Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Maintaining Your Equipment in the Off Season

When the weather outside is frightful, batting cages, pitching machines and other baseball equipment aren't likely to be getting the amount of attention they might in the warmer months. While you are counting down the days to spring training, there are some things you can be (and should be) looking out for to help extend the longevity of your investments.

Wind

When it's windy out, many people don't realize the impact this can have on their batting cage set up. A batting cage net is mostly holes and air, so you might think wind can pass right through. Nope! When conditions are right,  that net might as well be a sail. If the net is blowing around, it will likely lead to damage on the framework and/or net hanging system.

The safest option is to simply take nets down in bad weather. Most companies that sell nets don't supply any sort of storage container for the net, so you might have to get creative. One of the best solutions we have heard is using a large garbage bin. A garbage bin typically has wheels, making transportation easy, and a lid to keep water or anything else from getting in.

If taking the net completely down is not an option, heavy-duty ground stakes are available to help keep everything in place. If installed properly, these stakes can work incredibly well. We ran some unofficial strength tests on these stakes to see how well they hold. You can see the video for that here.

Snow

Snow Piling up on a Wire Fence

Wind is not the only weather related cause for concern. Snow can also wreak havoc. Similar to wind, because nets have so many holes, many people don't realize how much snow can pile up on a net. This can put a lot of extra weight on the net causing damage to the hanging system, or the net itself. The picture at left is not of a net, but of a wire fence, but it illustrates how much snow can pile up on a small surface like netting. We always recommend taking the net down if snow is in the forecast.

Critters

Odd as it may seem, we have heard of rodents, squirrels, rabbits, and deer having quite the taste for netting. We haven't figured out why, but it's been known to happen. If you ever find holes in your nets where the break points are clean cuts (opposed to a frayed cut), you likely have a hungry critter near by. When nets break due to wear, the break points usually look frayed. If you live in an area where you can leave the batting cage up year round, we recommend tying the bottom of the net up so it is at least off the ground. This might not keep you protected from squirrels and other climbing types, but it at least prevents ground dwellers from making a midnight snack of your $1,000+ batting cage net.

Inspect for Holes

Prior to using your net for the first time this season, you should thoroughly inspect it for holes or breaks in the netting. Whether it's from critters or simply from normal wear and tear, all nets start to deteriorate eventually. Think of a batting cage net like your car tires. Even if it's the highest quality, most expensive tire, if you're driving on them, they are going to wear down and that's just the way it goes. If your net is brand new and starting to get holes in it, contact the manufacturer. Sometimes manufacturing errors can cause premature wear. If you do find holes in your net, it is important to get them taken care of before use. The last thing you want is an escaped ball damaging property or worse yet-injuring someone nearby. While we can't stop normal wearing, there are ways to ease the pain of having to replace your whole net. Depending on the amount of damage, patch kits are available. These are usually just pieces of net a few feet wide that you just tie on the damaged net to cover the hole.

If you have no holes yet but are looking for a preventative measure, consider purchasing a flat panel. Flat panels vary in size, but you can usually get one big enough to cover an entire end of the cage. The area behind the batter usually takes the most wear, so adding an extra layer of netting there can really extend the life of the cage net. Plus, it's way easier (and cheaper) to replace an $80 flat panel after a couple years as opposed to the whole cage net later on.

 

Inspect your Balls

No, we're not talking about a self examination. One of the fastest ways to tear up a pitching machine wheel is rough or irregular edges on machine balls. Prior to firing up your pitching machine for the first time this season, check each machine ball and get rid of any showing signs of extreme wear. Also, give both the pitching machine and machine balls a good cleaning before use. Doing this will maximize performance and will help extend the life of your pitching machine. 

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That's it sports fans! If you're already doing these things, kudos to you. If you're not, you better start! Don't waste a minute of precious practice time messing with faulty equipment. Taking proper care and maintenance of your equipment ahead of time will help you get the most out of your investments and provide a smoother practice session. Thanks for reading!