Batter Up!

Pitcher Scott Proctor, Photo Keith Allison on Flickr

Pitcher Scott Proctor, Photo Keith Allison on Flickr

I’m famously sports inept. So who would have thought I’d have something in common with major league pitchers who hurl hardballs at 95+ miles per hour? Turns out, our Achilles heels may be shoulders. I have managed to wreck each of my shoulders at different times—not, I can assure you, by throwing a ball at any speed. Everyone who has suffered a shoulder injury knows that it is painful, incapacitating, annoying (when it is the result of nothing in particular or your own stupidity–my personal cases), and that the recuperative period can be long. In the case of major league pitchers, they invite disaster on a daily basis simply because of what they do, how often they do it, and the force with which they do it. However, apparently a small change in the height of the pitcher’s mound may lead to longer careers and less risk of injury. Unfortunately, I don’t work on a pitcher’s mound, so this discovery can’t help me. Science Friday on April 3, 2015, featured a program on baseball, as spring is finally here bringing spring training and the opening of the baseball season with it. Among others, host Ira Flatow interviewed William Raasch, Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, who doubles as the team physician for the Milwaukee Brewers. Raasch explained that research funded by the MLBA discovered that by reducing the height of the surface from which pitchers pitch, they might be able to reduce the risk of injury to—and lengthen the careers of—pitchers. While helping pitchers rehabilitate, it was noticed that they felt fine when practicing their throws on flat ground, but when they moved to the pitcher’s mound, they discovered they were not as healed as they thought. The pitching mound is just 10 inches high. (Of course, on television, it looks much higher, but then wheels on cars also turn backward on TV.) But apparently that is enough to make a world of difference. It is, explained Raasch, a matter of timing. The pitcher’s arm was rotated differently at the time the front foot made contact with the ground. Don’t expect the pitcher’s mound height to decrease any time soon. Baseball players are rated as among the most superstitious of sports figures. Trying to convince them to give up the advantage—even it’s only psychological—over the batter will be impossible. And don’t try to get him to alter his pitching performance, either. If the pitcher has a quirky pitch that puts his shoulder at risk, but gets batters out, says Raasch, it’s unlikely the pitcher will give that up and possibly end his career earlier than a dicey shoulder.

The Muneate

My sports ineptitude is legend. The phrase “can’t hit the broad side of a barn” was coined to describe my throwing prowess. So when my dad brought home a couple bows and set up a hay bale-backed target in the backyard, we all expected that I would wipe out half the squirrel population by accident. All of us were surprised (stunned, shocked, amazed) to discover that archery was something I could actually do. No neighborhood pets or small children were harmed as I practiced. It appeared that all I had needed for my latent athleticism to emerge was a sport that involved weapons. Continue reading

Why I’m Not An Athlete

It started when I was in junior high. President John F. Kennedy was determined to get us into shape, so we were condemned to physical education classes every day. Even if it wasn’t every day, it seemed like it because I spent the time I wasn’t in PE class dreading it. On top of that, every year we were confronted with Physical Fitness tests: softball throw, the broad jump, the 50-yard dash and other indignities I’ve blocked out.

I envied the girls who were good at sports. They made it look fun. And easy. But I was one of those who, when it came time to choose teams, was always left on the sidelines until the last minute. And with good reason. Continue reading