CleanFuego is a baseball training device athletes can use to polish or learn new pitches, learn to better grip and release a baseball, and work out subtle changes to their delivery in real-time. The device was scientifically engineered to replicate a professional regulation baseball save for its two parallel sides that appear to be ‘cut’ off. This helps provide immediate visual feedback that can be utilized to gain information on ball flight, movement, spin direction and spin efficiency, among other things.
The goal is to get the Fuego to ‘fly’ straight, and then interchange between the Fuego and a regulation baseball every five throws or so. If thrown incorrectly, it will often wobble when it's grip related (middle of ball, pressure, thumb, etc.) and cut when it's throw related (wrist position, elbow lead, pronate/supinate, etc.).
Though it can improve spin efficiency and therefore spin rate and velocity, CleanFuego does not present itself as a velocity tool, and encourages finesse and feel over grip and rip. The product is intended to help players understand what their pitches are supposed to be doing, and as a tool to help learn new grips and pitches. CleanFuego can also be used for youth players learning to go from a 3-4 finger ‘fastball’ grip to a two-finger grip.
CleanFuego offers a regulation 5.25 ounce and an overweight 8 ounce, which can be used in a myriad of ways, including addressing extension deficiencies that result in cutting the baseball, for example. Its design provides the user with a similar feel of a baseball in terms of size and is made of a hard plastic instead of leather, as a waterlogged or scuffed object would not spin appropriately.
CEO Mike McGuiness visited with Inside Pitch to tell us a little more about the product…
IP: What’s your background in baseball like?
Mike McGuiness: Incredibly relatable. We’ve always been a baseball family. I played baseball in high school at St. Andrews in Potomac, Maryland. I joined the Board of the D.C. Grays, a collegiate summer team, because I wanted to stay close to the game and try to support the local baseball community. And my brother Connor is the Major League Assistant Pitching Coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
IP: So what are your observations about the tech-heavy resources around baseball’s current landscape? How did you expect CleanFuego to compete as an analog product with no power outlet, charging, batteries, wi-fi, smart apps, etc.?
MM: It's fantastic to see so many great products out there designed to help further the game of baseball. And, with all the information that’s out and available, it’s great that some of these tools help to simplify the intent. When we started CleanFuego, our number one conversation and top-of-mind priority was around the fact that we did not want to develop a ‘gimmick’ tool or eye wash. If Fuego didn't work, we weren't going to sell it. This is pretty well demonstrated by the fact that we had 42 prototypes and more than two years of research and development. We were meticulous, but we really wanted to make Fuego accurate, reliable and durable.
IP: How did you come up with the name?
MM: The name CleanFuego came from what players are trying to accomplish: hard, clean throws. Additionally, "That's clean!" and "Eres Fuego" were things guys shouted to one another during warm-up and practice to hype and support one another. So, naturally we just stuck the Clean and the Fuego together.
IP: How did you pitch it out of the gate?
MM: CleanFuego is almost like the baseball multi-tool. And, it can be useful to every player on the baseball field. It can help guys in a variety of ways, not just pitchers looking to improve their spin efficiency. Infield glove transfers and throws, gripping a 4-seam, outfield long toss, catcher receiving and pop drills, pitch design and so much more. Ultimately, we wanted to help baseball players get better.
IP: When did the ‘light bulb’ moment arrive when you thought there was an opening in the market for a product like this?
MM: My brother went to his first big league spring training with the Dodgers. He described a station where the players were using hockey pucks to work on and visualize their spin. I couldn't believe it. This is the Dodgers and they're throwing hockey pucks?!
So, the idea started out as something simple. Let's make a functional ‘cut ball’ for baseball players. But we needed to be conscious of all the respective nuances of a baseball. Fuego needed to be as accurate as we could make it. Weight, center of mass, circumference, stitch height, seam orientation, material, durability, mitigating external influences, etc. All of this we considered just to make sure CleanFuego provided reliable immediate feedback. And, when athletes switched back and forth between a baseball and a Fuego, that translation needed to be seamless. And, on top of all that, could we create a model that we could scale and mass produce.
IP: And then there was the Joe Kelly Fuego-through-the-window incident…
MM: He's a legend! Joe was one of many athletes that were really supportive, videoing themselves throwing Fuego in their backyard when Covid lockdowns got underway. But that throw through his window was something we won't soon forget. It's funny, many people still don't know he's throwing Fuego in that video; they just assume he's tossing a baseball that got away. Regardless, that shattered window and the video that went viral thereafter really created a spark that helped the Fuego spread.
IP: Forty-two prototypes and two years until you broke through…what’s your advice to those who might be in a ‘prototype’ stage of their own?
MM: If you're going to do it - then you have to go all in. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes, most of them small, and you’ll learn a lot from them. Then other mistakes will be massive! They’ll make you doubt every decision you’ve ever made. But you learn from those as well. Personally, every instinct you have will tell you to stop. Too much risk. Too much unknown. Too much doubt. Can’t we spend someone else’s money on this? And this isn’t just when you start. You’ll feel this ripple throughout the entire process.
The one thing though, and I personally think this is true for almost anything in life- baseball, training, business, personal relationships, school, whatever- just keep pushing. Do not stop. Understand your personal horizon and just keep marching toward that. Some days will be better than others. But don’t let those tough and stormy days keep you from marching toward your goal.
For more information on CleanFuego, visit cleanfuego.com.