America’s pastime has been so thoroughly documented by Ken Burns that filmmakers are left with little option but to get hyper-specific.
Like the similarly named Knuckleball!, Jonathan Hock’s Fastball zeroes in on just one pitch — this one needing no introduction. With the sabermetrics era having made players, coaches, analysts, and fans ever more stats-obsessed, there’s no shortage of data for the filmmakers to sift through. Noted superfan Kevin Costner serves as narrator, with a panel of experts delving into the pitch’s history and theory from the early twentieth century onward.
You could field an all-star team with Hock’s roster of interviewees, from legends (Nolan Ryan, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson) to today’s standouts (Justin Verlander, Bryce Harper, Craig Kimbrel). To his credit, the filmmaker actually gets new information out of them: the world of difference between 92 and 100 mph pitches, the way rising star Aroldis Chapman’s 105 mph(!) fastball actually sounds as it zooms dangerously close to a hitter’s skull, the fact that fastball velocities haven’t increased at nearly the same rate as, say, track-and-field records have fallen. This makes every incremental bump in speed all the more game-changing.
You wouldn’t lose anything watching Fastball on ESPN rather than in the movie theater, but it does stand as further testament to baseball’s status as our most chess-like sport, and one that, even when broken down to its tiniest component parts, never loses its magic.
Directed by Jonathan Hock
Opens March 25, Village East Cinema