Professor looks to help baseball star break record

By Andrew Marron

An attempt to break the world record for farthest batted ball was foiled last week after Philadelphia Phillies star Jimmy Rollins injured his calf, but one Washington State U. professor has not given up yet.

Lloyd Smith, director of the WSU sports science laboratory, has been searching for the perfect combination of bat and ball to help Rollins knock one out of the park.

“If we could have Jimmy in good shape, have the bat perform like we think it should and have a good tailwind, then there is a chance that we could break it,” he said. “If any of those things don’t work to our advantage, then it will be pretty hard to get that distance.” Red Bull, the event’s sponsor, is planning to reschedule the event for sometime in June. The current record holder, Babe Ruth, set the record at 576 feet in the 1920s. That ball was reportedly carried along by a strong tailwind, but Rollins will have technology on his side.

The Guinness World Record allows for the use of any bat and any ball, so Rollins has been given a rare opportunity to cheat. For this task, Red Bull originally recruited professor Al Nathan of U. Illinois.

“We consult with organizations such as the NCAA, the amateur softball association and things like that to regulate the performance of bats,” he said. “Here, we are being asked to do the opposite.” Nathan later contacted Smith because his lab was the perfect facility to test and make modifications to the bats. Once they had found the right composite bat, they hollowed it out and softened the barrel to improve its performance, Smith said.

The bat was also weighted so it would feel like the wooden bat that Rollins normally uses, but even with these modifications, Nathan is unsure whether Rollins will be able to break Babe Ruth’s record.

“With a standard baseball and a standard bat, it’s simply not possible for a human being to hit the ball that far without being somehow aided by the wind,” he said. “For that particular home run, I think the wind may have been blowing out at about 20 or 30 mph, which is huge.” Unlike Babe Ruth, Rollins will also get to choose his ball. A harder ball will fly much faster than a soft ball, so it was originally decided that he would use an NCAA ball rather than an MLB one.

Jeff Kensrud, a graduate student in the school of mechanical engineering who was also working on the project, reversed that decision after comparing their aerodynamics.

“The main differences are the stitches,” he said. “The stitches on the NCAA ball are four times the height of the MLB ball.” Those stitches create so much additional drag that it was actually better to use the MLB ball. The difference comes out to around 75 feet, and that would make or break the record, he said.

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