Sounding the National Pasttime

Since baseball’s beginnings, sound has been important. Outfielders listen for a sharp crack or a dull thunk to help them get a jump on the ball. Coaches listen to how a fastball hits a catcher’s mitt to see if a pitcher has his best stuff. Recently, science has begun to explain how players use their hearing to do what they do. For example, a centerfielder cannot visually tell the difference of a bloop over second base and a blast to the warning track. Instead he listens.

On the forefront of baseball acoustics is Dr. Daniel Russell, a physicist at Kettering University in Flint. Russell’s specialty is bats. If you want to know why aluminum bats make a different noise than wood, Russell is your guy. “It’s the same question you’d ask about the whole universe, cosmos thing — how does it work, why does it work,” he told The New York Times.

Bat manufacturers have been particularly interested in Russell’s research into what makes a sweet spot, well, sweet. Most parts of a bat will vibrate when struck by a baseball. These vibrations end up moving up and down a bat. This lost energy usually translates into sore hands for the batter and a limp hit. But there is hope. A wooden bat usually has one large sweet spot, or node. If a ball is hit here, the vibrations cancel each other out allowing more energy to be transferred to the baseball that in turn will travel farther. To learn how to find a sweet spot, buy a hammer and look here.

To learn how a sweet spot can become an orchestra, one needs only Japanese marketing.