The baseball season is almost here. To get you up to speed, the excellent new documentary Fastball opens today in select theaters.
Fastball is all about, you guessed it, the heater, the cheese, the hummer, the hard stuff, from the perspective of pitchers, hitters, umpires—and scientists, who talk about everything from the physics governing the trajectory of the ball to the physiology of the strain on the pitcher’s arm to the psychology of hurling a potentially deadly projectile at another human being to the neuroscience of the batter’s perception and reaction.
At high speeds, the ball may appear to the hitter to rise. Of course, the ball is actually still going down due to gravity as it approaches the plate from any pitcher throwing overhand, no matter how fast. It’s just not falling as much as the batter’s brain is accustomed to from watching slower pitches. But I did not know til I saw the movie that, for some hitters facing the very hardest throwers, the ball can completely disappear.
“The idea of the ball disappearing was really fascinating to me. Because all these hall of famers were talking, they all were saying the same thing, that these few really special guys, the Koufaxes and the Fellers, that the ball would disappear.”
Fastball director Jonathan Hock, after a preview of the film March 22nd at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University in New Jersey.
“And so I mentioned that to these professors of perception and cognition and all that, and they immediately understood. Because they explained that when the eye tracks an object in motion, you’re not actually on the ball the whole way. You’re actually racing your eyes ahead to where you think the ball’s going to go. And most of us can go about a tenth of a second ahead. And the people with the greatest vision in the world can go two-tenths of a second ahead. Which is exactly the distance, the amount of time that it basically takes to swing, like 0.17 [seconds] for the swing. So if you’re going two-tenths of a second ahead of where the ball is, and that’s when you’re triggering your swing, and then the ball isn’t there, it has literally disappeared in the part of your brain that registers vision. So they’re absolutely telling the truth when they say the ball disappeared.”
In addition to opening at theaters, the movie Fastball is also available on various streaming platforms, including iTunes. Catch it!
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]