Let's talk baseball -- with math

Posted: Monday, June 24, 2002

Let's talk baseball: Hey kid, steal third prism! No, no; hold up -- OK, OK -- now, steal the pentagon, now.


Kid, you've scored a run, maybe saved the game. All the while you were immersed in mathematics, but probably never noticed.

Parents can do a lot to help their kids get into mathematics in the classroom by showing them they're already into math when doing the things they love to do, says Bill Kring, mathematics teacher, teacher-in-residence at Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, and former baseball coach.

He points to baseball as an example, noting that whether on the field, watching on television, or reading newspaper stories, we're surrounded by eye-opening opportunities to demonstrate mathematics as an everyday experience.

"First, second and third bases," Kring said, "are prisms. Simply put, in geometry a prism is a three-dimensional solid. Bases may look flat, but take another look because they're actually raised a bit.

"Home plate? Its top is a pentagon. A pentagon is a five-sided polygon, and a polygon is a flat, closed figure with three or more sides. It has symmetry -- fold it in half, and it matches up. The baseball diamond itself is a polygon in that it has four sides."

Parents and other adults can help kids get into the lingo of mathematics by pointing out and using the mathematical terms for the kinds of features found on the baseball field.

The following are some terms parents might use in addition to pentagon, polygon, prism and symmetry:

Measure -- as the number of feet between bases

Velocity -- of the ball being thrown or hit, or the runner going around the bases

Parabola -- the arc of the baseball when thrown

Vertex -- the highest point of the parabolic arc of the pitch

Averages -- as in batting averages

Line segment -- as the base path from one base to the next

Angle -- as two lines going off from the same point as the base paths do

Perpendicular -- a line at a right angle to another line

Square -- having four equal sides and four right angles

And speaking of "square," Kring points out that, just like their students, teachers are learners too.

"For many years," he said, "I believed a baseball diamond was a true square. I learned only recently that the angle at home plate isn't precisely 90 degrees. It's very close, something like 89.998, but it's not exactly 90 degrees."

Yep, that's mathematics. And that's baseball.

Karen Lytle Blaha is the public information officer for the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, a nonprofit institution working with schools and communities in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

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