Liking and Disliking the Knuckleball; Or, Surrendering to Chaos

“A knuckleball can be the most antagonizing pitch for any hitter,” says D.J. Vasil, talking about a knuckleball issuing from the Apollo-Ridge Vikings. Apollo-Ridge is a high school in Spring Church, Pennsylvania. Its baseball team has a knuckleball pitcher, Jayson Sowers, who

plans on having his knuckleball dance all season as the Vikings compete for the Section 3-AA crown this season.

AHappy baseballpollo-Ridge finished 6-7 overall and 4-6 in section play last season. Sowers will anchor the rotation along with fellow left-hander, senior Ghaven Baum, forming a duo that could keep opposing hitters puzzled.

“Jayson spent the summer and fall continuing to work on that knuckleball,” coach Joe Rice said. “It’s a thing of beauty. He has refined it and made it more consistent. He can change his arm slot and get different movement out of it.”

Speaking of the knuckleball-antagonized—an old MLB post by a certain tedsox, unambiguously entitled “I hate the knuckleball,” includes this summary complaint against the pitch: “Knuckleballers can throw, well, knuckleballs.” Indisputable. Here is another confession of hostility, by IntenseGamer91, posted at ign.com: “I hate the knuckleball…it is so hard to hit.”

It’s not just batters and (some) fans who lament the knuckleball. Some pitchers can’t wrap their gloves around it either, a fact dramatized in Jennifer Bernard’s baseball (or romance) novel All of Me. Teammate Lieberman is explaining to teammate Caleb why the aerodynamics of the knuckleball differs from that of other pitches:

All of MeLieberman’s face lit up. “Because the knuckleball has no spin. Its movement is caused by the way the seams catch the air. On a knuckleball’s way to the plate, chaos the ory takes over. Anything can happen. That’s why they’re so hard to hit, because they’re unpredictable.”

“Chaos theory, huh? No wonder I hate the knuckleball. I like to know what my pitches are going to do when they leave my hand.”

Lieberman popped one fist into the pocket of his glove, working it onto his hand. “You don’t ever really know for sure.” The dude had a point. “But with this kind of wind, imagine what a knuckleball pitcher could do.”

Caleb stared across the dugout at the opposing team, the Salt Lake Bees. Fred Barstow was scheduled to pitch. He was a former fastballer who’d switched to the knuckleball when he’d had a bone chip removed from his elbow.

“Advantage Bees,” Caleb murmured. “But I’d put good old-fashioned heat up against the junk any day of the week.”

“It’s not junk.” Lieberman seemed genuinely wounded on behalf of the knuckleball. “You could say that since it’s the only pitch without any spin on it, it’s the least tricky. The knuckleball’s only trick is catching the wind. You might say it goes with the flow. It surrenders to chaos.”

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