Monthly Archives: August 2013

Making Time Stand Still at 80+ Miles Per Hour

The light and camera it takes to freeze the action

Last time, we looked at how to snap a picture with the ball over home plate, which turned out to be much easier than the numbers would suggest. Now though, we have a tougher challenge: making that ball stop moving. Let’s take a look at the picture we started with at original size.

The ball is in the right place, but it’s in a bit more of the right place than it should be. What went wrong? Well, from our calculations last time, we know that the ball is moving at around 1400 inches per second. The shutter speed in this photo was 1/1600s, so that tells us that the ball moved approximately .88 inches in the time that the shutter was open. A baseball is about 3 inches in diameter, so it had enough time to move almost one-third of that distance. That just won’t do. What would we get for different shutter speeds?

Read more »

Up Close with the 2013 NL All-Star Workout Jersey

It’s a Harvey Day miracle!

Matt Harvey is pitching for the Mets tonight, so it’s fitting that the Matt Harvey 2013 All-Star jersey I ordered last month got here earlier today. As you would expect, the first thing I did with it was scan it to within an inch of its life. Now wrinkled and creased, it will go into my closet until I have an appropriate opportunity to wear it. Being more than 200 miles from Citi Field (and with no more Mets minor league teams heading out this way until next year), that might not be for a while.

What I can look forward to though is seeing pieces from the Harvey-worn version of this jersey embedded in cardboard in Topps Update this fall. Harvey, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and Marco Scutaro should all have pieces of their respective jerseys represented in that product, so let’s take a look at what we can expect to see. (The Futures Game jerseys worn by Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard, and Brandon Nimmo should also be in this style and can be expected in this fall’s prospect-oriented releases.)

The typical trend with All-Star jerseys is for the style to be whatever will be used for the following year’s batting practice jersey. This year’s BP jersey is in its second season of use and a new style is due up for next year. That means we’re in for something new in this year’s All-Star jersey.

Read more »

Getting Through to the MLB Shop

Taking customer service to its logical conclusion — angry shouting

Like many Mets fans, I placed an order for discounted All-Star merchandise after All-Star fever had subsided.  After all, when’s the next time we’ll be able to buy orange and blue All-Star gear?  Despite everything on my order being listed as “In stock,” several items were initially backordered.  That’s to be expected when you get a large quantity of orders placed in a short time.  Some shipped a few days later, others remained in indefinite backorder.  And then I decided to cancel one.

The e-mail made everything seem simple.  “To cancel your order, please contact the Customer Service department at 1.888.MLB.SHOP (1.888.652.7467) and we will gladly issue a full refund.”  Sounds easy enough.  So I called the number and dove straight into phone tree hell.

There are lots of reasons to call the MLB Shop, so the first couple of menus made sense.  A couple of quick button presses had my reason for calling narrowed down to a question about an existing order.  Everything was using the “press or say” a number system, which is a lot more useful than the “say a phrase describing what you want and hope it works, or wait for it to fail and we might reveal what numbers go with what options” systems that are the latest infuriating fad.  Next, it asked for my billing zip code.  Again, simple enough.  This might take a few more menus, but at least it was going somewhere.  Or so I thought.

I should have just found a way out when I heard what was up next.  They found 7 orders from my zip code and wanted the 10-digit order number.  Or I could choose an order from the list.  I had the order number, so I typed it in.  And it repeated my options.  I typed it in again, and it once more ignored me.  All of a sudden, the system had turned on me.  It failed into the list of orders, giving the last four digits and assigning each a keypad number.  The order I wanted was number 2.  As in, “What bodily function would you equate this experience to?”

My mission: press or say 2 to select the order I wanted.  The first dozen or so attempts to press two were complete failures.  The system showed no sign of recognizing my key presses and just kept looping back to the start.  Pressing 2 was not getting me anywhere.  Next, I tried saying “two.”  This caused the audio on the other end to drop out for a second or two, but the options kept coming.  After a couple more attempts, it finally registered and it asked if it had the right order number.  It did not.  After saying no, it was back to the list of orders.

This was a slight setback, but at least something was happening, unlike the previous 30+ key presses.  I said “two” again, the audio dropped out, then the options kept coming.  Finally, I shouted “TWO!” and it brought up an order.  The correct order.  Yes!  Is what I said in response.  Almost there…

My order has been split into three shipments.  Well, yes, but I’m not calling about the shipped items.  So let’s just select the option to go to unshipped items…  Which doesn’t exist.  Instead, I get to listen to it list the contents of the first shipment.  The only options after that are to get more information about that package or move on to the next package.  There’s no “press or say” here, so I say “next package.”  Which the system doesn’t recognize.  After another time through the options, I say “next package” again and am ignored again.  Even if I get through this, it will take another shipment listing, another “next package” battle, and yet another shipment listing to get to a menu that might, but probably won’t, contain a relevant option.

So I did what worked in the previous round and shouted “NEXT PACKAGE!!!” at the top of my lungs.  And as if by magic, I was connected to an actual human being who was able to cancel the item in a fraction of the time I spent in battle with the world’s worst phone menu system.

So that’s the lesson here: the only way to win is not to play.  If you for some reason have no choice but to call the MLB Shop for something, pretend you’re Jordany Valdespin getting demoted to AAA and let their phone system know just how you feel.  Because if you didn’t feel that way when you picked up your phone, you will soon enough.

Faded Memories in Ink on Leather

I’m doing science!

Top 2 rows: August 2012. Bottom row: early 1990s.

A while back, I was looking at my stack of autographed baseballs and noticed something strange. While Rob Carson’s signature was pristine, others that were obtained at the same time (about one year ago) in the same ink (blue Bic Round Stic) on the same balls (Rawlings Official League) had faded to some extent. Fading is a risk you take by displaying signed items, but since these are only items of sentimental value for me, I can live with some fading. This did get me thinking about something @METS_BRO said when I met him at Futures at Fenway last year about ink bleeding on synthetic leather baseball covers but not natural ones. I get all of my autographs on synthetic covers because, at $15.99 or more each, the real ones are just too expensive. An official synthetic cover ball and an Ultra Pro case only costs about $5, which is a bit more reasonable if you plan on getting more than a dozen autographs a year. While the original premise sounds interesting, I’m not about to throw away the money it would take to test it. I am wondering about how different inks react to synthetic cover baseballs, so it’s a good thing I set up this experiment two months ago.

People who know me might be surprised by this, but I only participated in a science fair once, way back in 4th grade. For my project, I built an electromagnet out of a lantern battery, a nail, and some wire and I nearly started a fire when I left it on overnight (but I got to it when it was only hot enough to melt plastic and smoke a little bit). After that experience, one point was made clear: demonstrations of scientific principles don’t win science fairs, data-driven experiments do. With that in mind, I sketched out an experiment to test the effects of different levels of light exposure on seed growth. While not nearly as fun as an electromagnet, it would give me a better chance of winning, which is what science fairs are all about. And then I forgot all about it until I needed a project for 9th grade Biology class. Even as a child, I mined my childhood for ideas rather than coming up with new ones.

What does this have to do with autographed baseballs? Well, I dusted off that project once again and replaced the seeds with baseballs. For the test subjects, three balls that had ink smudges on them were volunteered.

Test Scenario

Each ball included ink samples from two medium point Bic ball point pens (blue and black) and four Sharpie ultra fine point felt tip markers (blue, black, red, and green). These, along with some metallic markers, are what I typically carry with me to games.  Once marked, the test subjects were sent their separate ways.

Test Ball #1: Placed on windowsill centered behind a window pane with an eastern facing and no obstructions blocking the sun until approximately noon.

Test Ball #2: Placed on same windowsill as Test Ball #1, one pane over, inside an Ultra Pro ball cube.

Test Ball #3: Placed inside a cardboard box and stored in a dark closet.

For comparison, “+2” was written in the corresponding ink to the right of the original markings two months after the test was initiated. Photographs were then taken to show the changes in ink color and contrast over this two month period.


Sample Card Test Ball #1 Test Ball #2 Test Ball #3

If you think this writing looks bad, you should see my signature…

Effect of Ball Cube

From these results, it would appear that the ball cube provides a slight amount of UV protection in direct sunlight. And now that I look back over everything, it looks like I have two different models of Ultra Pro ball cubes in use, one that advertises UV protection and one that does not (this does not explain the Carson case, as none of the UV protected holders were in use there). The one used in this test does not advertise any UV protection, but the model that does advises against use in direct sunlight, so… Let’s call this one inconclusive. There is a clear difference in the fading of the red Sharpie between Test Ball #1 and Test Ball #2, with the marking on the unprotected ball turning bright orange. Fading of the other Sharpies appears to be slightly decreased, though it is not clear whether the fading has been stopped or only slowed down. We’ll need to revisit this.

Effect of Chemistry + Time

The control ball shows little change in the blue Bic or black Sharpie over the two-month test period. The red Sharpie has faded about as much as it did on Test Ball #2, indicating that UV exposure is not the cause of that particular fading (a point made more interesting by the severe fading seen in the unprotected Test Ball #1). The blue and green Sharpies have both faded, but not as severely as on either of the UV-exposed balls. Most interesting here is the black Bic, which shows both fading and bleeding after two months of darkness, compared with little of either for its blue counterpart.

Effect of UV Exposure

Combining the two results fairly conclusively shows that ink and sunlight don’t mix. All six of the inks tested show significant damage, though that isn’t unexpected. What is interesting though is how little of the fading can be attributed to UV exposure in the case of the red Sharpie. In fact, UV exposure only seems to affect the color, shifting it from faded red to faded orange.


First, it seems clear that red Sharpies are not the way to go on synthetic cover balls. UV or no UV, they just don’t last. Blue and green fare somewhat better, but exposure to sunlight will fade them into the same light teal. Black holds up the best of the Sharpies, but that isn’t saying much. Ball points seem to be the way to go, but not the black one I tested. Even without sunlight, it didn’t hold up well. Making a consistent mark was a problem for both ball points on the uneven surface of the ball, though the black was especially poor. I have to wonder if a fine point or gel ink would work better. In any case, blue ball point is clearly the way to go.


We’ve concluded that blue ball points are the best pens for the job, but there are many different types to choose from (though you could say that about all of the other options as well I suppose, but let’s try to keep this simple). Medium vs. fine, gel vs. not-gel, Bic vs. Pilot vs. Zebra vs. Uni-Ball vs… You get the idea. The next round of tests will need to account for at least a few of these, with the goal of finding a pen that writes smoothly and retains as much of its color and contrast as possible. I should probably also work in an Ultra Pro ball cube that advertises UV protection, so that means we’ll need another ball to throw into the mix. Tune in next time when we’ll be looking at four blue-ink balls. Until then, science!