Considering baseball is America’s oldest pastime, teaching kids how to play is both a paternal and a patriotic duty. Improving a young player’s skills requires two things: proper instruction and a crap ton of practice (It’s all about the muscle memory, son). Assuming your kid’s coach knows what he’s talking about when it comes to proper batting stance and slider-throwing, these seven training products will help a Little Leaguer put it all together in the backyard.
Franklin Sports MLB Pitch-N-Hit
Officially licensed by MLB, the battery operated Pitch-N-Hit pops up a new “pitch” every five seconds. The ball feeder holds up to nine plastic balls (although the set comes with four), there are three pitching positions, and it’s targeted to Tee-ballers (age 5+) and their parents who play wiffle ball.
Softhands Baseball Fielding Trainer
This foam fielding “glove” has secure finger grips in the back and aims to teach young players baseball’s golden rule of fielding: always use two hands, dammit. The trainer also drives home how important it is to get in front if the ball, something Roger Dorn had to learn the hard way. It’s good for righties or lefties.
Louisville Slugger Triple Flame Ultimate Pitching Machine
For parents whose pitching arms aren’t what they use to be, the Triple Flame is a spring-loaded, handheld machine that can throw up to four different pitches at three different speeds (45 mph, 50 mph, 55 mph). Not only that, but it can handle any number of balls ⏤ wiffle, baseball, softball, whatever ⏤ as well as fire fly balls, grounders, and even pop-ups to catchers. It comes with two Lite-Flite training balls and is made for players age 12 years and up.
Soft Hit Practice Baseballs
Remember that scene from The Sandlot when Dennis Leary clocks his stepson in the eye with a baseball? Sure, it’s hilarious ⏤ but Smalls also wouldn’t have needed that ribeye to keep the swelling down if they’d been tossing one of these instead. Soft Hit practice balls are official-size (9-inch) lightweight poly foam training baseballs that won’t hurt or knock out any teeth. Kids will feel more comfortable getting in front of grounders or crowding the plate, and they’ll be much less of a need for a “there’s no crying in baseball” speech. They come in yellow or white, 12 for $30.
SKLZ Hit-A-Way Softball Swing Trainer
Think of this hit-a-way trainer as tetherball, but with a softball on the line. It lets future Jenny Finches take up to 500 cuts per hour, working on swing/stance mechanics, timing, and hand-eye coordination. Even better: dad doesn’t have to chase down a bucket full of balls. It also comes in a baseball version, attaches to any tree or pole with Velcro, and is small enough to take to the park in a backpack.
Franklin MLB 2-in-1 Pitch Target & Return Trainer Set
The easiest way for pitchers to practice hitting the strike zone: throw a lot of pitches. And that’s much easier when the ball bounces right back. The Franklin 2-in-1, however, does more than that. While one side is a traditional ball returner, the other rocks a silk-screened catcher and patented ball collection system. Throw a strike and the ball disappears into a bag. When all the balls disappear, the batter is out. And your Nolan Ryan gets to do it again.
SwingAway Hitting Machine
A combination of the Softball Swing Trainer and the 2-in-1 Pitch Target, this fold-up hitting machine used by the pros lets players build muscle memory by practicing their swing over and over ⏤ and then over again some more. It reportedly provides the feel of hitting live pitches, the balls can be positioned anywhere in the strike zone, and the training mat teaches how to hit different pitch locations. Also, it’s perfect for when none of Junior’s friends are around.