910,279 filed Apr. 5, 2007, the disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The current invention is directed to a practice swing machine for baseball hitters; and more particularly to a practice swing machine that provides simultaneous hitting and power development for a batter.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

There are two principal features of a good baseball hitter, the ability to make consistent contact with a ball thrown in the strike zone, and the ability to hit with power. First attempts to help players improve these hitting skills focused on training regimes, such as live batting practice in conjunction with weight training and physical exercise. More recently, a substantial amount of research has gone into developing practice machines that can be used in conjunction with these more traditional techniques to further improve a hitter's skills.

Conventional hitting machines come in many forms, but most of these machines only provide swing control training, i.e., that can teach a hitter how to make good contact with the ball, but not how to improve the power of their swing. Examples of these machines range from the simple ball holder disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 2,772,882, to single point pivoting devices such as those disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 3,550,938 and 5,601,286. The disclosures of each of these devices are incorporated herein by reference. A few machines do attempt to combine contact training with power training, such as those disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,451,036; 4,655,452; and 5,226,645, the disclosures of each of which are incorporated herein by reference; however, to date these machines have not been able to successfully mimic the complex motion of a baseball swing.

Specifically, a baseball swing inherently describes an arc centered about the hitter. However, the power swing machines described in the above patents require the hitter to have an almost perfectly level swing, and the “power zone” described in each describes a simple straight line such that the bat head in going through its arc interacts with this “power zone” for only a brief span and unevenly at best. As such, most of these conventional swing machines effectively “train” only a small portion of the hitters overall swing within the hitting zone.

Accordingly, a need exists for an improved practice swing machine that provides consistent power and contact swing training, and that can be tailored to a player's specific hitting zone.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The current invention is directed to a practice swing machine that models the full arc of a batter's swing trajectory by providing a pair of opposing swing arms that define an arced swing target through which the hitter is directed to swing.

In one embodiment, the swing arms are supported by a frame that provides at least one degree of freedom in defining the geometry of the arced swing target in relation to its surroundings. In such an embodiment, any of the following characteristics of the swing target may be adjusted including, the height from the ground, the distance from the frame to the hitter, the angle of the swing trajectory arc relative to a horizontal plane, the width of the swing trajectory arc, and the angle of the swing trajectory arc relative to a vertical axis normal to the ground.

In another embodiment, a plurality of resistance elements may be disposed on the inner surfaces of the opposing swing arms within the swing target gap to provide a level of resistance to the hitter. In such an embodiment, the level of resistance can be adjusted. In one such embodiment, the level of resistance may be adjusted by altering the position of the resistance elements relative to each other. In another such embodiment, interchangeable resistance elements made of different materials may be provided to allow for a variable resistance.

In yet another embodiment, the outer portion of the swing arms at the entrance to the swing trajectory arc gap may be padded with a resilient material to protect the device from errant swings.

In still another embodiment, the frame of the machine may be collapsible and/or mounted on wheels to allow for the storage and transportation of the device.

In still yet another embodiment, the invention is directed to a method of batting practice utilizing a customizable swing target as disclosed herein.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

These and other features, aspects, and advantages of the present invention will be more fully understood when considered with respect to the following detailed description, appended claims, and accompanying drawings, wherein:

FIG. 1a is a top view of a batter in the process of swinging;

FIG. 1b is a top view of an exemplary prior art practice swing machine;

FIG. 1c is a top view of an exemplary practice swing machine in accordance with the current invention.

FIG. 2 is a perspective drawing of one exemplary embodiment of the current invention during use;

FIG. 3a is a front view of the swing arms in accordance with one exemplary embodiment of the current invention;

FIG. 3b is a top view of the swing arms in accordance with one exemplary embodiment of the current invention;

FIG. 4 is a rear perspective view of one exemplary embodiment of the current invention;

FIG. 5 is a side view of one exemplary embodiment of the current invention;

FIG. 6 is a front view of one exemplary embodiment of the current invention;

FIG. 7 is a front perspective view of one exemplary embodiment of the current invention; and

FIG. 8 is a top view of one exemplary embodiment of the current invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The current invention is directed to a practice swing machine that models the full arc of a batter's swing trajectory, providing both power and swing training in a consistent and controlled manner through the entire hitting zone. Herein the terms “hitting zone”, “swing training”, and “power training” are defined as follows:

The term “hitting zone” refers to the portion of the arc of a hitter's swing that is within a zone over the plate where positive contact with the ball can be made.

The term “swing training” refers to a method of allowing a hitter to practice the accuracy of his swing, i.e., the location of the bat head within the hitting zone.

The term “power training” refers to a method of providing some resistance within the hitting zone such that the hitter is required to exert extra force to swing the bat head through the hitting zone.

These terms may be better understood with references to FIG. 1a. As shown in FIG. 1a, every hitter's swing describes an arc (1) centered about the hitter's body (2). Prior art devices that provide “power swing training”, such as those disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,655,452 and 5,226,645, provide training zones (3), i.e., the portion of the machine through which the bat head travels during a swing, that define straight lines. As a result, the portion of the bat interacting with the training device inherently changes as the bat traces this arc, as shown by FIG. 1b.

In contrast, the current invention is directed to a practice swing machine that provides an arced “training zone” that can be adjusted to mimic the precise arc of the hitter's own swing. As shown in FIG. 1c, in general terms the device of the current invention comprises a pair of opposing swing armatures that define a gap. The gap in turn takes the form of an arc or “swing arc” (4) that is designed to model the trajectory of a hitter's swing. The armatures are themselves supported by a frame that can be adjusted in any one of a number of degrees of freedom to allow for the movement of the armatures relative to one another, thereby allowing for the location and geometry of the swing arc to be customized to correspond to each individual hitter's swing.

One exemplary embodiment of the practice swing machine of the current invention is shown in detail in FIGS. 2 to 8. As shown in FIG. 2, the practice swing machine (10) of the current comprises two curved swing armatures (16 &18) mounted in parallel one to the other and cooperatively curved and spaced vertically one from the other such that in conjunction the armatures define an arced swing gap (19). This combination of armatures and the gap thereby created creates the arced swing target (20) through which the hitter (2) directs the bat while practicing his swing. The armatures (16 &18) are mounted on an adjustable frame (12) that includes upper and lower support arms (14) and a base (22).

Although many suitable combinations of elements may be used to create the arced swing target of the current invention, a front view of one embodiment of an arced swing target (20) in accordance with the current invention is provided in FIGS. 3a and 3b. As shown, the swing target (20) generally comprises a lower armature (16) and an upper armature (18) mounted in parallel along a generally horizontal axis (h) such that the inner surfaces of each armature cooperatively form a swing gap (19) through which the bat (b) passes during a swing. The armatures are maintained in position by a pair of upper and lower support arms (14) that adjustably fix the swing armatures (16 &18) into position relative to one another.

As shown in FIG. 3a, the inner surfaces of the swing armatures (16 &18) can optionally be fitted with one or more resistance elements (21) such that the swing gap (19) is at least partially impeded by said elements. The resistance elements (21) can take any form and can be made of any material suitable to impede the movement of the bat (b) within swing gap (19). For example, in the embodiment shown in FIG. 3a, the frictional resistance elements take the form of spherical bodies formed of a resilient material such as rubber; however, other forms such as, for example, pyramids, flaps, squares, rods, etc. may be used. In addition, these elements may be made of other materials capable of repeated resilient deformation, such as, for example, plastics, fabrics, etc. In one preferred embodiment the resilient members are formed of a felt coated rubber material. Moreover, while the resistance elements (21) shown in FIG. 3a are static, it should be understood that the elements themselves could be made to move within the swing gap (19) to provide a variable resistance to the hitter's swing. In such an embodiment, for example, the resistance elements could be designed to move orthogonal to the inner surface of the swing armatures such that the resistance elements could be extended into or retracted out of the swing gap (19) depending on the level of resistance desired by the hitter. Alternatively, a range of resilient elements having variable resistance factors could be supplied with the swing machine. In such an embodiment the resilient elements would be removable such that the hitter could alter the resistance provided by the resistance elements by changing the resilient elements (21) mounted within the swing gap (19).

Although the swing armatures are shown only schematically in the figures of the current application, it should be understood that the arms could be provided with other elements to improve the function of the practice swing machine. For example, as shown in FIG. 3 the swing armatures are provided with angled strike plates (17) to assist in directing the bat head through the swing gap (19). It should be further understood that these strike plates may be made of any suitable material. In one preferred embodiment, the strike plates are either padded or made of a resilient material to absorb the shock of a misdirected swing.

Finally, although the diagram of FIG. 3a shows the support arms (14) and the swing armatures (16 &18) as fixed in a single position, it should be understood that either or both the support arms (14) or the swing armatures (16 &18) may be designed to move independently to allow for the repositioning of the swing armatures both relative to one another and relative to the hitter. For example, in one embodiment shown schematically in FIG. 3b, the swing armatures may be designed to allow the alteration of the curvature of the arc of the swing target (20) to better correspond to a hitter's swing.

Although the above discussion has focused principally on the swing target of the current invention, another feature of the practice swing machine of the current invention is the high degree of customization it provides. In particular, the practice swing machine is designed to allow any hitter to optimize the power and accuracy of their swing regardless of the hitter's size, reach, stance, etc. Accordingly, it is important to provide a machine which allows the hitter to position the swing target into a geometry relative to the hitter that will correspond most closely with the trajectory of the hitter's swing. FIGS. 4 to 8 provide detailed diagrams showing some exemplary frame adjustments that may be incorporated into the current device.

FIG. 4 provides a rear perspective view of the practice swing machine of the current invention. As previously described the upper and lower swing armatures (16 &18) that define the swing gap (19) are held in place by upper and lower support arms (14a &14b). The upper and lower support arms are in turn interconnected to a base (22) that can take any form suitable for stabilizing the device against movement during use. For example, in the embodiment shown in FIG. 4, the base (22) comprises to elongated leg elements (23a &23b) that engage either end of the lower support arm (14b).

Turning to the interconnection of the swing armatures with the support arms, although any suitable means of interconnecting the swing armatures with the support arms may be used, in the embodiment shown in FIG. 4, the swing armatures are mounted onto the support arms through a cooperative set of support connectors (14a′, 14b′, 16′ and 18′). Specifically, the upper swing armature (18) is provided on its upper surface with a male connector (18′) that cooperatively and slidingly engages a female connector (14a′) on the upper support arm (14a). Likewise, the lower swing armature (16) is provided on its lower surface with a male connector (16′) that cooperatively and slidingly engages a female connector (14b′) on the lower support arm (14b). Because the swing armatures are both slidingly engaged with their respective support arms, the swing armatures may be independently raised or lowered to adjust the height of the swing target or the width of the swing gap (19) as desired by the hitter. When the swing target is in the desired position the swing armatures may be locked into position by any standard locking mechanism, such as a spring loaded pin, screw, wire, frictional fitting, etc.

FIG. 5 provides a side view of an exemplary embodiment of an adjustable practice swing machine in accordance with the current invention. As shown, the frame (12) may incorporate a number of different adjustment mechanisms, including vertical, horizontal and angular adjustments. For example, as previously described the device could include a vertical swing armature adjustment mechanism (24 &30), which would allow for the independent adjustment of the two swing armatures (16 &18) relative to each other along a vertical axis. As shown such a vertical adjustment mechanism may take the form of two cooperatively engaged slidable members that interconnect the swing armatures (16 &18) and the support arms (14a &14b).

In addition, the frame may incorporate at least one independent horizontal adjustment mechanism to allow for the swing armatures (16 &18) to be offset one from the other in the horizontal plane. Although any suitable mechanism could be employed, in the embodiment shown in FIG. 5 such a horizontal adjustment incorporates a support arm (14a) that is formed of two slidably cooperative pieces joined with a locking mechanism (32). In such an embodiment, the portion of the support arm (14a) interconnected with the swing armature (18) would slide within the body of the portion of the support arm interconnected with the base (22), thereby allowing for the upper and lower swing armatures (16 &18) to be offset from each other in the horizontal plane. Although in FIG. 5 only the upper support arm is shown to include such a horizontal adjustment mechanism, it should be understood that the lower support arm (14b) could be made horizontally adjustable in a similar manner.

Although independent vertical adjustment mechanisms (24 &30) for the swing armatures (16 &18) have been previously described, the frame could also be provided with a mechanism for adjusting the vertical alignment of the upper and lower support arms (14a &14b) relative to one another. In such an embodiment, the upper and lower arms (14a &14b) could be slidingly interconnected along their vertical axis (34) such that the upper arm could be retract within the lower arm. Such a mechanism would provide a mechanism for adjusting the overall vertical height of the practice swing machine, and would also provide a second mechanism for adjusting the vertical position of the swing target (20).

Finally, although the above discussion has only described mechanisms for adjusting various portions of the swing machine along vertical and horizontal axes, the mechanism also contemplates adjustment mechanisms that would allow for the angular alignment of the components of the device. For example, in FIG. 5 mechanisms are shown that would allow for the independent rotation of the swing armatures (16 &18). In such an embodiment, the swing armatures (16 &18) would be joined to their relative connectors (16′ &18′) through a locking pivot mechanism (26 &28) such that the swing armatures could be rotated about their individual longitudinal axes. Such a mechanism would allow for the rotation of the plane defined by the swing gap (19) about its longitudinal axis (1).

In addition to the above described adjustment mechanisms, the practice swing machine may also be provided with a mechanism for adjusting the angle of the vertical axis of the frame (12). In one embodiment, as shown in FIG. 6, such a mechanism comprises a pair of locking pivots (36) that interconnect the support armature (14b) to the base (22). In such an embodiment, the entire frame (12) could be pivoted about the horizontal axis of the base (22) to allow for the adjustment of the angle of the longitudinal axis (1) of the swing target relative to the ground.

It should be understood that any of the above adjustment mechanisms could be provided with a locking mechanism, such as, for example, a spring loaded pin, screw, wire, frictional fitting, etc., such that once the adjustment mechanism is in a desired position the mechanism could be locked against further unwanted movement.

Finally, as shown schematically in FIGS. 7 and 8 the practice swing machine could be at least partially collapsed to provide easier transport of the machine. Although the machine may be collapsed in any suitable manner, in the embodiment shown in FIG. 7 the upper frame (38) is pivoted about pivot point (38) to fold flat against the base members (22) forming a compact machine that can be more easily moved. In such an embodiment, wheels could be provided on one or both of the base members (22) to allow for easy transport of the device.

Alternatively, as shown in FIG. 8, the swing target (20) and support arms (14) could be pivoted about a pivot point (40) mounted on one of the two base members (23). In such an embodiment wheels could be mounted on the lower base member to allow for easy transport of the collapsed device.

The above discussion has focused on the interconnection and operation of the various components of the practice swing machine and not on the materials used in their construction. One of ordinary skill in the art should recognize that the device and its individual components can be made of any material that would provide sufficient strength and durability for the intended purpose of the device. Some exemplary materials include metals, such as aluminum or steel, plastics, wood, and composites. In addition, it should be understood that individual components may be made of different materials based on the material properties required to accomplish the intended use of those components.

Finally, although the above discussion has focused on the device, the current application is also directed to a method of simultaneously training a hitter to have better swing accuracy and power by providing a fully adjustable practice swing machine that incorporates a swing target that provides a consistent level of swing interaction along the trajectory of the hitter's swing within the desired hitting zone.

Those skilled in the art will appreciate that the foregoing examples and descriptions of various preferred embodiments of the present invention are merely illustrative of the invention as a whole, and that variations in the shape, size, and number of the various components of the present invention, as well as the training methods proposed, may be made within the spirit and scope of the invention. For example, it will be clear to one skilled in the art that other components may be included in the device, or other materials used in its construction that would not effect the improved properties of the practice swing machine of the current invention nor render the device unsuitable for its intended purpose.

Accordingly, the present invention is not limited to the specific embodiments described herein but, rather, is defined by the scope of the appended claims.





 
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