It looks so simple – catching a fly ball. But of all of the balls hit into the outfield, the straight shot is the most difficult to catch. And if it’s twilight, it’s even worse.
Ken Fuld, professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire, studies visual psychophysics. A former assistant baseball coach at UNH with a son playing for one of the Chicago Cubs minor league teams, Fuld says there’s more than meets the eye to catching fly balls and hitting pitches for the boys of summer.
“An outfielder is computing a collision course between the ball and the fielder in much the same way as a bird of prey tries to intercept another bird also in flight for its meal or an insect tries to contact a member of the opposite sex for the purpose of mating. These are all forms of what vision scientists call visually guided behavior. Fielders must figure out the trajectory of the ball and combine that with information about their own movement in a way that requires a quick initial calculation of this information and then constant updating of information to correct for slight errors,” Fuld says.
Lori Wright | EurekAlert!
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