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Sunday, 20 February, 2000, 16:18 GMT
The science of baseball
Players have very little time to think
Top sports stars are truly remarkable human beings, according to the measurements of a baseball payer's reactions.

Yale University physicist Robert Adair has timed how long it takes for a batter to see the ball once it leaves the pitcher's hand.

The reaction times are tiny and seem impossible, he told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington DC.

A batter facing a 145-kph (90-mph) delivery has less than a quarter of a second to see the pitch, judge its speed and location, decide what to do, and then start to swing.

Adair said that when a big league pitcher like Randy Johnson throws such a fastball, it takes only 400 milliseconds - 400 one-thousandths of a single second - for the ball to reach the plate.

It takes about 100 milliseconds for the eye of the batter to see the ball and send the image to the brain. It takes 75 more milliseconds for the brain to process the information, and gauge the speed and location of the pitch.

Swing pattern

During those fractional seconds, the ball has already travelled 4.2 metres. The batter must then decide, in just 25 milliseconds, whether to swing or to let the ball go by. If the decision is to swing, Adair said the batter's brain then picks a swing pattern - high, low, inside, outside. This takes 100 milliseconds.

By the time the batter is ready to start his swing, 225 milliseconds have passed and the ball is now just 7.5 metres from the plate.

Adair said the swing starts when the brain sends signals to the legs to start the batter's stride forward. It takes 15 milliseconds for the fastest signal to reach the lowest muscle in the leg.

The swing itself takes 150 milliseconds, so if the bat is to meet the ball, the swing must begin just 250 milliseconds after the ball left the pitcher's hand.

In the 1880s, the pitcher's rubber was 15 meters from the plate instead of the current 18 meters, 15 centimetres.