The science of baseball

Baseball has long been known as America’s favorite pastime, but science may provide a different way to view this sport. A closer look reveals that physics is what actually powers baseball. And while 17th-century British Physicist Sir Isaac Newton didn’t play baseball, the Laws of Motion he crafted are in action all all over the baseball diamond.

TRANSCRIPT

Baseball's long been known as America's favorite pastime, but science may provide a different way to view this sport.

A closer look reveals that physics, the branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy, is what actually powers baseball.

And while 17th century British physicist Sir Isaac Newton didn't play baseball, the laws of motion he crafted are in action all over the baseball diamond.

Here's the story.

Baseball has long been known as America's Game.

[ 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game' plays ] There's the baseball we all know -- balls and strikes, hits and runs, and don't forget hot dogs and cotton candy and root, root, root for the home team.

But if you attend a Durham Bulls game on Education Day and you meet several science teachers, you realize there's a part of baseball fans may not think about.

I used to think that baseball just was about the food and the crowds and having a good time, but a close analysis of baseball shows you it's really more about science and math.

But a ballpark hot dog is still the ultimate, isn't it?

Oh, absolutely.

You can't just come for the academics.

You need the food, too.

Physics, that branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy, is what makes baseball possible.

When I look at baseball as it applies to science, I think of Newton's law of motion.

The 17th century British physicist Sir Isaac Newton didn't play baseball, but the laws of motion he crafted are all over the baseball diamond.

Take a look.

Newton's first law of motion states that... The baseball would simply stay on the ground forever, until the pitcher applied a force to pick it up.

Once it's thrown, the baseball would keep going until the force applied by a bat hits it or a catcher catches it.

When the pitcher pitches the ball, two things are going to change -- speed and direction.

When he throws the ball, it's going to start out going faster, and then gravity is going to take over and air resistance, and the ball's going to slow down, changing the speed.

Also, if the ball is up in the air, it's going to change direction.

It's going to go from the air down to the ground because of gravity.

Now let's go to Newton's second law.

In other words, the greater the mass of the object being accelerated, the higher the force must be.

Think about the pitcher again, but this time, substitute the baseball with a bowling ball.

The pitcher can't throw the bowling ball at a high rate of speed, because the mass of the ball is greater than the amount of force the pitcher can apply.

So, what about a batter?

The faster the ball comes, the more force that the batter has to apply to the ball to get it to go farther.

The less the ball weighs, the less he has to apply force.

The heavier the ball is and the faster it goes, the more force that the batter has to apply to hit the ball as far as he wants it to go.

Now to Newton's third law.

It states that... Or, put another way, when forces collide, every force exerted by the first is met with an equal and opposite reaction by the second force.

That's what happens when a batter gets a hit.

The action or force of the bat hitting the ball reduces the reaction of the ball changing direction and moving away from the force of the bat that acted on it.

So, what happened there?

So, the force of the ball coming in contact with the bat -- Even though the bat is applying force to shoot the ball out, the ball is also causing an equal amount of force to go into that bat.

So to get a hit, the bat must apply an equal amount of force to force the ball to change direction.

Objects push equal on each other.

So when the pitcher is holding the ball, the ball is starting to go to the ground.

But the pitcher has to use an equal amount of force to keep it in his hand, or else his hand would just go like that, and the ball would fall.

Now let's look at another example of what happens when a force is applied in baseball, this time, what happens when a pitcher actually delivers a pitch.

It turns out, the major difference between a fastball, curveball, slider, and screwball is the direction in which the ball spins.

That's because the spin causes the ball to disturb the air around it.

Anything you throw with over-the-top spin, you're going to get the downward action on the baseball.

The spinning of the ball forces the air on one side of the ball to move faster than the other, in effect, changing the air pressure surrounding the ball.

That means the velocity of the air, relative to the ball's surface, is larger on the bottom of the ball.

The air pressure is higher.

So, as the spinning ball throws the air at the top down, the higher air pressure at the bottom of the ball pushes the ball up.

That's what makes the ball curve.

And the effect of the spin is powerful.

A ball spinning at 1,800 revolutions per minute will turn about 15 times in its journey from the pitcher to home plate.

That spin rate adds about 1 ounce of force on the ball, and that causes the ball to change its direction by about 1 1/2 feet.

In the end, science may provide a different way to view America's game, but...

You see all these kids come out.

That's why I like to play, because whenever I was there age, I wanted to be where I'm at now.

So that, to me, is the biggest part of baseball.