The irony of the push to speed up the game of baseball – the amount of time between pitches, between commercial breaks, between anything that might actually appeal to the iGeneration – is that speed has always been at the heart of the game.
That’s all that separates a hitter and the heaviest, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fastballs in a new feature-length presentation searching for the hardest thrower ever. Opening March 25 at the Digital Gym in San Diego, the 85-minute "Fastball" calls on narrator Kevin Costner, baseball legends like Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson and Hank Aaron and current stars Justin Verlander and Andrew McCutchen in a narrative blending the history, mythology and physics of the ultimate mano-a-mano showdown.
At its best, Thomas Tull-produced feature ("42," "Straight Outta Compton," "The Dark Knight") journeys into the past to relive how a munitions laboratory clocked Walter Johnson’s fastball, how Bob Feller spotted a speeding motorcycle a 10-foot head start before racing his heater past it and how the game’s most notorious fastball simply couldn’t find the strike zone often enough to ever reach “The Show.”
As far as modern day heat, local baseball fans will remember Tony Gwynn Jr. flailing away as the Cuban-born Aroldis Chapman infamously pushed his fastball past 105 mph at the Padres’ expense and rejoice in seeing No. 19 himself join a roundtable discussion of the most dominating pitchers they faced.
The elder Gwynn whittled it down to two: One from the left side of the mound (Randy Johnson) and one from the right (Ryan).
Tales of the latter’s exploits alone – from the first pitch ever clocked at 100 mph to his assault on the strikeout record book to his last fastball hitting ever at 46 years old hitting 98 mph – is a reminder that every generation, too, has a legend to stack up against the likes of Johnson, Feller and the enigmatic Steve Dalkowski.
“It was high heat,” Johnny Bench recalls as he, Gwynn and George Brett declare Ryan the hardest thrower of their generation, “and from the time you left the dugout you were starting to swing.”