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Virtual Diamond in the Rough

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As the baseball playoffs approach, many fair-weather fans rediscover their interest in America’s pastime. And many reach the same conclusion as they watch batters flail at major-league heat: “I know I could hit better than that guy.”

Now, Fox Sports is giving Web surfers a virtual place in the batter’s box. On its slickly redesigned and video-rich Web site, visitors can try to hit an assortment of fastballs and curves tossed by a cyber hurler at supposedly major-league speeds.

OK, so it’s not as realistic as a batting cage. You don’t need strength to have a quick bat and Barry Bonds-like power; you just need decent finger reflexes and a little hand-eye coordination.

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But stepping onto Fox’s 3-D animated field is addictive fun all the same, and it gives a taste of what a batter such as Bonds sees when he stands in against the likes of Chan Ho Park. The site gives you a choice among seven pitchers, each of which presents a different challenge--a “blistering” fastball, say, or an especially wicked curve.

If and when you make contact (which can be pretty tough on curves and sliders), you’ll watch the ball arc (or dribble) onto the field as a virtual tape measure tallies the distance. There are no fielders, so everything you hit between the foul lines counts as a hit. Sweet!

So check it out now before Bonds and Park join you in watching the playoffs on TV. Just be forewarned: The game takes several minutes to pump through a dial-up modem.

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