If you’ve taken your game to the level where you’re considering buying a ball machine, it’s time for some very serious thought. Ball machines start as low as $500 and their prices can go as high as $6,000. That’s a big investment for 99.9 percent of the tennis playing world, and you should carefully consider what you want in a machine, not just pick the top-of-the-line model because its price tag makes you believe it’s the best. We’ll start with two determining factors of your needs today, and come back with two more in Part II in Friday’s entry (7/30/2010). Weight and Size It’s great to have a massive machine with all the bells, whistles and room for 300 balls, but remember, you’re the one who’s got to move this hunk of metal back and forth to your court of choice. If you’ve built a court in your backyard, well you definitely have the advantage here. Properly cover the machine with a tarp, and you can leave it courtside for your daily sessions, or roll it to a nearby equipment shed. However, if you have to go to the country club or to your local high school for late afternoon practice sessions, you need to consider how you’re going to transport the machine and what size load you can bear day after day. The Lobster 201 Ball Bucket Ball Machine, weighs in around 28 pounds, about the mass of a healthy adult beagle, but if you plunk down your savings on Playmate Ace, make sure you have the physical makeup to lug its 115-pound frame around with you. Ball capacity is also something to consider here. Having a 300-ball capacity sounds great because it gives you extra-long practice sessions to get your strokes down. However, if you’re on the court alone and faced with the prospect of receiving all 300 balls, well you might be a little late for dinner. Power You buy your new machine, assemble it properly, roll it out to the court and … there’s no electrical outlet in sight. Know your home court before you invest in a ball machine, because buying one that doesn’t match up to your electrical capabilities means going through a long, painful process of returning it. Ball machines mainly come in two categories – those that rely on an A/C power source, and those that are battery-powered.
To our knowledge, no ball machine on the market offers both, and the ones that are battery-powered take only one certain type of batteries. In other words, when the batteries the machine came with die out, don’t expect to be able to swing by Radio Shack and pick up replacements. If you pick a machine that is powered with a plug, make sure you have the available extension cords to make it work on the court. Also be careful about using electrical outlets at public places. Ask permission from the court’s administrator, and try to stick to the court nearest the outlet. Nobody wants to trip over your extension cord while playing their match. Check back Friday for Part II, to learn more about choosing a correct machine based on its propulsion and oscillation!