Physics, Baseball, and Faith

Gratitude for this picture goes out to Steven Dunn, the NY Post, and the greatest hitter of all time: Derek Jeter

Gratitude for this picture goes out to Steven Dunn, the NY Post, and the greatest hitter of all time: Derek Jeter

Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. (Romans 2:14)

Read: 1 Chronicles 16:37 – 18:17, Romans 2:1-14, Psalm 10:16-18, Proverbs 19:8-9

Relate: How do you hit a fastball going more than ninety miles per hour? You don’t. At least, that’s what the scientists say. I was listening to a sermon a while back where the preacher was using an illustration of how a physicist from Yale University wrote an article in USA Today (I believe) demonstrating why hitting a 90 MPH fastball is a physical impossibility. According to the preacher this article stated that it takes about a seventh of a second (.15) for stimulus response. That is also the length of time it takes for a bat to be swung into position once motion has started. It also takes an absolute bare minimum of a fifth of a second (.2) for the batter to identify the speed and type of pitch and calculate where it will be located as it crosses the plate. This in total adds up to a half a second. The problem is, a fastball thrown at 90 MPH moves from point of release to the catchers glove in .4 seconds. Therefore it is a physical impossibility to hit a 90 MPH fastball. This theoretical impossibility flies in the face of the known certainty of the fact that fastballs are hit well frequently.

I am not familiar with the article in question but my guess is that the physicist who wrote it was Robert Adair who has authored The Physics of Baseball. I’m pretty sure it was an interview with him that I heard something along the lines of, “If an alien completely unfamiliar with the sport were simply looking at the numbers they would say that the art of hitting is an impossibility.” I wonder if the preacher was referring to a variation of this quote in his illustration. If so, there are three factors that were not mentioned which must be included before we can rule hitting a true impossibility (which it clearly is not):
1) The batter can stop motion within the first third of his swing. He has 1/20th of a second (.05) to stop swinging before he has reached a point of no return. This means the time difference moves from 0.5-0.4 down to 0.45-0.4
2) There are tells that the batter can look for. For example, if the count is 2-0, this pitcher is more likely to use his fastball than his curve or changeup. If the catcher sets up low and outside then it is likely to be his curve. The pitcher’s left shoulder has that twitch more often when… you get the picture. The batter is subconsciously processing all this and much more long before the ball is released and that .4 clock begins.
3) Every swing is ultimately a swing of faith. If the batter waited to swing until he knew with certainty where and how fast that ball was coming then, yes, that swing will always be late. But the batter must begin his swing on instinct before that information gathering is complete and then use the milliseconds available to him to make micro adjustments as the motion is carried out.

React: I love this stuff but I’m guessing a lot of readers eyes have begun to glaze over as they read. Apologies. Let me sum it up with this. Every single swing of the bat is a cross between an educated guess and a leap of faith. This is true with virtually everything in life. The more talented and devoted an individual is to their craft, the better their guess will be but if they wait for complete knowledge and certainty then they will fail. Every single time they will be too late.

This is in effect what Paul is saying in Romans chapter 2. Yes, the Jews know more than the Gentiles but knowledge is not what saves or condemns. We are judged by what we do with that knowledge. How do we respond with what we are given? If we wait for certain knowledge it will be too late. By the time we are certain what we should have done, we will be hearing the Umpire say, “Strike Three. You’re outta here.”

Respond: 

God, help me to trust You and then to act on that trust. Give me the discipline to study and learn all that I can about the truly important things in this game of life. Give me keener vision, a faster mind, and sharper instincts as I live it out. But ultimately give me the courage to get the bat off my shoulders and swing away when the timing is right. Ultimately, I understand that the outcome is in Your hands, but You cannot use what I do not attempt. Let me attempt great things for You, God. Help me to swing away.

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24 thoughts on “Physics, Baseball, and Faith

  1. “I love this stuff but I’m guessing a lot of readers eyes have begun to glaze over as they read. Apologies.”
    What I LOVE about this post is the simplicity! Numbers numbers numbers yada yada yada – BUT … ! Such a simple truth.
    Thank you Beejai!
    The “Art of Complex” made simple. 🙂

  2. Awesome word picture! It leaves me with the reality of life in general is a response to the truth we know AND accept. When we act on it–not waiting for complete clarification–at the very least we’re heading in the right direction. Thanks, BJ, for the great picture–and even greater concept.

  3. When God said to Abraham “Go!” He didn’t say “can you explain a bit more?” He went even when God was silent, and the swing made him find Faith. Your blogs are truly thought provoking! 🙂

  4. I love your wisdom in your writing when you state: “knowledge does not save.” You are so right, it is what we do with the knowledge that we do have, that brings glory to the Lord. Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom with us.

  5. Thanks for this! I’m in the “under educated but made it” group. I have things I want to say, need to say. My lack of a formal education can leave me feeling inadequate until I recite: Phil. 4:13 NKJV “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If He calls us to it, He’ll see us through it…Amen?

  6. Hey you should listen Good Good Father Cover (it was originally written by chris tomlin) by HOUSEFIRES it helped me through a lot of stuff, really love that song 🙂

  7. Paul still put too much faith in the validity of the Torah. Jesus knew the Jewish scripture well, but he always new when to cast it aside, and how to do it in a way that drove to the heart of the matter. For example, refusing to murder a woman, even though that was the (truly evil) punishment “mandated by God”. Jesus knew that the Torah was written down by men, and though much of it was inspired by the holy spirit (for example, the ten commandments), other parts came from the greed of man (for example, the commandment to enslave the Canaanites, the peoples of modern day Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan). If you want to see the power of the spirit to inspire, look no further than the golden rule. Jesus made it his second commandment, the first being “love God”, and asserted that from these two, all law could be derived. According to Wikipedia, it “occurs in some form in nearly every religion and ethical tradition”.

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