Relativistic Fastball

Yesterday I discovered the completely brilliant What If? website, and the just-published book that came from it. Recognizing that there are indeed such things as stupid questions, it then tries to answer them scientifically. And one of those questions is, “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?”

In point of fact, Randy Johnson did his best to answer that question with one well-placed heater and one poorly-placed pigeon.

But scientifically, what would happen? Well, follow along to find out how the batter would wind up on 1st base (once the stadium is rebuilt)…

Let’s set aside the question of how we got the baseball moving that fast. We’ll suppose it’s a normal pitch, except in the instant the pitcher releases the ball, it magically accelerates to 0.9c. From that point onward, everything proceeds according to normal physics.:

The answer turns out to be “a lot of things”, and they all happen very quickly, and it doesn’t end well for the batter (or the pitcher). I sat down with some physics books, a Nolan Ryan action figure, and a bunch of videotapes of nuclear tests and tried to sort it all out. What follows is my best guess at a nanosecond-by-nanosecond portrait:
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They Can Take Our Lives, But They’ll Never Stop Our Hurling!

Tomorrow, Scots go to the polls for two momentous elections. In the one you’ve heard about, they’ll vote to decide if Scotland will secede from Great Britain, leaving those limey wankers with naught but the Welsh, troubles in Northern Ireland, and the potential for a Spice Girls reunion. It seems the Brits can’t keep anything together, from the Commonwealth to Kate Middleton’s legs. In case you’re not sure which side you’re on, we present this educational video…

OK, to be fair, the Queen and David Beckham are on the other side of the issue. But we’ll come back to that.

In the other election, members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club will decide if they’ll need to build a second locker room. Since it’s founding in 1754, the R&A has been entirely, exclusively, 100%, no exceptions, male only. If you’re wearing a skirt in the R&A, it better be a kilt, because women aren’t allowed, not even as guests. The R&A doesn’t actually own any of the golf courses at St. Andrews — women are welcome to play a round whenever they like — but no way can they come inside for a brandy and stogey at the 19th hole. (Fun fact: golf used to have 22 holes. The R&A was instrumental in cutting it down to 18.) For more one this hotly-contested battle of the sexes, go to Only A Game and read or listen to the story.

And if you’re not sure how exactly golf was invented, Robin Williams has the answer.

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Colorado Rockie Kyle Parker on the Majors, first hit, and backing up Peyton Manning

The last time we spoke with Kyle Parker, he was just coming off his first stint in the Majors, and was playing where he played most of the 2014 season, in triple-A Colorado Springs. After a couple cups of coffee in Denver this year, Parker was among the Rockies’ September call-ups.

Accustomed to playing every day in minors, he’s batting just .154 in 13 sporadic Major League at-bats, where he is used primarily as a pinch hitter. His first hit came in his second stint in the Majors, which lasted just one game in which he went 1-for-3, including this lifelong memory:

We caught up with him again briefly in Rockies clubhouse before a game earlier this month, where he talked about his first Major League hit, life in the Majors, and (since he played quarterback at Clemson for two years) the possibility of backing up Peyton Manning.

Colorado Rockie Ben Paulsen talks about his Major League firsts

Paulsen-InterviewIn March 2013, I spoke with a clean-shaven Ben Paulsen during Spring Training about his aspirations of playing in the Majors. At the time, he had not played higher than double-A, but he would play that entire ensuing season at triple-A Colorado Springs. More than a year later, the power-hitting first baseman got the call to the Majors for the first time, replacing an injured Justin Morneau.

Because of a statistical anomaly, the record books say that Paulsen’s first hit came May 22, 2014—almost two months before his actual Major League debut. This is because he hit a pinch-hit single on September 1 in the resumption of a suspended game against the Giants that had started on May 22. The record books credit all the stats from that game to the day it began.

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Angels prospect Cal Towey carries on a family tradition

Cal Towey, the 17th-ranked prospect in the LA Angels system, is following in the footsteps of his father and uncle, both of whom played minor league ball. After being drafted in 2013 and spending 2013 with the short-season rookie league Orem Owls, Cal batted .279 with 10 home runs and 63 RBIs in his first full season with the high-A Inland Empire 66ers. Cal went 3-for-3 in the Cal League playoff opener Wednesday night in a win over the Padres affiliate, the Lake Elsinore Storm. He took a moment to speak with us toward the end of the regular season about life in professional baseball.