Film review: Fastball (documentary)

A couple of weeks ago, I had a rare opportunity to sit down to watch something new on Netflix and stumbled across the documentary Fastball.

As a catcher, pitching fascinated me because I couldn’t do it. I always messed around with a lot of pitches with my pitcher buddies during bullpen sessions as something to do to pass the time. My changeup had a nice little drop to it, my two-seam fastball had reasonable movement (but wasn’t anything to be afraid of), I even figured out how to throw a splitter, but I could never get a curve ball to break. Catching a good breaking ball or a strong fastball, even in a bullpen session, was always a thing of beauty. One of my most fun experiences was catching a fastball in the ballpark of 95 mph. I’ve been obsessed with power fastballs since.

The doc starts with narrator Kevin Costner asking the question, “Can you hear a fastball?” The answer is a resounding “yes” by current and former players. Former New York Yankee Derek Jeter said, “It sounds like trouble is what it sounds like.” The actual sound that is described is the air against the baseball’s seams. If you’ve heard a high-speed fastball, you know exactly what they’re talking about in this segment.

Historically hard hurlers are highlighted through the middle section of the doc, as Goose Gossage, Bob Gibson and Bob Feller are showcased among others, whom you’ve likely never heard of before. Gossage and Gibson give great insight into the predator versus prey mentality that pitchers have when they’re on the mound. After listening to these two, you’ll never look a pitcher in the eyes again when you step in the box.

Peppered throughout are scenes with some of the greatest hitters of all time, including George Brett, Johnny Bench, and the late Tony Gwynn, talking about some of the most fearsome pitchers they ever faced. The stories in these short scenes are worth the price of Netflix for the month by themselves.

The final part of the doc visits the fastest pitches in the history of baseball. Methods of measuring speed are mentioned throughout the doc, because radar guns haven’t always been around and are revisited here. One such method was when Feller threw a pitch next to a speeding motorcycle to estimate the speed of his pitch.

The doc wraps up and drops some major physics and math on you. A physicist makes corrections for mathematical error on Feller’s original speed calculation, then brings in flamethrowers Walter Johnson, Nolan Ryan and Aroldis Chapman with corrections for other archaic methods and placement of radar gun targeting. After all the math is done, the physicist crowns an official master of mph, and it’s not who you think.

Feature photo is a screenshot taken from Fastball on Netflix

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