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Collegiate Baseball

Central Point , Ore. - One of the great stories in baseball centers around a wonderful gentleman named Norm Bruce. The owner of Granada Pitching Machines is a master inventor who has helped thousands of aspiring hitters reach new levels because of a brainstorm he came up with a little over 40 years ago.

It all began when he was a Little League coach and became frustrated because his young hitters were not progressing satisfactorily after three weeks.

"So I designed a little machine to throw plastic balls," said Norm, modestly.

"The season began slowly as our team hit .150. When the season ended, we were hitting .450. It was quickly apparent that we had something special with this machine because it took away the fear of being hit by pitches with real baseballs. The Granada Pitching Machine was born."

Norm said his occupation at the time was building houses.

Remarkable Inventor
Norm Bruce Unsung Hero Among Baseball's Top People Of All Time

"One time when money was tight and we couldn't build houses, we thought the time was right to introduce our pitching machine to baseball coaches across the nation."

Norm said he learned about the American Baseball Coaches Association and exhibited his product that year.

"The coach at Central Connecticut St. had the highest team batting average the year prior at .383, and he gave a clinic at the convention. He gave a lot of credit to plastic ball training. When he finished giving his talk at the convention, we quickly sold 18 machines. He made people believers out of what we were doing."

These machines have been endorsed by such coaching legends as Gordie Gillespie, the winningest 4-year college coach in history.

"His poly ball machines have really helped baseball in numerous ways, especially for the northern baseball teams," said Gillespie.

"Those of us in the cold weather areas have to practice indoors quite a bit, and his poly ball machines have been the greatest asset to us. I am a huge advocate of his machines.

"Being confined like we are indoors, we hardly ever hit a real baseball (during practice). His machines are very accurate. About 95 percent of the time balls go exactly where you want them to go.

"His machines are the greatest invention to get young children started in baseball. His poly balls take the fear factor out. You can have young kids 7, 8 and 9 years old get hit by a baseball, and they never come back. The poly ball machine keeps them in the game and helps them learn. It's the greatest teaching device.

"Norm Bruce is one of the finest gentlemen I have ever met and a welcome saint to baseball. He is the most honest guy who has a lot of integrity. He is one of the unsung heroes to youth and college baseball. His contribution to baseball can never be measured."

Jerry Stitt, head baseball coach at the University of Arizona, has known Norm for many years and treasures his relationship with him and the rest of the Bruce family.

"Those of us in the coaching profession who have known him for years and years have the greatest respect for him and what he has done for baseball on all levels," said Stitt.

"He is deeply committed and has passion for the game that is rare. He has been such an important person to the game of baseball. Norm is one of those special people who never asks anything from anybody. But he always gives so much. That is a wonderful quality which is special about him."

Norm was asked how he came up with the concept of such a pitching machine that is now used internationally by thousands of baseball programs across the world. Nearly 90 percent of college national champions for nearly three decades have used Granada machines.

"In the process of building homes, you use table saws. If you have ever worked with a table saw, you know that wood can fly off the table if you are not careful because of the powerful motor used. So we thought if you aligned two wheels together and put a baseball in between, the wheels would propel balls, and they sure did.

"The first pitching machine we invented with was in 1960. But by the time we introduced it at an ABCA Convention, it was about 1965."

100 Different Variations

Paul, who watched his dad come up with over 100 different variations of the Granada Pitching Machines over the years to improve it, was the beneficiary of Norm's superb invention initially. He wound up taking hundreds of thousands of cuts against the Granada Pitching Machine in his playing days.

"If you take a thousand cuts a day at a fast moving object coming at you, how can't you become a better hitter," asked Paul.

"Our thinking is for the hitter not to look at the arm of the pitcher, hand or anything else but the ball coming out of his hand because you don't want the pitcher to fool you. Once the ball has left the pitcher's hand, there is nothing else a pitcher can do to fool you. Sometimes the absolute worst thing you can do is look at the pitcher's hand because he is trying to fool the batter with timing."

Paul said the act of hitting simply doesn't allow a batter to get too fancy with his eyes. He must see the ball and react.

"We are simulating game conditions in a short period of time that can be repeated over and over again as hitters track the ball and swing."

Norm said his machine has caused a lot of coaches on all levels of baseball to take notice.

"Over the years we have sent our Granada Pitching Machines to laboratories to see how kids developed their hitting skills compared to traditional baseball hitting machines. One of the most in-depth studies was done in Virginia with 30 kids hitting balls from traditional baseball pitching machines and our poly ball machines. Halfway through the 30-day test, we were informed of some startling results. They told us that the kids using our machine were way ahead of those on the hardball machine. It wasn't even close. He told us the gap had widened daily.

"So I called Gary Ward (now head coach at New Mexico State who is one of the finest hitting coaches of all time) the next day and told him about the test. He informed me that the lab testing  was not necessary because kids will either have a hit or be hit mentality when they step to the plate. He explained that if you can get the fear factor out of your head when batting, then you internalize hitting."

Norm was asked what the ideal number of daily swings are when using his machine from youth level on up.

"There is a general feeling that you should not extend 9 and 10 year-olds too much. When they are tired, simply stop. But when Paul got a little older, he hit 1,000 poly balls a day with our machine and broke those cuts into seven sessions a day. In each one of those sessions, he probably got more cuts than the average school player had in a month of regular practice. So if you break down the numbers, he got a half a year's practice for the typical player in one day."

100,000 Cuts in Summer

Paul said one summer he took over 100,000 cuts. It was not hard to believe he was a superb hitter in his playing days who made pitchers extremely nervous. In his playing career, which went into college, he estimates he took over a half million cuts because of his great passion for the game.

If you wonder how Paul picked up 1,000 balls a day without destroying his back, here is how he did it. Norm came up with a system where hit polyballs would stay in a cage Paul was in, roll in a certain direction after they hit the slightly slanted wooden floor and be picked up by cups along a belt system in a gutter which would deposit poly balls into the machine one at a time every 3-5 seconds, depending on how fast it was set.

"With this system, Paul could go out there and be all by himself and not wait for someone else to feed him balls. It was a great training system where only about five balls were ever being used. We actually set up such a system at UNLV when Fred Dallimore was the coach there. We still have the plans available to set up such a system for those who are interested. We found that you can get a tremendous amount of cuts in without someone being there to feed balls and retrieve balls."

Norm was asked what other training techniques can be taught with his poly ball machines besides hitting.

"When you use Pete Birmingham's Soft Hands device on your glove hand, you can point the Granada in front of the defensive player and have him practice hard grounders. The fear factor is taken away, just like hitting against the machine. Jim Wing, long-time pitching coach at the University of Arizona, had a Granada machine that he used for his catchers. Catchers would be in full gear, complete with their catcher's glove. Then he would fire poly balls in the dirt so they would get work on blocking balls. The players obviously would not be concerned with getting hurt because poly balls were being used."

Norm was asked if hitting mechanics are highly overrated or if learning to hit by fire through thousands of cuts with a great machine like his is the ideal teacher.

"Here is what happened in our neighborhood," said Norm.

"The particular high school which these kids went to had never won a conference championship in any sport in 25 years. We invited the kids to come over and hit almost any time they wanted to. We had two rules which were to take turns and go home at 10 p.m. These kids ended up in the state finals. There were no coaches with those kids as they took numerous cuts every day."

 Norm was asked who some of the celebrities have been who have purchased his machines.

He said they include NFL Coaches George Allen and Ted Marchibroda, and Major League greats Pete Rose, George Brett and Tony Gwynn, to name a few.

Paul said Mark McGwire has been quoted as saying that he wouldn't be where he is today without the Granada Pitching Machine.

"He credits extensive use of the Granada in both high school and the University of Southern California," said Paul.

Inventions Are In Blood Of Norm Bruce

"The reason these people and thousands of schools have used it is because of the immediate assessment hitters have after using it. If a kid can see what he is doing with a live ball coming at him, it helps tremendously.

"But I'm not sure hitting a baseball via soft toss into a net three feet away is all that productive. How do you know how well you hit the ball? You don't know, and there is no assessment. This and other such drills are not game speed drills. You then see players pick up bad habits. But when the players can see what they are doing with live pitches, they can self correct. If they are popping up or hitting the ball down on the ground, they can correct themselves. You don't need a coach. But this only happens in an area where you see how the ball travels. It doesn't happen with soft toss."

Paul said when thousands and thousands of balls have been hurled in your direction, you actually begin to see the spin of pitches such as curves.

"When you pick up the spin of pitches after all these cuts, you not only know the ball will curve but where. And that is crucial to the development of hitters."

With 40-plus years of development under Norm's belt tinkering with and refining his Granada Pitching Machines that can throw fastballs, curves, sliders, sinkers, and other pitches, another remarkable invention was made available to baseball by Norm in the last few years called the Triton.

This baseball/poly ball/urethane ball throwing machine has a unique 3-wheel design. You can program random pitches to be thrown from fastballs to off-speed pitches. This technology significantly increases the value of batting practice because it brings the batters into a more valid, stay alert, game condition practice. The changes of pitches develops the ability of the batter to respond not only to the expected but also the unexpected.

In reality, it is the machine he has worked his entire life time on.

"We have seriously been working on the Triton since 1970," said Norm.

"In 1996, we finally brought it out, and many coaches were excited about it."

Norm said he was excited to introduce this innovative machine with its 3-wheel design because the head of the machine does not have to be moved - only dials on the back of the machine.

Another new concept allowed pitches to be programmed so that random pitches could be thrown to batters.

"You always hesitate in getting too sophisticated because there really is only so much machinery a ball club needs.

"When we showed the Major League teams what we were doing with the Triton, it was interesting because none of them wanted balls thrown to their hitters over 55 mph.

"My grandson went to the Tony Gwynn camp in San Diego a year ago, and Tony told the hitters that if balls are thrown in the 70s to get out of there because balls thrown at those speeds will make batters lose their discipline. I found this very interesting not only from the Major League teams but Tony Gwynn as well."


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