One of the most popular ways for kids to improve their hitting is to take swings at the batting cage. Throughout the year, kids pack the cages to test new stances or work on hitting a difficult pitch.
But although the cage is used for practice, kids should keep in mind that the balls are moving at game speed.
On June 28, 12-year-old Michael Marano died when a baseball fired from a pitching machine struck him in the chest as he practiced with his team, St. Athanasius Bantam Outside, in Bensonhurst, a section of Brooklyn, N.Y. Marano was hit in the left chest by a pitch traveling at 50 mph and died 1 hour, 5 minutes later.
Accidents at batting cages are not frequent, but they do happen.
General safety rules listed outside the cages tell you to wear a batting helmet and tennis shoes. Cleats are not allowed because the batting surface is cement.
Also, only one person is permitted inside the cage at once.
"All the injuries that have occurred while I've been here are due to the customer not following safety precautions," said Michael Falco, who watches over Severna Park Batting Cages. "They either wear the wrong shoe or neglect to wear a helmet. They forget not every pitch is going to be a strike."
When kids aren't following the rules, Falco uses the automatic shut-off switch at his desk to stop the pitching machine.
Additionally, some batting cages have safety signals that flash yellow and red to prepare the batter for incoming pitches.
Some safety problems are caused not by kids, but rather by their parents.
"They always want to be in there to teach their kids or make sure the kids don't get hurt," Falco said. "But we only allow one person in the cage at a time. People can get hurt when balls are fouled off the top of the steel beams and come back down."
Most batting cages can accommodate kids as young as 6 years old. Many baseball and softball machines can adjust the pitches' height, direction and speed. A player can work specifically on curveballs, rising fastballs or whatever else is desired.
"Using the cages really helped me get more contact at the plate last summer," said Matthew Wilson, 12, who swings at batting cages about twice a month. "I feel more relaxed during games because I practice here."