By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Dr. Adair does not speculate about what will happen when major-league ball reaches Colorado's own Leadville (the highest U.S. city: 10,152 feet) or Wenzhuan, a town on a lonely stretch of road between Qinghai and Tibet, north of the Tangla Range. But we can imagine. Wenzhuan, the Guinness Book of Records assures us, is the world's highest inhabited place, at 16,732 feet above sea level. Don't you think if Mr. Fielder played a couple of seasons there (for the Wenzhuan Wasps, perhaps?), Roger Maris and Henry Aaron would be marked men, even if Cecil found himself hitting the ball off the end of the bat (the "anti-node" to you)?
On the other hand, the John Burkes and Bill Swifts and Bruce Ruffins of the world probably wish they were pitching for Ein Bokek. This settlement on the shore of the Dead Sea is the world's lowest human habitation, at 1,291 feet below sea level, and there the Navier-Stokes Equation would do for pitchers what it does for sluggers in Tibet. In his chapter on pitching, Dr. Adair points out that a fastball thrown in Denver takes less time to cross the plate--gaining about six inches. But pitchers who rely on the deuce, the yakker, Uncle Charlie--call it what you will--are in big trouble.
"[In Denver] the curve will break about 25 percent less," Adair writes. "A curve that will break left-right about 8 inches and drop an extra 8 inches [due to the overspin component] at sea level will break about 1 5/8 inches less and drop about 4 inches less in Denver. The ball breaks less because it crosses the plate faster and thus has a little less time to break."
Knuckleballers are no better off. Their stuff, Dr. Adair assures us, loses 25 percent of its dancing ability en route to the plate.
Even those with no faith in science cannot argue with facts. In 1996 the Colorado Rockies were the best-hitting team in the league, with a .287 batting average (seventeen points higher than second-place Atlanta's), 24 more home runs and 174 more runs batted in than anybody else. The 961 runs they scored was 183 better than second-place Cincinnati, and they had 92 more hits than runner-up New York.
Meanwhile, the Colorado pitching staff's balloon-like 5.59 earned-run average was the worst in the league (San Francisco was next, with a mere 4.71), and the 964 runs they gave up was 102 more than the Giants, who finished thirteenth. Rox hurlers yielded 198 home runs, and opposing batters hit .285--22 points higher than the league average.
Now, if you want a detailed explanation of what Adair calls the Magnus Force (no, it's not a Clint Eastwood movie) or his mysterious Reynolds Numbers (nope--not Harold's batting average), you'll just have to wait until Professor Berra comes in from the pool. Suffice it to say, as another lopsided pitching/hitting season (and another third-place finish) looms for the Colorado Rockies, the club could do worse than to trade for a couple of starting pitchers named Navier and Stokes. They might not win, but at least they'd already know all about stress-strain cycles.
A three-year-old racehorse is half a ton of raw power and desire, perched on spindles that appear too delicate to support a card table. Humans aspiring to win the Kentucky Derby come to the fray full of hope and care, but their young equine partners are subject to all manner of mystery--from cruel injury to bewildering failure of heart.
With these cautions in mind, here's a word in support of Pulpit, the spirited Frankie Brothers-trained bay colt that electrified all witnesses Saturday afternoon at Gulfstream Park. After just two races (and two brilliant wins) as a three-year-old--he did not race at all at two--this inexperienced son of A.P. Indy and Preach took on stakes company for the first time Saturday in the Fountain of Youth. After tracking a scorching pace set by Arthur L and Confide, who had previously run in five graded stakes between them, jockey Shane Sellers asked Pulpit to run in the turn for home; he cruised past the leaders, won the mile and a sixteenth in 1:41 4/5 and firmly established himself as the early favorite for the May 3 Run for the Roses.
"I roughed him up a little bit in the stretch," Sellers reported afterward. Sellers also kissed his mount on the neck en route to the winner's circle. It was one of those moments racing fans remember.
Much can go wrong in the testing prep races between now and May, and it probably will. But here's hoping only good luck visits Pulpit. He'll need it. No horse unraced at two has won the Derby in 111 years. The only time legendary Claiborne Farm, from which he hails, won the Derby was in 1984, with the ill-fated Swale.
Can Pulpit buck the odds? Let us now pray.