Knuckleball trajectory

One of the greatest pitchers of all time was Nolan Ryan. He pitched a record 7 no-hitters, and struck out a record 5,714 batters. He was famous for his fastball which he would throw 100 miles per hour.  Many a helpless batter had to stand at the plate and try to somehow avoid peeing their pants, and try to hit against him.

Another added complication for the batters was that he would grunt and scream when he reared back and launched one of these pitches. Even a good pitch usually passes within a couple of feet of the batters head. Im sure they could hear the hum of the ball as it cut through the air right before the violent smack into the catchers glove. Each and every pitch he would yell like an olympic weight lifter dead lifting 800 lbs. Imagine, a 6’2″ no-nonsense Texan standing with a scowl on the mound only 60 feet away, grunting while he hucks a potentially life-threatening or maiming projectile towards you. I’ll take the strikeout please.

Nolan Ryan was famous for his fastball. But he also had a nasty curve. It was completely unfair. No one should have to both fear for a 100 mph fastball that may or may not cause fatal head trauma if it was a bit off target, and a 70mph huge bending curve that could buckle your knees and make you look like a fool at the plate.

The interesting thing to me is how all of these pitches are so different, and how they can act so differently, but with the same ball. These variations are based only on differences in grip, speed, angle, and how the ball is delivered. Physics certainly plays a big part in how the trajectory of the pitch ends up. But this one simple rule always applies….

The ball will go in the direction of its spin.

When a fastball is released, the spin is straight up and down, no side to side. It minimizes the influence of the surrounding air, wind, and humidity on the pitch on its way towards its final destination.

A curveball is sent towards home plate with a very purposefully imposed spin, from left to right, or right to left. This spin, using the laws of physics (Magnus effect), creates less pressure on the side of the ball towards which it is spinning. This works by causing it to be sucked, or “curve” in that particular direction on its way to the plate.

However, there is an alternate pitch. A pitch that doesn’t really fit the mold of the fastballs, curves, sliders, or sinkers. It is unique and baffling. Its the knuckleball.

New York Mets v Arizona Diamondbacks

Knuckleball grip

The knuckleball is unique because it doesn’t spin. The pitcher uses fingernails along the seams of the ball instead of griping it with his fingers. Its meant to float, not spin, as it travels towards home plate. This action renders the ball completely at the mercy of the environmental influences at the moment. On a windy day, this pitch can look like a kite in a hurricane. Or a butterfly in a tornado. It dances, it floats, it sinks, it darts side to side, sometimes curving left, sometimes right, sometimes both. Everything and anything seems to influence its direction. Humidity, heat waves, cool breezes, the smell of hot dogs and nachos, the relative barometric pressure in Albuquerque, gravity from the moon, and psychic brain waves. Anything. Its a crazy pitch. When thrown with skill, it can be nearly un-hittable, simply because no one, including the pitcher, knows where the pitch will end up. Its a mystery every single pitch.

Each of us are different, just like these pitches. And, we will all be subjected to various environmental influences every single day. These come from media, celebrities, associates, work colleagues, friends, and even family. What is interesting, is that the same laws of physics seem to be at play with us. We are just like those baseballs headed towards home plate. We are either spinning one way, or another, straight forward, or sometimes we don’t spin at all, and we get pushed and pulled in every direction by those influences all around us.

So, it all depends on where we want to go. Do we want to travel on the straight line towards home? Or, do we want to go check out that sweet smell of mustard and relish over to the left a bit? Do we want to go take a detour for donuts towards third base somewhere on our way to the plate?

Who, or what, are we allowing to spin us, and influence our flight path?

If we want to get to our heavenly “home” as fast and as straight as we can, we need to consciously commit in our hearts, adjust to our fastball grip, and make sure that we are spinning straight ahead. If we do this, our momentum, our attention, our thoughts and minds, our hopes, and wishes will all be spinning straight ahead, and moving us towards where we want to go. And very little influence from the humidity, wind, nachos, or ice cream sundaes on our left, or right, will have any effect on us as we fly towards our destination.

However, If we choose to spin more in one direction or the other, we will soon find that the laws of physics are unalterable, and that the pressures that are sucking us away from home, and our final destination can be very difficult to overcome. Once we start to curve, our momentum, our thoughts, desires, and attention can pull us even further off target.

Worst of all is when we decide to be knuckleballs. This is when we don’t spin at all, and get pushed one way, or pulled the other, up, or down, never knowing where we are headed, because knuckleballs are always a mystery. If we float through life, and allow ourselves to be influenced by trends, fads, popularity, and the ever changing societal norms, who knows where we end up? The greater the winds, or humidity, or wafting aromatic waves of nacho cheese sauce become, the harder it is for us to stick to our flight path. Especially if a huge windgust powers in. If we aren’t moving forward, we set ourselves up to be continuously influenced by the many factors that are all around us competing for our time, energy, attention, thoughts, desires, and actions. .

The good news is this. Real life isn’t as unchangeable as a knuckleball after it leaves the pitchers hand. In real life, we can change our trajectory at any time, even when we think we are headed towards the dirt only 3 feet in front of the pitchers mound, or 18 rows up into the bleachers. It doesn’t even matter if we are rolling in the grass somewhere way out in left field. Our trajectory can change when we want it to change, but only with the help of our Savior.

“And although their influence shall cast thee into trouble,…thy voice shall be more terrible in the midst of thine enemies than the fierce lion because of thy righteousness; and thy God shall stand by thee forever and ever¹”.

Christ is the only one that can guide us to our final destination. Home. Its because of Him, that our imperfections that alter our trajectory  can be overcome. Its because of Him, that even though there will be strong headwinds, storms, stifling humidity, and a skilled batter waiting to take a swing at us, we can make it home. We simply need to move towards, and follow Jesus Christ.

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life….Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves².”

The direction we move, or spin, or walk, or crawl, or whatever, is the most important part of changing our life. No matter where we are at this moment, we can look up, turn our heads towards home, and start moving!

If we take that first step, our momentum will build, and if we keep up our positive thoughts, actions, hopes, and desires, we will make it home!


  1. D&C 122:4
  2. 3 Nephi 14:14,15