Tuesday, March 3, 2009

With Spring comes Baseball!

The turning of the calendar leads us to the first whiff of spring, and in my book spring means BASEBALL!


Now, you ask. What does baseball have to do with science???


Now, come on! Everything has something to do with science, and if Isaac Newton were alive today he’d be a HUGE fantasy baseball guy! Why, you ask? Physics, my friend. Simple Newtonian physics. (Well, maybe not entirely simple, but quite elegant).


Several years ago I took a trip to Cooperstown, NY to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It's a wonderful place to visit, even if you're not really a baseball fan. It's a beautiful town, and there's lots to see in the Hall. But I went to a seminar there for everyday folk about the science behind baseball. A couple of years ago the Baseball All Star Game was in San Francisco, where I live, so I went to All Star Fan Fest and went to yet another seminar, Q & A session on the science behind baseball.


Anytime you deal with the movement of objects, you're talking about physics. And when the objects are of the sizes of baseballs and bats, and include wind speeds and curve balls, you're talking Newtonian physics. How do pitchers affect baseballs in such to way to make the balls curve or slide? How does a spit ball work (illegal in the game but still a reasonable question)? What makes a good swing? All of these things have to do with motion, leverage, torque, momentum. If you have a good understanding of these concepts in physics, baseball is a good demonstration of them.


Similarly if you love baseball, that is an "in" to studying physics. It's a real world application.


You can find several sites that give a good low down on the science of baseball, but the Exploratorium has a good one here. They also talk about the biology behind baseball and how your muscles have to work and the reaction time to hit a 95 mile an hour fast ball and the split microsecond decisions your mind and muscles have to make on when to start the swing and process the information your eyes tell you about the location, velocity, and arc of the pitch. You can also find a lot more information at the Baseball Hall of Fame website and others about the same subject.


There's a lot of playing sports that is instinct, but with practice we also become good judges of movement. So in a way, without knowing the theory, we are amateur physicists. The same holds true for all sports: football, basketball, hockey, golf, pool, swimming, etc. Baseball lends itself to this example because of so many great examples of movement: not only the arc of the ball on a pitch, but the arc of a ball after a hit, base running, throwing, types of pitches, the logistics of batting, judging balls and strikes, reflexes and muscle response, hand-eye coordination, velocity, humidity, etc. It's a physicist's and baseball statistician's dream!


And as long as you have a good one, there is no bad time to throw a change-up!


Go Giants!

1 comment:

Schreffler said...

Great discussion on the application of physic and baseball. What of the science (biological and physiology?) of performance enhancement. Specialized training, computer modeling of posture, clothing modifications, drugs... Actually that may be be less of a science discussion and more into ethics, etc?