Swing for the Fences


It’s every 8-year-old sandlot slugger’s fantasy. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two out with a three-two count and the game is tied. The pitcher eyes the slugger, who points toward the fences. Then, the pitch, the swing…and goodbye Mr. Spaulding! It’s a home run — and the crowd goes wild. That is, the crowd that consists of the slugger’s little sister (aka the pitcher), his turtle, the neighbor kid and the family dog.

OK, so you’ve grown up. And you don’t have a turtle anymore. But you still can recreate that incomparable feeling of wood meeting leather by perfecting your home-run hitting. All it takes is a few tips and a bit of science.

Like the science of ball dynamics. According to a study conducted by William Stronge, a professor of engineering at the University of Cambridge in England, the most important factor for hitting a homer is the speed at which you hit the ball. The faster you smack it, the better its chances of going over the fence. That runs counter to some hitting-coach wisdom, which focuses more on the angle at which you hit the ball.

Also, Stronge’s study analyzed ball flight and determined that — again, against conventional wisdom — curveballs can be hit farther than fastballs. That’s because curveballs have a topspin that rotates in the direction of flight. When you smack a curveball, it instantly changes spin direction, providing more aerodynamic lift. Fastballs do just the opposite, so they displace energy quicker and “die” faster in flight. And you thought science was best left in the classroom.

To maximize your potential, hit the gym before you enter the batter’s box. Good hitting involves some muscle — but it ain’t all about the arms. Instead of blasting your biceps, focus workouts on larger muscle groups like your legs and core, which transfer energy through the body to your bat as you swing. Consider doing rotational exercises with a medicine ball and woodchoppers using a pulley system to get all muscle groups involved in recreating a swinging motion.

Next, get in the batting cage. Pick a bat — a heavier one. These days, players want to increase bat speed without all the workouts, so they pick the lightest wood. “That’s why you see a lot of explosions these days, bats just shattering,” says Don Baylor, hitting coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks. “Everyone wants bat speed.” Instead, pick a slightly heavier bat to drive through a swing with power. Of course, it’s got to be one you’re comfortable swinging.

Once you have your bat, execute your swing:

• Bend your knees.
• Position your hands parallel to your shoulders for your swing stance.
• Shift your weight from your back foot forward as you anticipate hitting the ball.
• Begin your stride toward the ball as the pitcher releases the ball.
• Pivot your hips as you swing, transferring weight to your front foot.
• Follow through. “You need a complete finish to your swing,” Baylor says.

As for the swing itself, former major leaguer Rob Ellis recommends swinging on a flat plane toward the ball. He unearthed a treasure trove of old newsreels featuring Golden Age hitting legends like Stan Musial and Joe DiMaggio and analyzed their swing. His findings: Their relatively flat and level swing plane resulted in more contact and fewer strikeouts. And by comparing that to today’s penchant of swinging with an uppercut to try to carry the ball upward and out of the park, he found that hitters are striking out more.

So swing away. Just keep it level.