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Forget the physics; baseball's fun

This game is about teams, stars, strategies and coaches, not Bournoulli's Law and the acceleration of gravity.

Daniel Caton

Special to The Observer

Published: Tuesday, November 3, 1998


Page 11A

Man, what a lotta stuff! It was July and I was up to my ears in moving boxes. We were finally moving into our new science building (thanks, taxpayers!), and there were just a few days left before the moving company arrived.

I uncovered an old issue of "Physics Today", with a cover story on the physics of baseball. I had never gotten around to reading it, and now I tossed it into a moving box so that I would have future opportunities to not read it. Not interested.

Baseball is not about physics. Forget Bernoulli's Law and the acceleration of gravity. Trying to get people interested in physics by applying it to games is missing the point. It reminds me of the old 'guys and cooking' argument. Remember when men didn't cook? One argument to lure them into the kitchen described cooking as "just chemistry," as if making the saucepan into a sort of beaker would make it different. Cooking is not about chemistry--it's about food, aromas, presentation and the delight of making it all come together. Leave the flasks in the lab, Florence. The important table for cooks is not the periodic. Similarly, baseball is about people--teams and stars, strategies and tactics, and the coaches that put it all together.

I'm not particularly sports minded, and in fact used to be openly hostile toward games. I would kid my students about their interest in what I dubbed 'commercial sports.' Perhaps it was from getting glasses at about age ten--that sort of stigmatized me against having balls fly at me at high speed Perhaps it was just lack of skill, of knack.

My home town and institutions certainly didn't help, growing up with the Tampa Bay Bucs, and attending USF, which had no football team. I went on to Gainesville for graduate work before the Gators learned how to buy good athletes and not get caught at it.

The change would come with the arrival of our kids. When our twins were born we had to dispatch for parental help, which arrived tag-team style. My inlaws tagged in twice in the summer of 1991, and with my late father-in-law Dock Hatcher came the need to watch the Braves. Luckily for us, the Braves started getting good that year. And, dang it, I got hooked! Oh, and who beat the Braves in the Series that year? The Twins. Kinda spooky.

It's been a mellowing experience, watching and learning baseball, playing it with the kids. But, despite the comments of overly-testosteroned football fans, baseball is not unnecessarily slow. Baseball players actually take time to think, a skill apparently unneeded for football, where much of the game is plain, freshmen physics--momentum exchange between overgrown humans. Elastic and inelastic collisions. Indeed, the Panthers seem to be doing far more bouncing than thinking lately.

What about Major League ball for the Carolinas? Now that the baseball season is over maybe some team will become (really) available for sale. Maybe Miami will run a winter special on the Marlins, having bought the Series last year and sold off everyone afterward. Charlotte Marlins--has a ring, and we have marlins off the coast. Or, the Charlotte Reds--we have ... oh, never mind.

But, Charlotte has not yet convinced itself that it can support a baseball team because it is looking only at itself. It needs to look outward to see that it will draw fans from the mountains to the coast. Many of us in Boone already travel an hour for Hickory Crawdad games, where a delightful evening is assured even if those darn crustaceans are gonna lose again. Another hour to see a major league game is no problem. It would even give Charlotte yet another way to compare itself to Atlanta!

And, baseball brings in different fans. More families, little leaguers and ladies. Little old southern aunts following the Braves on WTBS is almost a stereotype in Georgia. Even some football fans are smart enough to be able to follow baseball!

Baseball has remained America's pastime. Just look at the wonderful movies--Eight Men Out, League of their Own, Little Big League, Bull Durham, The Natural, Sandlot, Bad News Bears, Angels in the Outfield, Field of Dreams. What warm and fuzzy (or funny) movies has football offered? Panther Bloopers?

So, get a baseball team for all of the North State, Charlotte. Build it and we will come. And, I promise, I'll leave the physics back at the lab.

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