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Art of the 'Fastball': Candid interviews add heat to doc

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Aroldis Chapman of the Reds is among the pitchers featured in the doc 'Fastball' at Tribeca.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Aroldis Chapman of the Reds is among the pitchers featured in the doc ‘Fastball’ at Tribeca.

Fastball: Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, Goose Gossage, Aroldis Chapman, Steve Dalkowski, Derek Jeter. A cast of at least 20 Hall of Famers and more discuss how the magic of baseball boils down to the 396 milliseconds it takes a 100 mph fastball to reach home plate. Director: Jonathan Hock (1:27). At Tribeca Film Festival.

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Justin Verlander is the first of many baseball stars to appear on camera in “Fastball,” a documentary in the Tribeca Film Festival about the physics, mythology, and primal spectacle of pitchers hurling baseballs upwards of 100 mph.

Over the next two hours, Verlander is followed by colorful observations from the likes of Bob Gibson, Aroldis Chapman, and Nolan Ryan, but a lot of the film’s best quotes come from the hitters who have faced the hottest fire — men like Hank Aaron, George Brett and Wade Boggs.

“It can be a very, very troubling experience,” says Derek Jeter in this inquiry into one of the most difficult feats in sports.

“Fastball,” directed by Jonathan Hock, covers everything from the psychological warfare that Ryan calls a “lost art” to the neurobiological explanation for an oft-cited optical illusion produced by a ball thrown at the highest recorded speeds that seems to rise at it approaches the plate.

With a serious fastball, the pitcher’s advantage over a batter — just a few hundred milliseconds — turns out to be a relative eternity in terms of the brain’s computing power. Nifty graphics explain the difference between a mere 92 mph, versus 100.

It seems every power pitcher from Walter Johnson to Randy Johnson is featured here (though Roger Clemens is never mentioned).

The players are clearly at ease — many of them seem to be literally at the Hall of Fame during their interviews. Further commentary is supplied by writer Joe Posnanski and a series of scientists from Pittsburgh who have penetrated the mystique of the fastball.

The very best moments might be the candid interview Gibson, and the vintage footage of his violent, whole-body delivery and the distinctive, leg-twirling follow-through immortalized in print by Roger Angell’s famous 1980 New Yorker profile.

Here in “Fastball” Gibson is captivating as he recalls with plain seriousness how racism shaped his identity as an “ogre,” and how he benefited from the intimidation.

“I don’t imagine I did anything to dispel any of that,” Gibson says.

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