Notes: 'Fastball' documentary a home run for fans

The film begins with Justin Verlander talking about the first time he threw 100 mph, and musing about how his fastball might have compared to Bob Feller’s. For the next 85 minutes, the subject is fastballs and only fastballs.

Hard-core fans will be spellbound. Even casual fans will be enthralled. The filmmakers, in their own words, explore "how the magic of baseball can boil down to the 396 milliseconds it takes a 100 mph fastball to reach home plate." Kevin Costner is the narrator. But current stars, 20 Hall of Famers, writers and even scientists tell the story.

The documentary — not surprisingly called, "Fastball" — premieres Monday night at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. I’ll admit to a certain bias — I went to the University of Pennsylvania with the writer and director, Jonathan Hock. But Jon already has won nine Emmys without my endorsement. And you can trust my recommendation on this one, as opposed to say, my preseason picks.

Honestly, I can’t pick out out my favorite part of the film. It’s cool to hear Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel and David Price talk about their art. It’s also cool to hear a panel of five Hall of Famers — George Brett, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and the late Tony Gwynn — banter about the toughest pitchers they faced.

Rich Gossage, Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan reflect in great detail about their careers. Derek Jeter and Hank Aaron show more personality than we’re perhaps accustomed to seeing. The rarely interviewed Eddie Murray shares his thoughts, as do fellow Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt, Wade Boggs and the late Ernie Banks.

I loved not only the rare footage from Sandy Koufax’s perfect game, but also the section about Steve Dalkowski, the Orioles’ hard-throwing minor-league legend; the first manager I covered, the late Cal Ripken Sr., told great stories about Dalkowski, as did many others with the Orioles at the start of my baseball-writing career.

The most compelling aspect of the film, though, might be its science. Aaron, Gibson and Verlander talk anecdotally about whether a fastball can rise, and scientists try to explain the phenomenon. Even more intriguing, scientists make corrections on the past measurements of certain greats, and try to determine who threw the fastest pitch of all time.

The film, produced by Thomas Tull, a board member of the Hall of Fame, will be screened four times this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. After that, it will hit the festival circuit, and a national release is expected around the time of the World Series.


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