The Evolution of The Batting Practice Pitcher’s Protective L-Screen
After a pitcher hurls the ball to home plate, he/she must then become a fielder. The fielding position of pitcher is the closest fielder to the batter, in most cases, and has the unenviable task sometimes of snagging a rocket ship hit by the batter. Good technique and being in a ready position after completing your throw to home plate will help any pitcher when the baseball is hit to them. Any small delay in getting ready to field may result in a negative play or even an injury from a batted ball.
Batting practice for baseball players of all levels is a standard and is typically part of every practice session from Tee Ball to the Major Leagues. You have a pitcher on a mound at your local field or in a indoor batting cage or in your backyard tossing baseballs or soft balls towards a batter in a slightly slower than game pitch speed. Batting practice usually involves multiple swings – 10, 25, 50, 100 – so you can develop good hand eye coordination, improve your swing, work on mechanics, and so much more. Coaches will monitor batting practice sessions and take notes or videos. Then, discuss ways for a batter to improve or to showcase how well they did. The coach or batting practice pitcher puts him/herself at a spot far enough away to toss accurate pitches to the batter. And nowadays, they will most likely use a protective screen to shield them from balls hit back at them.
Sports equipment manufacturer’s probably caught onto this sometime in the mid 20th century with the invention of the protective screen for practice. I did some research through articles and archive images online to see just when the first protective screens were used and implemented. I couldn’t find anything definitive as far as when they were invented. Google is great for looking up so many things, but this one seemed to slip through. Anyway, I did find some really interesting photos from the 1950s and 1960s that show some evolution of the protective screen.
This was a photo of Boston Red Sox hitter Ted Williams taking batting practice. As you can see there is no protective screen being used by the batting practice pitcher. Not sure I would want to pitch to The Splendid Splinter without some sort of protective screen in front of me.
This next set of photos are from the television show “Home Run Derby” which featured stars like Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, and more. The raw footage of these immense stars and legends of the game is so cool to watch. And the voice and commentating by Mark Scott is just baseball priceless.
As the 1960’s emerged, the protective screen for pitchers became more prevalent. I saw many, many photos of batting practice pictures like these with a short protective screen. The screen is placed in front of the mound, which is where the batting practice pitcher would stand to throw. The shorter distance, in my experience, allows for more accuracy and thus, a better batting practice session.
Through the 1970s and into the 1980s and today, the protective screen evolved into the modern day “L-screen” style. The L-Screen allows the pitcher to throw in his/her normal pitching plane over the lower cutout portion of the screen. Then “escape” behind the taller section to avoid those nasty line drives back at the pitcher.
Protective L-Screens are great for batting practice as well as your local league’s home run derby. Above is a photo of a home run derby setup at my North Kingstown Wickford Little League home park, Cooney Field, Wilson Park. On the right, my son is facing former Major League baseball pitcher Sean Maloney in a home run contest several years back.
Today, coaches from Tee Ball to the Majors use the protective L-Screen for batting practice and home run derby contests. When your child can hit a ball so fast you cannot possibly react, you need a protective L-Screen. When you are working with an athlete on swing mechanics and want to see the whole swing – the setup, weight shift, hands moving, hips moving, drive to the ball – you use a protective L-Screen so you can be an omnipresent observer. The protective L-Screen is a piece of safety equipment every baseball league should have and maintain. For me personally, I know it has saved me tons of bumps and bruises from the players I have coached over the years.
Protective L-Screens can be purchase via local sporting goods stores or on line. They are very easy to assemble and set up. There are a ton of variations now to accommodate baseball and softball coaches, players, and leagues. Choose one that fits your needs, your players, and your league. The safety of the players and coaches is of vital important to leagues from Tee Ball to the Majors. And the protective L-Screen is a valuable piece of safety equipment that every league should own.
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