Title:
PITCHING TARGET
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A collapsible pitching target is described in which a target is located substantially in front of a backstop and preferably includes one or more spot targets.



Inventors:
Mosier, Brent M. (El Cajon, CA, US)
Pastore, Michael Ross (El Cajon, CA, US)
Application Number:
11/697747
Publication Date:
10/09/2008
Filing Date:
04/09/2007
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B69/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20070093315Air-resistance reducing golf club headApril, 2007Kang
20100069182Helical BroadheadMarch, 2010Baker
20050192129Sports implement, amusement tool, and training toolSeptember, 2005Kuwabara
20070219023C-shaped disk holderSeptember, 2007Stanley
20060079340Color coordinated golf hole reducer & eye training deviceApril, 2006Niemczyk
20060019763Golf swing aid toolJanuary, 2006Anderson
20060258486Baseball batting stance training mat and assemblyNovember, 2006Hedgepath
20070049396Multi-function magnetic golf applianceMarch, 2007Scheibe
20030008719Golf course and associated teeJanuary, 2003Wilk
20020052257Hockey stick shaftMay, 2002Woldum
20040053715Variable weight end structure for sporting equipment handlesMarch, 2004Schwieg et al.



Primary Examiner:
ARYANPOUR, MITRA
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WESLEY B. AMES (ESCONDIDO, CA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A baseball pitching target, comprising a target frame defining a strike zone aperture, wherein within said strike zone aperture is a plurality of spot targets; a backstop spaced rearwardly from said target frame; and a collapsible frame connecting said target frame and said backstop.

2. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, wherein said target frame forms a representation of a catcher.

3. The baseball pitching target, wherein said target frame comprises a rigid planar surface with said strike zone aperture in said surface.

4. The baseball pitching target of claim 3, wherein said rigid planar surface is formed substantially of metal sheet.

5. The baseball pitching target of claim 3, wherein said rigid planar surface is formed substantially of plywood.

6. The baseball pitching target of claim 3, wherein said rigid planar surface is formed substantially of plastic or a plastic composite.

7. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, wherein said target frame comprises a flexible surface material mounted on a peripheral mounting frame.

8. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, wherein said spot targets comprise at least one surface within said strike zone hingedly attached to said frame.

9. The baseball pitching target of claim 8, wherein said spot targets are spring-mounted to said frame.

10. The baseball pitching target of claim 8, comprising at least 4 of said spot targets.

11. The baseball pitching target of claim 8, comprising at least 6 of said spot targets.

12. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, wherein said spot targets comprise at least one pocket.

13. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, wherein said backstop is at least two feet behind said frame.

14. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, wherein said backstop comprises a resilient surface.

15. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, wherein said backstop is expandable.

16. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, wherein said backstop is foldable.

17. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, further comprising a home plate attached to said target frame and that rests on the ground surface in front of said target frame.

18. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, further comprising a representation of a batter positioned in front of said target frame and laterally proximal to said strike zone.

19. The baseball pitching target of claim 17, further comprising a representation of a batter positioned in front of said target frame and laterally proximal to said home plate.

20. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, further comprising a ball return mechanism.

21. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, further comprising a pitch speed measuring device.

22. The baseball pitching target of claim 21, wherein said pitch speed measuring device is a radar device.

23. The baseball pitching target of claim 21, further comprising a pitch speed display.

24. The baseball pitching target of claim 23, wherein said display is readable by a pitcher using said device from normal pitching distance.

25. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, further comprising a spot target pitch counter.

26. The baseball pitching target of claim 1, wherein said pitching target is foldable and said pitching target further comprising a pair of wheels allowing said pitching target to be wheeled while in a folded configuration.

27. A baseball pitching target kit, comprising a baseball pitching target of claim 1; and instructions for using said pitching target.

28. The kit of claim 27, further comprising a plurality of target aperture inserts comprising different size apertures.

29. A method for practicing pitching, comprising pitching baseballs or softballs at spot targets in a pitching target of claim 1.

30. The method of claim 29, wherein said pitching target is utilized by a plurality of pitchers in a single session.

Description:

RELATED APPLICATIONS

NOT APPLICABLE.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to targets for practicing baseball pitching.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The following discussion is provided solely to assist the understanding of the reader, and does not constitute an admission that any of the information discussed or references cited constitute prior art to the present invention.

Majumdar, U.S. Pat. No. 6,837,809 describes a passive pitching target that includes a resilient, rectangular, laminar backstop indentable by a pitched baseball.

Boteler, U.S. Des. Pat. 350,569 shows a baseball pitching target with rectangular areas defined by a frame.

Yancy, U.S. Pat. No. 5,046,729 describes a baseball pitching target that has a matrix of panels representing a strike zone with switches mounted beneath the panels causing corresponding lights to illuminate when respective panels are struck with a pitched baseball.

Maye, U.S. Pat. No. 4,955,607 describes a baseball spot pitching target in which a double loop device is positioned beside home plate.

Playter, Jr. U.S. Pat. No. 4,254,952 describes a pitching practice device that consists of a sheet of canvas or the like having an aperture defining a strike zone. A canvas chute can be attached to the rear surface of the sheet.

Newland et al., U.S. Pat. No. 4,657,250 describes a baseball pitching practice apparatus that has a frontal strike zone target and a photoelectric sensing plane that locates pitches with the strike zone. The apparatus also includes a ball return panel and a ball return trough.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is designed to provide a very effective and versatile pitching target, which is particularly advantageous for young pitcher to develop control of their pitch location. The target provides advantages over many current pitching targets by providing depth to the target and preferably also providing spot targets.

Thus, a first aspect of the invention concerns a baseball pitching target that includes a target frame, a backstop spaced rearwardly from the target frame, and a collapsible frame connecting the target frame with the backstop.

Highly preferably, the target frame, backstop, and collapsible frame are configured such that the pitching target collapses, e.g., folds, into a compact configuration. In certain embodiments, the pitching target has an expanded configuration of 1.5-2 feet, 2-3 feet, 3-4 feet, 4-6 feet, or 6-8 feet; the compact configuration has a depth of no more than 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, or 18 inches; the compact configuration is no more than 10, 15, 20, or 25% of the depth of the expanded configuration; the collapsible target includes wheels, which may allow the collapsed (e.g., folded) target to be wheeled while in the compact state; the target frame forms a representation of a person, e.g., a catcher.

In certain embodiments, the target frame includes a rigid planar surface; the rigid planar surface is formed substantially of metal sheet, plywood, plastic, and/or a plastic composite; the target frame includes a flexible surface material mounted on a peripheral mounting frame.

As indicated above, the backstop is located behind and spaced apart from the target frame, e.g., at least 1, 2, 3, 4, 2-4, or 3-5 feet behind the target frame. In particular embodiments the backstop includes a resilient surface, e.g., a resilient material mounted on a support frame; the backstop is expandable; the backstop is foldable.

The baseball pitching target can also include additional features and components. Thus, in some embodiments, the pitching target also includes a home plate, e.g., attached to the target frame or the support frame and that is essentially at ground level in front of the target frame, e.g., resting on the ground surface in front of the target frame; the pitching target also includes a representation of a batter positioned in front of the target frame and laterally proximal to said strike zone, e.g., positioned in front of the target frame and laterally proximal to the home plate; a representation of a batter is not connected with the remainder of the pitching target during use; the representation of a batter is connected with the remainder of the pitching target during use; a representation of a batter is collapsed into the remainder of the pitching target in the compact configuration; the representation of a batter folds into the remainder of the pitching target in the compact configuration, e.g., with one or more folding arms connected at one end to the target frame and connected at their other ends to the representation of a batter; the representation of a batter is connected to the remainder of the pitching target during use and can be positioned on either side of the strike zone, e.g., either side of the home plate, during use; the representation of a batter has an outer contour identifiable as a person in batting position.

Likewise, in particular embodiments, the baseball pitching target includes a ball collector and/or a ball return mechanism, e.g., a rebound backstop, a ball collection trough, a ball return chute, a spring-powered ball return mechanism, and the like.

The baseball pitching target may also include a pitch speed measuring device, such as a radar device or other speed measuring device using electromagnetic radiation, and can further include a pitch speed display, which may be readable by a pitcher using the pitching target from normal pitching distance and/or a spot target pitch counter, e.g., a mechanical, photoelectric, or electromechanical counter, which identifies location and/or counts the number of spot targets hit in a selected pitching practice session.

In some embodiments, the pitching target includes a pitch location detector, e.g., a photoelectric detector that has a grid of light beams and sensors arranged so that the location of the pitch is identified. Such pitch location detector preferable generates an electronic output, e.g., for communication to a dedicated or general purpose computer.

In certain embodiments, the pitching target includes a relocatable (i.e., moveable) spot target, which may have any of a variety of different shapes and sizes, but may advantageously be shaped (and preferably colored) to recognizably represent a mitt, preferably a catcher's mitt. Advantageously, the relocatable spot target (e.g., mitt representation) can be positioned in a plurality of positions, e.g., at least 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 different positions. The relocatable spot target may have an approximately central precise target, e.g., a distinct color, separate surface, or aperture. For example, a mitt representation may have an approximately central spot target representing the pocket of a catcher's mitt.

In certain advantageous embodiments, the target frame defines a strike zone aperture, e.g., a rigid planar surface with the strike zone aperture in that surface. In particular embodiments, the strike zone aperture is sized and positioned consistent with use for baseball pitching; the strike zone aperture is sized and positioned for use for softball pitching. Within that strike zone aperture is at least one and usually a plurality of spot targets The spot targets may be constructed in various ways, including of rigid and/or flexible material, e.g., metal such as steel or aluminum, plastic, and/or plastic composites, such as wood and plastic composites, fiberglass composites, metal and plastic composites, and the like.

In particular embodiments, the spot targets include at least 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or more target surfaces within the strike zone. Such spot targets may be spring and/or hingedly attached to the frame, e.g., with spring hinges. The spot targets may be constructed of a soft material or a soft material mounted on a rigid frame; the spot targets may include at least 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or more pockets.

In other embodiments, the target frame does not have a strike zone aperture; preferably the target frame includes a visible strike zone and/or spot targets. Such embodiments may include a substantially rigid and planar target frame, or may include a flexible material mounted on a substantially rigid frame, e.g., a perimeter frame.

In certain embodiments, the strike zone includes spot targets, e.g., visible spot targets; the spot targets include distinguishable colored areas in a strike zone; the spot targets include spot apertures with a strike zone; the spot targets include areas of increased resilience compared to other areas of the target frame; the spot targets include impact sensors identifying the spot target, if any, hit by a pitched ball; the spot targets include photoelectric sensors identifying the spot target, if any, hit by a pitched ball; the spot targets include pitched ball impact counters, e.g., counting the number of times one or more spot targets are struck during a particular pitching session; the spot target is a relocatable spot target (e.g., mitt representation) described above); a mitt representation spot target includes an approximately central aperture or pocket; the approximately central spot target aperture has edges sufficient curved and/or padded and/or formed of flexible material to substantially prevent ball cuts.

A related aspect concerns a baseball pitching target kit that includes a baseball pitching target as described above or otherwise described herein along with either or both of instructions for using the pitching target and a weather resistant cover shaped to fit over the pitching target in compact configuration (that is, formed to conform generally to the top and sides of the pitching target in compact configuration and distinguished from a tarp, plastic sheet, or other non-formed cover.

In particular embodiments, the kit also includes a plurality of target frames having different size and/or shape apertures (e.g., 2, 3, 4, or more); the kit includes a plurality of target aperture inserts having different size and/or shape apertures (e.g., 2, 3, 4, or more); the kit includes a plurality of target frame overlays, which may have the same or different visual appearances, such as images, and which may have, but are not required to have, adhesive backing.

In another related aspect, the invention concerns a method for practicing pitching by pitching a plurality of baseballs or softballs at the pitching target as described above or otherwise described herein, e.g., pitching at spot targets in such pitching target.

In particular embodiments, the pitching target is utilized by a plurality of pitchers in a single session; the pitching target is utilized by one or more baseball pitchers in a pitching session, the pitching target is utilized by one or more softball pitchers in a pitching session.

In certain embodiments, a kit as described above is used.

Additional embodiments will be apparent from the Detailed Description and from the claims.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 shows a front view of an exemplary pitching target.

FIG. 2 shows a side view of the exemplary pitching target of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 shows a view of the exemplary pitching target of FIG. 1 in the process of being folded.

FIG. 4 shows a view of the Exemplary pitching target of FIG. 1 in folded configuration.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

As indicated in the Summary above, the present invention concerns a pitching target that is useful for practicing baseballs and/or softballs, or any other small objects for which it is desirable to practice throwing from a distance at a generally vertical target area. This target is particularly well adapted for practicing pitching at particular spots (i.e., spot targets) within a larger target area, e.g., a strike zone.

Development of this pitching target was based on an inventor coaching youth baseball for many years, and having tried many different training aids during that time. A recent training aid for pitchers that the inventor used is one of the Pop-up pitching targets. He had his players throw 50 pitches at this and found that they only hit the target on average about 7 out of 50, or 14% of the time, but yet they could pitch during a game and not have a problem throwing strikes. This difference in pitch location success led to consideration of why it was so difficult for them to hit the practice target. The working hypothesis was that putting a flat target on a canvas or net backstop makes it more difficult for the pitcher to focus on the target as compared to the depth cues that are available during game pitching situations. To test this hypothesis, targets were tested in which the target was moved a distance in front of the backstop, giving it a 3-dimensional look which is made it far easier to focus on the target.

This training aid for pitchers helps them develop accuracy in pitching which is the basis for effective pitching. It teaches pitchers that location is the best pitch rather then curve balls or sliders or other pitches that can hurt a young pitchers arm if thrown improperly. It develops kids both mentally and physically to be pitchers, and not just throwers. It can also be used as a game between pitchers as well as a fun way to train, as pitching is a very repetitive art. This training aid can be used with no additional assistance needed by the pitcher, so he has the flexibility to train at anytime. In preferred configurations, it can also be readily taken down and set up by one person, e.g., in less then 5 minutes or even in less than 4, 3, or 2 minutes.

Target

As indicated above, the present pitching aid is designed with a target frame substantially in front of a backstop. The target has target frame, usually including a substantially planar surface. In certain advantageous embodiments, the target frame includes a target opening or aperture in that surface. In most cases, the target aperture will be shaped and sized to represent a baseball or softball strike zone. The target frame, e.g., the substantially planar surface, can have any of a large number of shapes, e.g., a simple rectangle, an oval, or a shape approximating the outline of a person.

The target frame can be made of wood, plastic, plastic composites, steel, or any other material that is durable enough to withstand the abuse of being hit many times with a baseball or softball being thrown at it at a high rate of speed, as well as preferably withstanding the elements for a substantial period of time, preferably for a period of years. In many cases, the target frame is constructed with a substantially rigid planar surface, e.g., a sheet of metal such as aluminum or steel of sufficient thickness to withstand pitched balls without significant damage, or a sheet of plywood, plastic (e.g., reinforced plastic), or plastic composite, again of sufficient thickness to withstand pitched balls in view of the nature of the material. Further, multiple layers of the same or different materials can be used, e.g., to impart improved impact resistance and/or to provide a degree of surface resilience, such as to reduce damage to the balls. Alternatively, rather than being made of a substantially rigid sheet material, the target frame can be constructed with a frame, e.g., a substantially rigid frame perimeter frame(s) with a flexible material such as a durable fabric mounted on the frame to create the substantially planar surface. The frame may, for example, be a perimeter frame around the outside of the target surface, which may be combined if desired, with a frame around the perimeter of the target aperture.

As indicated above, the target frame can have any of a large number of shapes. In an advantageous example, the target is shaped as a cut-out of a catcher with a generally rectangular “strike zone” aperture cut out of the center. Small spot targets are preferably placed in areas of this strike zone so that a pitcher can focus and isolate certain areas of the strike zone. For example, spot targets may be placed in a corner or corners (e.g., 1, 2, 3, or 4 corners) as well as along one or more of the left side, right side, top, and bottom of the aperture. This design has been very successful in testing.

In an exemplary pitching target, the target frame (e.g., the catcher) is constructed out of thick aluminum sheet (e.g., about 3, 4, 5, or 6 mm thickness). The aperture defining the strike zone can be made any size, but preferably is a realistic strike zone proportioned to fit the age bracket of the pitcher that is training with the training aid. The pitching target can be constructed such that different size strike zones are available, e.g., by replacing the entire target frame, or by replacing an insert section that includes the aperture section or by providing one or more adjustable aperture edges. In this way, the pitching target can be readily adapted to different age brackets and/or different skill levels. Likewise in certain embodiments the height of the strike zone, e.g., aperture, can be adjustable.

The pitching target is significantly enhanced by including spot targets as discussed above. In most cases, such spot targets attach to the target frame and extend into the strike zone. These spot targets provide one or more specific locations within the strike zone for the pitcher to hit. Practicing with such spot targets thus enables the pitcher to practice and improve pitch location. The spot targets can be located as desired within the strike zone, and different numbers of spot targets may be used. Further, the spot targets may be constructed in various ways. Examples include pockets such that a properly located pitch will enter the pocket, and moveable, substantially rigid spot targets. In the exemplary pitching target, the spot targets attach to the sides of the strike zone (i.e., to the target frame) with spring loaded hinges so that they come back into place after being hit by a pitch.

Like the target frame, the targets themselves can be made of any material that is durable enough to withstand being hit with a baseball or softball at a high rate of speed, and also withstand the elements. Thus, for example, the spot targets can be made of wood, plastic, plastic composite, aluminum, steel, or the like. In the exemplary pitching target, the faces of the spot targets are constructed of aluminum, but plastic or plastic/fiber composites may also be advantageous. The spot targets can be made any size and shape desired, compatible with the overall shape and size of the target frame aperture. For example, the spot targets may be round, generally rectangular, shaped like a baseball or softball catcher's glove, or any of a large number of other shapes. In the case of the exemplary target, the spot targets are round (like a baseball). In the exemplary target, the spot targets include spring loaded hinges so that the targets spring back into place after being hit. Such spring back effect is advantageous, but not essential.

In certain case, the pitching target includes a relocatable spot target, e.g., a recognizable mitt representation. The relocatable spot target may be relocated in any of a variety of different ways, e.g., using a clamp(s), moveable arm, perpendicular slide bars (e.g., the relocatable spot target slides in two dimensions on perpendicular sets of bars such that the target can be located essentially anywhere within the slide range of the bars).

As an enhancement to the target frame, the surface may have an image and/or padding (i.e., a resilient material) on the front surface of the target frame. The image can be any desired, for example an image of a person, e.g., a catcher. The picture can, for example, be painted on, or can be a screen print, decal or magnet, but is not limited to these. As indicated, the front of the cut out may have padding, which may, if desired, have the image on it. The padding may be attached to the target frame by any of a number of different methods, e.g., glued, screwed, clipped, and/or otherwise attached. The padding itself can be a neoprene pad or foam or any material that would soften the impact of a ball striking the target frame and/or deaden the impact sound. Of course, the surface of the padding as well as the body of the padding should be durable to provide a long useful life. Desirably, the inner edge of the target frame defining the target aperture is rounded and/or covered with a material (e.g., a strong but resilient material) that reduces or eliminates damage to the pitched ball that hits the aperture edge.

Backstop

As pointed out above, the present pitching target includes a backstop that is positioned substantially behind the target frame, usually about 1-5 feet. Like the target frame, the backstop can be constructed in many different ways.

In most embodiments, the backstop is attached to the back of the target frame at any desired distance, usually a distance that is proportioned to the size of the cut out. Generally the backstop is constructed with a substantially rigid frame to which is attached a flexible sheet or mesh material. The frame of the backstop can be made of anything durable enough to withstand the elements and the impact of pitched balls, e.g., wood, plastic, steel, and/or aluminum. The frame material may be in any desired shape that provides sufficient strength, while preferably not contributing excess weight. For example, tubing (e.g., round tubing or square tubing) may advantageously be used, but the backstop frame is not limited to such tubing.

The backstop can be any size or shape suitable, but is usually sized as a balance between backstop area and portability (e.g., weight and collapsed size). In most cases, the backstop will be approximately 3-6 feet wide by 4-6 feet tall. The frame of the backstop will usually be expandable so to give a good amount of area to stop the ball and will fold or collapse down to make it transportable. The backstop cover material can be anything that is durable enough to be used as a backstop such as canvas, netting or vinyl but is not limited to these materials. The backstop cover can have a picture and/or pattern on it and/or be any desired color.

The frame of the backstop will be expandable so to give a good amount of area to stop the ball. With the frame being expandable, it will easily fold or collapse down to assist in making the target transportable. For example, the backstop frame can be constructed such that frame has “side wings” that fold toward the center, e.g., such that the folded width of the backstop frame is approximately the same as, or at least similar to, the width of the target frame.

Collapsible Spacer Frame

Desirably, the present pitching aid is constructed with a collapsible spacer frame connecting the target frame with the backstop. Such a collapsible spacer frame allows the device to be folded into a compact configuration for transport and/or storage. Preferably the pitching target is designed and constructed so that the entire unit will fold up, so that it will be easy to set up and take down with no loose pieces to lose.

To assist in transportability, the pitching target will also preferably have wheels attached (e.g., a pair of wheels) so that, when folded, is easily transportable by anyone. In some cases, the wheels are located such that the pitching target can be wheeled while in the set-up or expanded configuration.

The collapsible spacer frame can also be constructed of a variety of materials, e.g., as discussed above. In many embodiments, the major linking members will be tubing, e.g., metal such as aluminum or steel, plastic, composite, or wood.

Additional or Alternate Features

The present pitching target can also incorporate a number of optional features. For example, in some embodiments the target incorporates a speed sensor to detect and preferably display how fast the ball is thrown. This sensor can be any type, but in many cases will be a radar speed sensor. The speed sensor is preferably constructed to be sufficiently durable enough to withstand the elements to which is will be exposed (e.g., rain, sun, heat, and the like). The sensor should be shielded from impacts by thrown balls and/or be constructed in a manner to resist damage by thrown balls. Along with the speed sensor, there will often be a readout display, e.g., a LED or LCD display. The display may be oriented in any desired direction, e.g., toward the pitcher, toward the side, or toward the rear. Likewise, the size and other visibility characteristics of the displayed characters can be selected so that a pitcher with normal vision (or vision corrected to normal) can read the characters from normal pitching distance, or may be smaller so that a person with normal vision will need to be closer to read the display. As with the sensor, the display is preferably constructed such that it is durable enough to withstand the elements and/or impact from thrown balls (and/or is shielded from such impact).

The pitching target can also have sensor(s) and associated counter(s) (which can be in addition to pitch speed sensor and display) to keep track of how many times strike zone and/or the spot targets have been hit. These sensors can be any kind or type. For example, the sensors and associated counters can be mechanical, electromechanical, photoelectric, and combinations thereof.

In some cases, the pitching target will include a pitch location detector (with or without spot targets), e.g., using visible light, or IR sensors, e.g., a photoelectric detector that has a grid of light beams and sensors arranged so that the location of the pitch is identified. Such pitch location detector preferable generates an electronic output, e.g., for communication to a dedicated or general purpose computer.

In some advantageous embodiments, the pitching target will also have a home plate attached that will pull out or fold down in front of the target frame (e.g., cutout of a person). The home plate can be made of any of a variety of materials, such as wood, plastic, steel, aluminum or rubber, but is not limited to only these. The home plate can be attached with hinges, brackets, and/or slide tracks, or any other way that is suited to the overall design.

Also in some embodiments, the pitching target includes a representation of a batter. The batter representation may be linked with the remainder of the pitching target, e.g., to the target frame, or may be detachable or detached. Preferably the batter representation can be moved to either side of the plate so to simulate a right- or left-handed batter. Preferably but not necessarily, the distance of the batter representation from the near edge of the strike zone or home plate is adjustable (e.g., either continuously over a range or in steps over a range) This batter representation can be made of any material, e.g., wood, plastic, composite, steel, and/or aluminum, but is not limited to only these materials. Of course, the batter representation can be made any shape or size desired, such as a size consistent with the age bracket of the pitchers intending to use the target. In most cases, the batter representation will be made of a flat surface, e.g., a flat metal plate or a sheet of plastic, composite, or plywood. The pitching target can also be provided with a plurality of batter representations of different sizes (e.g., 2, 3, 4, or more). Such a plurality of different batter representations can represent batters of different age brackets. In some cases, the batter representation will be a cut-out with an outline suggesting a person. The representation can be enhanced with the use of an image of an actual or simulated person on the front surface of the batter representation. For example, the image may be on plastic sheeting and attached to the front surface of the batter representation using an adhesive. Preferably the batter representation is connected with the remainder of the pitching target in a manner allowing the batter representation to be collapsed (e.g., folded) with the remainder of the pitching target. For example, the batter representation may be connected to the target frame with one or more arms that includes hinges and/or slides such that the batter representation folds and/or slides against a surface (usually the front surface) of the target frame.

Yet another feature that can be advantageously included is a ball collector and/or a ball return. A ball collector is usually intended to collects balls that have passed through the target aperture and/or have reached the backstop, and may be constructed in various ways. For example, the ball collector may include a trough and/or bag into which balls drop. The balls can also enter a chute, allowing easy retrieval. A ball return may be constructed in various ways, and may be an immediate return, or may return balls that have entered a ball collector. For example, a backstop that includes a rebound surface can act as a ball return by rebounding pitched balls toward the pitcher. In other cases, the ball return may include a spring-powered impeller or a motorized impeller (e.g., similar to a pitching machine).

A non-limiting exemplary embodiment of the present pitching target is described with reference to FIGS. 1-4. As shown in FIG. 1, the pitching target 10 includes a target frame 20 that has an outline suggesting a person, a backstop 40, and a home plate 50 (an optional feature). Target frame 20 includes a target aperture 22, with 8 spot targets 24 mounted to the back of the target frame extending into the target aperture at selected positions. The spot targets 24 are mounted such that the spot target will deflect rearward when struck with a pitched ball, and then spring back into position, e.g., mounted with spring hinges. At the base of the target frame are attached the backstop link frame 60 and the home base link frame 70. Highly preferably these link frames are attached with hinge points at or near the target frame, enabling the home base link frame with its attached home base to be folded up against the target frame, and the target frame to be folded back against the backstop link frame. The backstop includes a perimeter frame 42, ladder bars 44, and cover 46. The cover 46 is a durable, flexible material, e.g., mesh, netting, fabric, or sheet. The cover can be made of any of a variety of durable, weather resistant materials and combinations of materials, such as canvas (which may be treated or coated, e.g., with a plastic) or polyurethane or other plastic material (which may have any of a variety of different reinforcing fibrous materials in and/or fused to the plastic). In the illustrated embodiment, the backstop cover is stretched to the backstop perimeter frame, but can be installed in many different ways. In this exemplary embodiment, the perimeter frame is constructed with hinge points such that the distal portions (which can also be referred to as wing portions, swinging portions, or folding portions) of the backstop can be swung rearward such that they lay flat against the back of the central portion of the backstop. (See, FIG. 4, folding portions 48) Highly preferably, the folding portions can be fixed in extended positions and/or in folded positions, such as by using pins to lock the folding portions in the respective positions.

During use, the backstop is stabilized in a vertical position with two braces 80 that extend from the backstop link frame 60 to ladder bars 44. In this embodiment, the connections between the braces and the backstop link frame are pivot connections, and the connections between the braces the ladder bars are removable connections, e.g., pinned connections. The target frame 20 is then held in a generally vertical position using a stabilizing bar 90 that extends from the back upper surface of the target frame to approximately the center top of the backstop perimeter frame. Similar to the braces, the stabilizing bar is removably attached to the target frame (e.g., with a pin connection), and hingedly attached to the backstop perimeter frame. Mounted on the backstop link frame are wheels 62 that are used for rolling the pitching target when the target is in folded configuration. (See, FIG. 4)

For additional clarification, the exemplary pitching target of FIG. 1 is shown in side view in FIG. 2.

If desired, the pitching target assembly may be made more rigid by including position locks (e.g., pinned connections or slide fit connections) at the hinge points between the target frame and the backstop link frame and/or between the target frame and the home base link frame.

FIG. 3 shows the pitching target in the process of being folded. Usually, if they are present, the home base 50 and home base link frame 70 are folded up against the target frame 20 (and preferably fastened in position, e.g., with pins, straps, or other fasteners). The stabilizing bar 90 is disconnected from the target frame 20 and swung down against or across the front of the backstop 40. A pin or other fastener can, if desired, be provided for retaining the stabilizing bar in this position. The target frame and home base link frame (with the attached home base) are folded back and down against the backstop link frame 60. If desired, the target frame can be fastened in this position, e.g., with a pinned connection, with a strap, or with other such fastener. To complete the folding process, the backstop is folded against the combined, folded backstop link frame, target frame, homebase link frame, and homebase. This is accomplished by releasing the braces 80 from the backstop ladder bars 44, pivoting them along the sides of the backstop link frame, and folding the backstop and the combined, folded backstop link frame, target frame, homebase link frame, and homebase together. Either before or after this step, the folding portions 48 of the backstop are swung against the back of the central portion of the backstop, and preferably fixed in position using pins, clips, straps, or other suitable fastener.

After folding is completed, the folded pitching target is in a folded configuration as shown in FIG. 4, and is ready to be moved by a person. In this embodiment, the wheels 62 are positioned such that tilting the folded pitching target toward the target frame/homebase side causes the wheels to contact the ground such that the folded backstop is clear of the ground. The pitching target can be then wheeled to a desired location by a person 100. Preferably bottom edge of the folded pitching target is constructed such that the folded target will stand in a vertical position for storage.

For larger and/or heavier embodiments of the present pitching target, the wheels may be selected and positioned to be suitable for towing behind a vehicle. In such cases, the pitching target will also be provided with a suitably located coupler for towing (e.g. a towing ball coupler).

In addition, additional features, e.g., as discussed above, can be incorporated in the present pitching targets.

All patents and other references cited in the specification are indicative of the level of skill of those skilled in the art to which the invention pertains, and are incorporated by reference in their entireties, including any tables and figures, to the same extent as if each reference had been incorporated by reference in its entirety individually.

One skilled in the art would readily appreciate that the present invention is well adapted to obtain the ends and advantages mentioned, as well as those inherent therein. The methods, variances, and compositions described herein as presently representative of preferred embodiments are exemplary and are not intended as limitations on the scope of the invention. Changes therein and other uses will occur to those skilled in the art, which are encompassed within the spirit of the invention, are defined by the scope of the claims.

It will be readily apparent to one skilled in the art that varying substitutions and modifications may be made to the invention disclosed herein without departing from the scope and spirit of the invention. For example, variations can be made to materials from which the various parts of the pitching target are constructed, as well as to the manner in which the components are connected. Thus, such additional embodiments are within the scope of the present invention and the following claims.

The invention illustratively described herein suitably may be practiced in the absence of any element or elements, limitation or limitations which is not specifically disclosed herein. Thus, for example, in each instance herein any of the terms “comprising”, “consisting essentially of” and “consisting of” may be replaced with either of the other two terms. The terms and expressions which have been employed are used as terms of description and not of limitation, and there is no intention that in the use of such terms and expressions of excluding any equivalents of the features shown and described or portions thereof, but it is recognized that various modifications are possible within the scope of the invention claimed. Thus, it should be understood that although the present invention has been specifically disclosed by preferred embodiments and optional features, modification and variation of the concepts herein disclosed may be resorted to by those skilled in the art, and that such modifications and variations are considered to be within the scope of this invention as defined by the appended claims.

In addition, where features or aspects of the invention are described in terms of Markush groups or other grouping of alternatives, those skilled in the art will recognize that the invention is also thereby described in terms of any individual member or subgroup of members of the Markush group or other group.

Also, unless indicated to the contrary, where various numerical values or value range endpoints are provided for embodiments, additional embodiments are described by taking any 2 different values as the endpoints of a range or by taking two different range endpoints from specified ranges as the endpoints of an additional range. Such ranges are also within the scope of the described invention. Further, specification of a numerical range including values greater than one includes specific description of each integer value within that range.

Thus, additional embodiments are within the scope of the invention and within the following claims.