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Roll Call

FungoMan: Let's Play Ball... With a Robot!

Robotic Automated Practice Machine

By Angela Rolls


There's a new kid on the baseball block and it's not quite what you'd expect. It's a robotic automated practice machine called FungoMan helping players and coaches fine-tune their game.

It was 2002 in Shreveport, Louisiana when school Pastor Denny Duron was practicing groundballs with his sons. Later he asked Coach Romy Cucjen if there was a machine that could automatically throw groundballs. Cucjen told Duron there was no such machine, and that's when the two concluded that they would have to build one of their own.

FungoMan There was only one problem. They had no idea how to build it.

"Miracle after miracle happened," Cucjen, now the President of FungoMan said, "I had coached for about 14 years and had played professional baseball at the AAA level. I knew baseball and had a background in computers, but I was not an engineer." Cucjen and Duron weren't sure where to start, but they didn't give up on building their dream machine.

Eventually, they were able to find two baseball loving engineers associated with their school that were willing to take on the challenge. Five years and five prototypes later, they went to market with FungoMan in 2007. Now Duron's sons use the machine to not only practice groundballs, but all aspects of the game.

Fungo bats have long been used by coaches to hit fly balls and grounders. While the bat is designed to hit a perfect ball without a pitcher, it requires enormous skill and is far from perfect. The FungoMan is an automated practice repetition machine that utilizes a state-of-the-art positioning system designed to throw a ball to a specific location. With a capacity of over 200 balls and a throwing rate as quickly as every three seconds, no position on the field is safe from FungoMan. It can throw any ball from a three foot bunt to a 400 foot fly ball.

"Our goal is not to make lazy coaches. It is to empower coaches to get more done," Cucjen explains that the FungoMan helps a coach run a more efficient practice with more effective drills by allowing the coaches and players to focus on problem areas. "The drill becomes super-efficient and specific."

FungoMan has used Jameco power supplies since 2006. With over 600 machines in service, they've built a customer base that includes high schools, academies, colleges, travel teams, individuals and professional teams including the San Diego Padres, the Texas Rangers, The Milwaukee Brewers, the Los Angeles Angels and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

FungoMan has four utility patents and a Taiwanese patent. They've also been working with Cal Ripken over the past three years on a fielding machine for Ripken Baseball, which works with over 800,000 kids across the US and overseas.

FungoMan models include baseball machines, softball machines and two testing machines. Wireless control is the most exciting feature of the FM-250, the most popular model of softball and baseball machines.

It uses an Android operating system that gives coaches freedom to edit, run and create new routines on the fly. Manual controls are also included to provide greater versatility. The wireless control is fully programmable.

A coach can also simulate a past game using the game record. The script is entered into the application and the FungoMan recreates the experience. As an example, if a team played a game where the first ball was a ground ball, the second a line drive, the 3rd a bunt and so on, the application allows the user to script out the exact ball scores. The coaches then create a routine and practice simulating the game.

Cucjen emphasized that there is an underlying bonus in using the FungoMan. "Players have to communicate together... they have to know priority rules and how to execute."

Cucjen explains that the versatility of the FungoMan helps players practice communicating with one another, whether it be deciding who should take a hard bunt to 3rd or a popup behind the mound. FungoMan gives coaches the capability to program such scenarios, allowing players to work on communication. "You have to learn [baseball], but you have to practice it too. This machine helps you practice."

FungoMan's features allow coaches and players opportunities to focus on problem areas and repeat scenarios. From individuals to professionals, FungoMan's versatility customizes practice, optimizing the potential of players. Check one out and see what it's like to play ball with a robot.

You can find out more at http://www.fungoman.com.

Editor's Note: Have you used electronics with your sports games? Write to us at [email protected] and share your experience.

Angela Rolls holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies from Grand Valley State University. Originally from Michigan, she currently resides in California's Silicon Valley. Her interests include animals, traveling, writing, science and photography.