When I was taking the candidacy exam, one of my questions was to picture myself as a slugger, and describe the neuroscience of baseball. I was not the only one. That’s why I find this article on the physics of baseball
so intriguing.

The Rockies’ home park, Coors Field in Denver, Colorado, sits some 1.6 kilometres above sea level, and the thinned air at that altitude allows hitters to slug more balls out of the ballpark. According to Meyer, an avid baseball fan, the situation is so bad that the Rockies have had trouble recruiting pitchers to play on the team: the fear is that the high home-run rate would drag down a pitcher’s ‘earned run average’, or ERA.

As a way of solving the problem, the Rockies began storing their balls in humidors at 50% humidity in 2002. The theory was that the ball would be heavier and swollen, so players would have to hit them harder and they would fly less easily through the air. The move, which is legal under Major League rules, has been accompanied by a small decline in the park’s cumulative ERA since 2002, says Meyer.

The physicists wanted to check if the wet balls were really worse fliers, and if this could account for the drop in ERA. “We wanted to know if it could be solely because of aerodynamics,” says Meyer.

So what happens to humid baseballs? Read the article to find out.

The physics of baseball

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