When I grew up in the mid 1970's the pitching machines that were available to us were based at a batting cage and required my mom or dad to drive us to use them and spend a lot of money (I remember 50 cents for 12 pitches). The pitching machines also always had a bunch of people standing around watching, putting pressure on us as we struggled to hit the baseball. That process was costly, time consuming, and rarely allowed for us to actually work on becoming a better baseball hitter.
As a father of 2 sons who both play the game I have thrown balls in batting practice until my shoulder aches to help them to perfect their swing. This practice has been great in developing their ability to have a fundamentally sound baseball swing but has been limited by my availability. My wife will occasionally throw some batting practice but it is not her favorite thing to do (even though she is pretty good at it!). The best part of the issue surrounding how to get my kids more swings is that my kids love to hit a baseball! If this describes you then read on...
This dilemma caused me to begin to research baseball pitching machines a few years ago for our personal use. There are as many softball pitching machines as there are baseball pitching machines and I was amazed at what was available, even though some of the machines were a little hard to find. I was even impressed that they make baseball softball pitching machines that are combination of both! When I talked to other coaches about pitching machines they raved about how the consistency of the mechanics of a baseball swing need to be developed through lots of repetition - and that a pitching machine was the best way to give the players the repetition needed to perfect their mechanics. A couple of them thought that the machines would be too expensive to put into a personal use setup but I was happily surprised at how affordable the machines are today.
There is a great saying in baseball that says "hitters will always find a place in the lineup." That is never more true than when your son or daughter begins to play competitively, whether on travel teams or simply as they get older and the requirement that all kids play equal amounts of time is removed. The best hitters always play - every coach wants to compete and to win, that is one of the main reasons they are coaches. Having your son or daughter practicing the mechanics of hitting a baseball will help them to improve to the point that the coach will want to have them in the game all the time so they never miss an at-bat. It happened for my sons and it can happen for you, too.
Once my boys had the ability to hit every day, any time that they wanted to, the results were fantastic. Our pitching machine made our house the central place for our neighborhood boys to gather almost daily, so the whole neighborhood began to hit better as result.
When trying to figure out which type of pitching machine is right for you, it helps to review a handful of items:
The area that the machine will be used is important - is it for personal use in your backyard or is it for use at the ball field for a team? Pitching machines for backyard use are typically less expensive and easier to setup and tear down. Pitching machines for batting cage or high school/college team setup are more expensive, more industrial and have more features.
2) Age and skill level
of the players who will be using the pitching machine the most - players under the age of 12 do not need the speed and curve ball, slider, knuckle ball capability that some of the more robust machines offer.
Pitching machines can range from $180 to $3-4,000 in price. Knowing what you have to spend up front can make the selection much easier for you.
4) Pitching Machine Type
Pitching machines have different methods of delivering a pitch to a batter. Some are operated with two wheels spinning, some use a single wheel, some use forced air pressure and others use an arm that throws the ball. Personal or backyard types of pitching machines are often one wheel or forced air. Batting cage or high school/college pitching machines are often two wheel or mechanical arm.
There are a number of excellent options that can be added to pitching machines, depending on your circumstances. Remote Control devices to turn the machine on and off and control the timing of the next pitch, battery packs that allow units to operate without electricity, and auto-feeder systems that stack baseballs and then feed the balls into the machine at set intervals are some of the options available on modern pitching machines.