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Gyroball: A Japanese spin on U.S. sport

By James MacDonald
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TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Imagine a baseball coming at you at some extraordinary speed that you think is going one way but just before it connects with the bat it heads in the opposite direction.

It is called a gyroball and it has the baseball fraternity baffled.

Like the more conventional curve ball, fastball or a slider, the gyroball is actually a pitch rather than the object that is thrown, though its origins stem from a child's toy, the "Xzylo" -- a flying gyroscope which thrown with a spiral could travel up to 600 feet.

"It creates an illusion. From the batter's eye, it looks like the ball is falling but it's actually rising. Scary, isn't it?," says the inventor of the gyroball, Tokyo baseball trainer Kazushi Tezuka.

As Tezuka explains, a gyroball is thrown with a spiral like an American football, released with the arm away from the body. It should spin like a bullet and keep even the best batters wondering.

Japanese computer scientist and aerodynamics expert Ryutaro Himeno satisfied his own curiosity about whether the pitch existed or not by running the technique through computer simulations.

"I couldn't trust him (Tezuka)... so I tried to investigate the reason. I wanted to study the trajectory of the ball," says Himeno who was studying the physics of baseball as a hobby.

Himeno says he proved the gyroball does exist and together with Tezuka wrote about it in a book -- "The Truth about the Miracle Pitch."

The gyroball has its own Wikipedia entry and has Himeno and Tezuka explaining that "a gyroball is thrown so that, at the point of release, instead of having the pitcher's arm move inwards towards the body (the standard method used in the United States), the pitcher rotates his arm so that it moves away from his body, toward third base for a right-handed pitcher and toward first base for a lefty.

The technique to throwing the gyroball, however, is all in the legs, not in the unique grip of the baseball.

Wikipedia states that the unusual method of delivery creates a bullet-like spin on the ball, like a bicycle tire spins when facing the spokes or a perfectly thrown football. When thrown by a right-hander, the pitch moves sharply down and away from right-handed batters and toward left-handed batters.

In baseball, most pitches are thrown with backspin, like the fastball, or with a more forward spinning motion, like the curve ball and the slider.

"Batters use the arm speed of the pitcher and the spin on a baseball, highlighted by the seams, to judge the speed and movement of the ball. The gyroball is thrown with the arm speed of a fastball but goes slightly slower, and since it has a bullet-like spinning motion, on occasion (when the seams are hidden from view of the batter) it will make experienced batters swing wildly at the ball," says the Wikipedia entry.

Causing almost as much discussion as the pitch itself is whether it is being used by Japanese star and Boston Red Sox rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka.

"There's a lot of interest in whether Matsuzaka throws a gyroball. Everyone is talking about it," says Tezuka.

While some they have seen Matsuzaka use the "magic" pitch, Tezuka and Himeno both told Sports Illustrated earlier this year that they had both commented that Matsuzaka might have thrown a gyroball which is possibly where the rumor had started.

The myth is out there, the question remains will it be proven this season.

Journalist Bina Brown contributed to this report.

The gyroball needs to be thrown like an American football, its proponents say.

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