Carnegie Mellon University
April 20, 2015

Carnegie Mellon Scientists Appear in “Fastball”

Documentary Debuted at Tribeca Film Festival


By Jocelyn Duffy / 412-268-9982 / / and Shilo Rea / 412-268-6094 /

Carnegie Mellon University’s newest movie stars aren’t classically trained actors, they’re scientists.

Faculty members from the Mellon College of Science and Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences are making their debut in Fastball, a baseball documentary produced by CMU Trustee Thomas Tull and directed by eight-time Emmy winner Jonathan Hock. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 20.

The film interviews Carnegie Mellon neuroscientists Michael J. Tarr, Nathan Urban and Timothy Verstynen, CMU physicist Gregg Franklin, baseball legends like Hank Aaron and Derek Jeter, and current players including Andrew McCutcheon about the fastball, one of the most feared and revered pitches in baseball.

Fastball speeds can reach close — and sometimes over — 100 miles per hour, requiring baseball players to make split-second decisions. Tarr, Urban and Verstynen talk about how a batter’s brain races to process an incoming fastball.

“Baseball is perhaps the ultimate test of neural abilities,” said Verstynen, assistant professor of psychology and member of CMU’s BrainHubSM neuroscience initiative. “A fastball can travel so fast that the batter’s brain may not even have the time to make a decision based on what he sees.”

Franklin talks about the physics of the fastball, addressing some of the most controversial questions in baseball: is there such thing as a rising fastball, and who really threw the fastest pitch? For the latter, Franklin uses physics calculations to compare the speeds of fastballs throughout history.

“Not to spoil the movie, but the fastest pitch on record might not really be the fastest pitch,” said Franklin, a professor of physics. “A fastball is fastest immediately after being thrown, and it loses speed as it approaches the plate. So recordings taken using today’s technology, which measures a pitch’s speed close to the mound, will appear faster than pitches measured using older technologies that recorded speeds closer to the plate.”

Related Video: interviews director Jonathan Hock, Physics Professor Gregg Franklin and fans about Fastball.