Each year, my father would load the neighborhood kids and me into his gray 1964 International Carryall and drive southward on Highway 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge to Candlestick Park whenever his beloved St. Louis Cardinals played the Giants.
Games at Candlestick Park in fall were like a scene from a Norman Rockwell illustration, where fans ate popcorn and hot dogs and enjoyed the warm sun. However, in spring and summer, windy, cold and foggy best described the weather at Candlestick.
In 1961’s All-Star Game, Giant’s pitcher Stu Miller was allegedly blown off the mound. In interviews today, Miller emphatically denies it.
Overall, atmospheric conditions play a significant role in baseball games. East of the Rocky Mountains, rain delays are common.
In the Rockies, Coors Field in Denver is at an elevation of 5,280 feet. As altitude increases, the air in the earth’s atmosphere becomes less dense. In fact, air density at this baseball field is about 82 percent less than at sea level. When the air becomes thinner, it offers less resistance to objects flying through it, such as baseballs.
Due to less air resistance, Coors Park became the home run capital of Major League Baseball and a nightmare for pitchers. That is, until the Rockies began to store their baseballs in a humidor back in 2002.
You see, the higher relative humidity levels in these storage boxes allow baseballs to absorb a greater amount of moisture. This made the baseballs softer and heavier. Since they started using the humidor, home runs have decreased by about 25 percent at Coors Field.
West of the Rockies, a game between Cal Poly and Santa Clara in early March was called at Baggett Stadium as dense fog rolled in from the Pacific and reduced the visibility to a few feet. This year, Cal Poly is on a roll, ranked number two in the country by ESPN.com’s power rankings.
One reason for the team’s success is the contribution of Matt Imhof, a huge lefty from Mission San Jose High School. Friday night at Cal Poly, Imhof struck out 13 Aggies from UC Davis. His fastballs can reach 94 mph and his curve ball has a devastating big break. If you’re a fan of baseball, Imhof and the rest of the Mustangs are a joy to watch.
How does Imhof generate such movement in his curveball? A team of engineers from Convergent Science wrote a computer simulation to help understand how pitchers throw a curveball.
Like any other object, baseballs obey the laws of physics; when a pitcher puts a spin on the ball, air pressure builds up on one side and decreases on the other side and it curves. Their computer simulation can determine the forces that pitchers need to impart on the ball to get a strike by observing the path on it after it leaves their hand.
Their software models a baseball’s flight from the pitcher’s mound to home plate into tiny cells in the air. As the baseball cuts through these simulated cells, the model calculates the effect of each cell on the ball’s motion. A pitcher could ask the person running the simulation what ball path he wanted to achieve and the software could calculate the exact force and spin required to get that curve.
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