Movie review of “Fastball”: Sports filmmaker Jonathan Hock directed this engaging documentary about the history of the fastball in baseball, as told through the careers of numerous legends. Rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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Who threw the fastest fastball in baseball history?

With the aid of contemporary science, the exceptionally entertaining documentary “Fastball” makes a pretty good case for a certain throw by a certain legendary Major League Baseball pitcher early in his career.

The player’s identity (hint: he once received a well-deserved standing ovation in Seattle’s long-gone Kingdome) comes at the end of “Fastball” and won’t surprise baseball fans.

Movie Review ★★★★  

‘Fastball,’ a documentary narrated by Kevin Costner. Written and directed by Jonathan Hock. 87 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Varsity.

But it’s the cherry atop this treat of a film, which brings together a large army of great MLB players — young and old, pitchers and hitters — to talk about the impact of the fastball on the game, and to share stories about hurling or swinging at “rocks” that sometimes exceed 100 mph.

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Narrated by Kevin Costner, “Fastball” includes engaging, sometimes illuminating interviews with retired or active pitchers, including Richard “Goose” Gossage, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan and Aroldis Chapman, all of whom talk about employing intimidation strategies that unsettle batters beyond the force and speed of their fastballs.

Batters including Hank Aaron and Derek Jeter tell us what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such treatment, to hear the hum of the ball as it whips by, within inches of one’s head.

Filmmaker Jonathan Hock goes beyond anecdotes to the larger role of the fastball in baseball, the way the game changed when the pursuit of velocities exceeding a batter’s reaction time became a Holy Grail.

Past masters of the form — including Walter Johnson, Bob Feller and Sandy Koufax — are rich subjects, and the limited technologies used in decades past to measure their pitching speeds (one Feller throw surpassed a speeding motorcycle cop) prove fascinating.

Hock handles that perennial sports question — what is the athletic limit of a human? — with interesting sidebars about the brain and physics. Such mysteries mingle with irresistible lore in this satisfying work.
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