Ball-throwing machine

Mechanical guns and projectors – Projectile impelled by coacting wheels

Reexamination Certificate

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Reexamination Certificate




1. Field of the Invention
The present invention relates generally to a ball-throwing machine and, more particularly, to such a machine that is adapted to pitch baseballs and softballs and throw tennis and other balls interchangeably to different locations and at different speeds and with different spins. The invention has particular applicability as a baseball pitching machine that is able to interchangeably deliver a variety of pitches (i.e., fastballs, curveballs, changeups, etc.) at different speeds to different locations without the need for manually readjusting or repositioning the machine between pitches.
2. Description of the Prior Art
Pitching machines and ball-throwing machines are well-known in the art and generally fall into four categories: (1) machines that employ a spring actuated arm mechanism to propel the ball; (2) machines that employ at least one rotating wheel or a pair of rotating, coacting wheels to propel the ball; (3) machines that rely on pneumatic pressure to propel the ball; and (4) machines that employ converging and diverging rotatable discs to propel the ball.
Examples of ball-throwing machines that employ a spring mechanism to propel the ball are described, for example, in U.S. Pat. No. 3,757,759 which issued on Sep. 11, 1973 to J. G. Haworth for Automatically Varied Oscillation Type Ball Projecting Device and U.S. Pat. No. 4,524,749 which issued on Jun. 25, 1985 to Paul S. Giovagnoli for Spring-Type Ball Pitching Machine. Commercial versions of such a machine have been marketed by Master Pitching Machine of Kansas City, Mo.
In recent years, the majority of the commercially available ball-throwing or pitching machines employ one or two coacting rotating wheels which are used to propel a ball that is introduced into the nip between the rotating wheels or between a plate and a single rotating wheel. Examples of such machines are described in U.S. Pat. No. 3,724,437 which issued on Apr. 3, 1973 to E. W. Halstead for Ball-throwing Machine; U.S. Pat. No. 3,815,567 which issued on Jun. 11, 1974 to Norman S. Serra for Coacting Wheel Ball Projecting Device; U.S. Pat. No. 4,197,827 which issued to Tommy L. Smith on Apr. 15, 1980 for Coacting Wheel Ball Projecting Device; U.S. Pat. No. 4,423,717 which issued to Edward W. Kahelin on Jan. 3, 1984 for Variable Double Wheel Ball Propelling Machine; U.S. Pat. No. 4,583,514 which issued to Fujio Nozato on Apr. 22, 1986 for a Ball-throwing Machine; and U.S. Pat. No. 4,922,885 which issued to Shigery Iwabuchi et al. on May 8, 1990 for a Pitching Machine. Commercial machines that employ a pair of rotating coacting wheels are marketed by The Jugs Company of Tualatin, Oregon, ATEC of Sparks, Nev., AAI American Athletic, Inc. of Jefferson, Iowa, K-Lin Specialties, Inc. of Huntington Beach, Calif. and OMNI Sports Technologies of Kansas City, Mo.
Machines that utilize a pair of coacting wheels are able to deliver a variety of different pitches, e.g., fastball, curve ball, screwball, etc. at a variety of different speeds. Changes in the pitch speed or pitch type are accomplished by varying the speed of the individual wheels and the angle of presentation relative to a horizontal and/or vertical plane. The ability of such machines to deliver different pitches is described, for example, in U.S. Pat. No. 3,288,127 which issued on Nov. 29, 1966 to J. C. Bullock for Baseball Pitching Machine with Ball Curving Device; U.S. Pat. No. 3,604,409 which issued to Ralph W. Doeg on Sep. 14, 1971 for Ball Projecting Machine with Direction Control Mechanism; U.S. Pat. No. 3,724,437 which issued on Apr. 3, 1973 to Earle W. Halstead for Ball-throwing Machine; U.S. Pat. No. 4,323,047 which issued on Apr. 6, 1982 to James K. McIntosh et al. for Automatic Ball Pitching Machine; U.S. Pat. No. 4,372,284 which issued to James A. Shannon et al. on Feb. 8, 1983 for Baseball-Pitching Machine; U.S. Pat. No. 4,655,190 which issued to Clifford V. Harris on Apr. 7, 1987 for Ball Pitching Machine with Selective Adjustment Between Drive and Pressure Wheels.
While rotating wheel machines are capable of varying the speed of the pitch and the type of the pitch, an inherent problem with such machines, however, is that they require extensive adjustments and realignment of the machine in order to change from one pitch to another or from one location to another. For example, if a coach seeks to change the pitch to be delivered by the machine from a 90 MPH fastball to a 75 MPH curve ball or from a fastball in one position in the strike zone to a fastball in another position, the coach must manually readjust the wheel speeds, reposition the angle of the wheels relative to a vertical and/or horizontal plane, and manually realign the horizontal and vertical position of the machine. It can take as long as five minutes to accomplish these changes before the machine is properly re-positioned to be able to deliver the next pitch. As a result, coaches tend to use these machines to deliver a series of the same pitch to the same location rather than attempting to interchangeably deliver different pitches to different locations as a pitcher would do in an actual game. Accordingly, these machines are of only marginal value in attempting to prepare a batter for game conditions. Such machines frequently give the hitter a false sense of security, e.g., believing that because they can hit the same pitch delivered repeatedly at the same speed to the same location they will succeed in actual game conditions.
Others have recognized this problem and incorporated devices in such machines to permit adjustment of both the horizontal and vertical position of such machines. See, for example, U.S. Pat. No. 5,174,565 which issued on Dec. 29, 1992 to Yutaka Komori for Baseball Pitching Machine; U.S. Pat. No. 5,344,137 which issued on Sep. 6, 1994 to Yutaka Komori for Method for Improving the Accuracy of a Baseball Pitching Machine; U.S. Pat. No. 5,359,986 which issued on Nov. 1, 1994 to Earl K. McGrath et al. for Pitching Machine and Method; and U.S. Pat. No. 5,437,261 which issued on Aug. 1, 1995 to Kerry K. Paulson et al. for Ball Pitching Device. While permitting minor adjustments for both horizontal and vertical position to accommodate for slight changes in pitch speed, none of these patents permit rapid changing of pitch type, i.e., fast ball to curve ball, etc. Such change would only be accomplished by a major re-positioning and re-adjusting the rotational velocity of the two coacting wheels.
Attempts have been made to use three coacting rotating wheels in a pitching machine to permit the delivery of different types of pitches without the need for repositioning the machine between pitches. U.S. Pat. No. 5,649,523 which issued on Jul. 22, 1997 to Jack C. Scott for Ball-throwing Apparatus and U.S. Pat. No. 4,442,823 which issued to Johnnie E. Floyd on Apr. 17, 1984 for Ball-throwing Machine and System Having Three Individually Controllable Wheel Speeds and Angles describe two such attempts. The machines described in these patents are not commercial, however, due, in large measure, to their failure to precisely control the horizontal and vertical positioning of the machine. Moreover, they both fail to carefully consider and control the forces of the three coacting wheels on the ball in order to consistently deliver a variety of different pitches with the accuracy and precision required.
Granada Pitching Machines of Central Point, Oregon recently introduced a three-wheel pitching machine that incorporates limited controls over the individual wheel speeds. The machine, known as the Triton G-2000, fails to provide for horizontal and vertical adjustments of the aiming point and, as such, is incapable of delivering a plurality of different pitches at different speeds and locations on an interchangeable basis.
The concept of programming a pitching machine to deliver a variety of different pitches has been discussed in prior patents, most notably in U.S. Pat. No. 5,125,653 which issued to Ferenc Kovacs et al. on Jun. 30, 1992 for Computer Controller Ball-throwing M


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