Skip to comments.How does an outfielder know where to run for a fly ball?
Posted on 01/22/2010 3:20:48 AM PST by Pharmboy
Virtual-reality baseballs give researchers insight into long-standing mystery
Rockville, MD While baseball fans still rank "The Catch" by Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series as one of the greatest baseball moments of all times, scientists see the feat as more of a puzzle: How does an outfielder get to the right place at the right time to catch a fly ball?
Thousands of fans (and hundreds of thousands of YouTube viewers) saw Mays turn his back on a fly ball, race to the center field fence and catch the ball over his shoulder, seemingly a precise prediction of a fly ball's path that led his team to victory. According to a recent article in the Journal of Vision ("Catching Flyballs in Virtual Reality: A Critical Test of the Outfielder Problem"), the "outfielder problem" represents the definitive question of visual-motor control. How does the brain use visual information to guide action?
To test three theories that might explain an outfielder's ability to catch a fly ball, researcher Philip Fink, PhD, from Massey University in New Zealand and Patrick Foo, PhD, from the University of North Carolina at Ashville programmed Brown University's virtual reality lab, the VENLab, to produce realistic balls and simulate catches. The team then lobbed virtual fly balls to a dozen experienced ball players.
"The three existing theories all predict the same thing: successful catches with very similar behavior," said Brown researcher William Warren, PhD. "We realized that we could pull them apart by using virtual reality to create physically impossible fly ball trajectories."
Warren said their results support the idea that the ball players do not necessarily predict a ball's landing point based on the first part of its flight, a theory described as trajectory prediction. "Rather than predicting the landing point, the fielder might continuously track the visual motion of the ball, letting it lead him to the right place at the right time," Warren said.
Because the researchers were able to use the virtual reality lab to perturb the balls' vertical motion in ways that would not happen in reality, they were able to isolate different characteristics of each theory. The subjects tended to adjust their forward-backward movements depending on the perceived elevation angle of the incoming ball, and separately move from side to side to keep the ball at a constant bearing, consistent with the theory of optical acceleration cancellation (OAC). The third theory, linear optical trajectory (LOT), predicted that the outfielder will run in a direction that makes the visual image of the ball appear to travel in a straight line, adjusting both forward-backward and side-to-side movements together.
Fink said these results focus on the visual information a ball player receives, and that future studies could bring in other variables, such as the effect of the batter's movements or sound.
"As a first step we chose to concentrate on what seemed likely to be the most important factor," Fink said. "Fielders might also use information such as the batter's swing or the sound of the bat hitting the ball to help guide their movements."
The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) is the largest eye and vision research organization in the world. Members include more than 12,500 eye and vision researchers from over 80 countries. ARVO encourages and assists research, training, publication and knowledge-sharing in vision and ophthalmology.
ARVO's Journal of Vision (www.journalofvision.org) is an online-only, peer-reviewed, open-access publication devoted to visual function in humans and animals. It explores topics such as spatial vision, perception, low vision, color vision and more, spanning the fields of neuroscience, psychology and psychophysics. JOV is known for hands-on datasets and models that users can manipulate online.
This is a baseball ping, but since I do not know the baseball fans here (other than thefactor), this is more random.
Shoot, I dunno......I’ve always just run to where I think the ball is headed is all. Usually can catch it, too. :) No rocket science.
Thanks for that...I was a grade-schooler then, but remember it well when it happened. That’s all we talked about on my Brooklyn street for a while.
True enough...more like brain surgery than rocket science. What is fascinating to me is that the fielder likely takes in the sound of the ball on the bat to unconsciously make the decision.
You run until the ball stops drifting left or right (bearing) then you work on distance (range). Not rocket science. the range problem is harder than the bearing problem.
This is what you get when geeks try to understand jocks.
The best outfielder I ever played with knew where to stand just before the ball was hit. He never had to do much running.
I bet you talked about it. I get excited when my team wins the series as an adult family man. As a boy . . . it is even better.
I played right field mostly, and I could always get a jump on the direction of the ball before the batter actually hit it, based on the pitch location and the swing. I don’t know why, I just could. I can still tell if a football is on target the second it leaves the quarterbacks hand, and whether a basketball is going in the second it leaves your hands. I have no idea why, but I’ve always had these senses.
Yes. I remember when baseball used to be FUN!
Why do I get the feeling that a multi-million dollar Govt grant is involved here?
I think it works in phases programed in the mind...To really get the answer play frisbee with a frisbee catching dog some day. I’d swear you’d think that he’s zeroing in by smell.
You first run in the general vicinity as the trajectory dictates, then adjust as you get closer taken into account the memory of drift that occurs when eg a right batter hit the ball to right field off of a left hand pitcher.
Over time it becomes second nature.
You see it in little league. Some kids have natural ability to hone in on flies, some don’t as much.
“Rather than predicting the landing point, the fielder might continuously track the visual motion of the ball, letting it lead him to the right place at the right time,” Warren said.”
And this load cost how much? You could have developed this for free by going out to shag some flies.
Obviously no one consulted Manny Ramirez.
I hate to ruin it for you, but that was faked. :)
That blows by theory of outfielders having some sort of ball magnet under their cap, ala Conseco.
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