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Confessions of a spitball.

How I went from mound to plate ... to life in the slammer.

Play ball!" All across America, you can hear umpires shouting that phrase. But you won't find me near a baseball diamond this spring. I've been tossed in the joint for a crime I didn't even commit. Call me Spitball. Call me Greaseball. But don't call me Cheater. I still say I followed the laws. The laws of physics, that is. Grab some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, and I'll tell you my tale.

THE BASICS

My career got off to a quick start. I'd been hanging out in a basket with a few other balls, when a pitcher whisked me up. The next thing I knew, I was sailing toward the plate at 75mph, all the while turning backward somersaults that made my insides spin.

I'd heard about backspin from my Uncle Ed, but I never imagined that moving through the air could be like this. "That's the thing about air," Ed said. "You can't see it, so you think it's no big deal. But you sure can feel it." And boy, did I! The air was pushing on me as if it wanted to shove me back to the mound.

What's more, each time I did the backspin, I felt the air resistance building up not just in front of me but also beneath me. So not only was the air trying to force me back, it was also pushing me up--not tremendously, but enough to resist gravity's downward pull (see Exhibit A, top).

So what happended? The batter, who was thinking gravity would pull me down low, swung low and missed. "Steerike one!" What a game! What a country!

SPITTERS

Being one of the sport's greatest fastballs was uplifiting at first. But when the batters got used to my height crossing the plate... Whaack! It was, like, Bruise City. Then my pitcher's solution turned my life around--for the worse.

Bases were loaded in the bottom of the ninth. I was relaxing in the pitcher's mitt when I noticed a smear of Vaseline under his cap. Chapped lips? I wondered. But the goop was meant for me, I realized in horror as he dabbed some on my skin. Slick move on the pitcher's part. All he had to do now was squeeze me with his fingertips and off I went. "Hey Buddy!" I yelped in midair. "What am I? A watermelon seed?"

I heard no reply, just the soft whistle of air going by--air that should have been rushing by. I began to put two and two together. I was moving pretty slowly then...and I wasn't spinning, either....The second I started to dip toward the plate I realized what had happened. Because of the way I was thrown, I had little speed and almost no spin. The less speed, the more time it took me to get to the plate. That gave gravity more time to pull me down. And without spin, I got no helpful upward lift from the air. So there I was:

No speed, no spin, and no defense against gravity. Down I went (see Exhibit A, bottom).

But luck was on my side. The batter, remembering my days as a rising fastball, swung too high. Strikeout!

"What a blast!" I though. But as I got shmeared up for another toss, I heard the batter's coach hollering accusations. "Spitball!" he yelled. "Doctored ball! Get 'im outta here!" And out I bounced.

Now here I wallow, my memories my only comfort. In trying to be a righteous ball, I'd followed all the laws: For every good push you give the air, expect another one back. The slower you fly, the deeper you dive. And this one--the one that really got me: What goes up, must ultimately come down.

Well, baseball fans, maybe it' time I retire anyhow. If I can't get back in the majors, maybe I can sell my story to "Movie of the Week."
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Freiman, Chana
Publication:Science World
Date:Apr 2, 1993
Words:662
Previous Article:Quite the kite.
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