On Fastballs and Pregnancy Hormones

May 22, 2017

Several months ago I watched a fascinating baseball documentary named Fastball. 




Not coincidentally to my story here, we had just found out my wife was pregnant with Sharp baby number four. It was shortly after a rather significant argument early on in the pregnancy that I had an epiphany about the significant parallel's between a 100 mph fastball and pregnancy hormones.


What do these two seemingly unrelated things have to do with another? An awful lot as it turns out.



The documentary was fascinating for many reasons. According to the filmmakers the fastest pitch ever recorded was by Nolan Ryan at around 108 mph. The second fastest was by Bob Feller at about 107. I am great with those two guys being the two fastest pitchers in baseball history. Ryan is one of my favorite athletes of all time, and Feller is a legitimate war hero, so I am glad to see that someone had been better than Aroldis Chapman. Yes, I actively root against guys who have been suspended for domestic abuse. I have no problem admitting it.


Among the many interviews were a handful of high-caliber hitters, including Hall of Famers George Brett and Mike Schmidt. These guys, almost to a man, swear up and down that a 100 mph fastball is often rising as it crosses the plate. That doesn’t seem totally crazy, until they bring on some physicists who explain that it is physically impossible. A baseball is pitched at a downward angle, and no matter how hard you throw it as it approaches the plate, it is losing speed and its height is dropping.


Here is where the brain sciences get fascinating. A fastball traveling at that speed reaches home plate in 396 milliseconds. What that means is that a batter can’t actually watch the ball from the time that the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand until it crosses the plate. Essentially, a batter sees the ball in the pitcher’s hand, and then he looks at the plate. Because they can’t watch the ball the whole way the batter’s brain fills in the gap with what you might think of as a flight plan. The ball’s path between the pitcher’s mound and home plate is a result of the batter’s brain making calculations and assumptions based on the available information.


The problem is that a fastball at 100 mph plus has such speed and backspin that it does not drop at the rate of a slower fastball of say 92 mph. When this happens the ball does not drop at the rate that the brain anticipates. This means that the flight plan the brain has filed predicted the ball to be lower than it was in reality. When the ball comes in higher than the brain said it would, it looks to the batter as if it is rising. A ball thrown that fast can function as an optical illusion to a batter.


Pregnancy Hormones

As I mentioned at this beginning of this post my wife is nearing the end of her fourth pregnancy. By almost all measures that makes me a veteran of husbanding while pregnant, at least in the twenty-first century. Susana Wesley, who was the 25th of 25 children, and who gave birth to 19 children herself, would view me as a rank amateur. In 2017, however, having four children is often viewed as some sort of strange, self-destructive behavior. The two biggest reactions I get are, “On purpose?” and “Do you know why that keeps happening?” All that to say, in the world in which we live I have been around the pregnancy block enough to know of what I speak.


What sadly took me four pregnancies to realize is that pregnancy hormones are to a marital relationship what a 100 mph is to a baseball player’s batting average. When my wife and I had a rather lengthy and animated discussion at the beginning of this pregnancy I was woefully unprepared for the change that the pregnancy hormones were making in how we interacted.


See, what happens to couples who have been married for any amount of time is your brain basically files a flight plan according to how any argument is going to go. You know what you tend to do, you know what your wife tends to do, and so you are able to navigate the issue, work things out, and come out the other side because of the predictability of understanding one another. Each of you knows the other person, and if you are committed to working your problems out you can usually tackle most issues. Pregnancy hormones change all of that.


Instead of reacting in a manner that is typical for her (think of it as a 92 mph fastball), a pregnant woman reacts by bringing the heat. You settle into the batter’s box thinking you are prepared, and the next thing you know the ball is humming toward you at 101 mph, and you are pretty sure that she is aiming at the earhole in your helmet. This leads a man into uncharted territory. His brain says the pitch is going to be low and away, and instead it comes in high and fast. Suddenly a rather minor issue can leave a husband swinging and missing while just hoping to make it out alive.


Men, come to terms with this. The best case scenario for any husband in this situation is to live to bat another day. Your wife is Randy Johnson, you are John Kruk, and it is the 1993 All Star Game. Don’t try to be a hero.




I’ve shared this analogy with a few guys, and generally everyone agrees that it makes sense. So, this last week I shared it with my wife’s OB/GYN. She listened intently as I explained my theory as to how 100 mph fastballs and pregnancy hormones were alike. When I was through she proclaimed that not only was I onto something, but that my theory actually applied to other times in a woman’s life such as menopause. She then proceeded to pull out her phone and call her husband so that I could explain my now expanded theory of fastballs and hormones to him. He listened attentively before assuring me that he wasn’t sure why his wife thought he needed to hear this. Their marriage was a perfect one he said, but he felt like he might be able to use this analogy when mentoring other men, so he was glad I told him.


Sounds like I’m not the only one doing a lot of swinging and missing these days.

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