Americans baffled by high-flying baseballs

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The Independent Online
AMERICANS are always inventing baseball mysteries in an effort to make the game less boring. This season's whodunit is the sudden rise in home runs.

How could it be, the baseball writers and broadcasters are asking, that there were 708 home runs in April, 210 more than were hit in the equivalent number of games at the start of last season, and even more than in the record-setting season of 1987?

One suggestion, an old one actually, is that balls might have been 'juiced up', or made livelier so they are lighter, or are wrapped more tightly. All balls used to come from Haiti but, because of the troubles there, the plant was moved to Costa Rica. Have the stitchers of San Jose pulled a fast one?

No way, say the game's officials. A baseball always weighs between 5oz and 5 1/4 oz, and measures 9in- 9 1/4 in in circumference.

So what do team managers think? They always know everything. Simple, really. Pitchers on average are not as good, and batters are bigger and stronger than ever. Players are generally using lighter bats with thinner handles, and going for a home run each time they hit the ball - the 'all or nothing approach'.

And then there is the weather. It's been a warmer-than-average April across the country and hitters tend to hit more home runs when the weather is warmer. They are more fired up.

And the wind. It's been a very windy month, but the wind has tended to help rather than hinder the hitters. At the Boston Red Sox ball park the wind usually blows straight at the hitter, but this season it has been helping to blow balls out of the park. Same thing in New York, Chicago and Texas.

Some managers strive to keep the mystery alive, even so. Tom Kelly, of the Minnesota Twins, has been amazed how outfielders have been reacting to high balls. 'When the ball goes up they run for a spot. They have a pretty good idea where the ball is going to come down. What I've seen is outfielders go for the ball, and all of a sudden they change their angle and go back five or seven or eight strides from where they thought the ball was going to be,' he said.

The wind, Mr Kelly. It's the wind.