it’s not really the new year until Manny Machado signs

I wrote with a bit more frequency in 2018, both for my own personal gratification and for work. We are almost three weeks into 2019, and I didn’t do a “best of 2018” post, even though my first THT piece for 2019 is up. I hope I can continue writing about “performance enhancement” and drugs and technology and bullshit supplements and pseudoscience, but I’m also trying not to be a one trick pony (and frankly, I think the public’s appetite for prohibited substances talk is satiated at this point).

So, here are a few things for your perusal that don’t require a FOIA:

Near and dear to my heart: as a woman in a STEM field, and as a woman on the fringes of baseball, I have a lot of thoughts about how baseball needs more diversity in the front office, and how MLB and individual organizations can make this happen. I was really looking forward to seeing how the first round of the MLB Diversity Fellowship Program would shape the second round, but I haven’t seen anything about a second round. But I will be optimistic, and I hope to hear success stories from the first group of fellows shortly.

We have spent so much time discussing the baseball over the last few years, but we haven’t considered what’s happening on the other side: wooden baseball bats have changed quite a bit over the years! And there’s a lot of potential for innovation. There is reason to think that modifications to the baseball bat could have an effect on performance, whether that’s humidity or the treatment of the wood or the finishing lacquer. If I were fabulously wealthy, I would start making baseball bats and paying to have them tested at the UMass Lowell Baseball Research Center or the Washington State Sports Science Laboratory. Baseball is a game of inches, and being able to propel the ball a few extra inches could mean the difference between a double and a home run. I sent many emails which were met with deafening silence (trade secrets are secrets for a reason), and the tour guide at the Louisville Slugger tour was circumspect.

I love organic chemistry, but I also love thinking about the other kind of chemistry: personal interdynamics. I think makeup and character play a huge role in clubhouse chemistry, but some teams are trying to cut corners by scaling back on the best way to assess personality. We can’t discount the effects of individual personalities on the team as a whole. Although it is impossible to measure overall clubhouse chemistry (and probably not worth the time and effort!), I do think you can apply some of the ideas and equations behind drug synergy to evaluate synergy, i.e., chemistry, between teammates. One thing I wish I had fleshed out a bit more: there’s a big difference between “chemistry” and synergy and being BFFs, and having complementary skill sets that work well together on the field.

And for something different, for Lady Science, I wrote about the role of gender in diagnosing and treating concussions: Impaired Judgement: Gender and Traumatic Brain Injury. It was a great way for me to mesh my interest in women’s health and science with sports.



Passing drugs through passionate kisses?

This story is wild, and I can’t stop thinking about it:

“The case of the passionate-kissing sprinter is settled: An American Olympian’s novel defense is successful in an unusual doping dispute”

An athlete passionately kissed his girlfriend not long after she sprinkled probenecid on her tongue. He gave a urine sample three hours later, and tested positive for probenecid.

I have so many questions; some of which we can answer, but there are also areas that may be lacking in studies. What’s the urinary excretion profile for probenecid? Would it really show up in a urine test three hours after oral administration? What is the detection limit for probenecid and how sensitive is the testing lab’s analytical equipment? How much probenecid was transferred from her tongue to his mouth? Didn’t she drink a glass of water after emptying the capsule onto her tongue? How much probenecid would remain in her mouth after that? Just how, um, passionate of a kiss would lead to this??

What’s a STEM major? What’s an athlete?

I’ve always had a soft spot for athletes who were science majors in college. It isn’t easy to balance the demands of a physical training regimen along with a full course load, particularly when said course load includes a number of lengthy laboratory classes, so I’m impressed when someone tackles both. I don’t know why I haven’t been keeping an actual list of scientist-turned-athletes (or vice versa), except that I don’t really have any purpose for doing so. But apparently I’m not the only one who has an interest in scientist-athletes, so I’ll take a first pass at starting a list.

We should probably set some parameters first. For our purposes, I’m happy to keep these as broad as possible.

What is a STEM major? As a start, I looked at the US Census Bureau’s graphic, Where do college graduates work? A Special Focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (thanks, Chemjobber!) Declaring a major or field of study is sufficient, no degree needs to be completed (although we could probably tack on a column to indicate a completed degree).

Who is considered an athlete? How do we define what constitutes a professional athlete? It’s easy to say that anyone who makes it to the majors counts. Independent leagues of various sports should be included, as should Olympians. If we’d like to include as many female athletes as possible, we should consider college athletes as well… but the list could grow unwieldy.


synthetic alternatives to mud

I recently wrote about alternatives to baseball rubbing mud for increasing tackiness on baseballs. These might be spray-on products, or they might be impregnated onto the surface of the ball itself. One area of knowledge that I wish I had a better grasp of (no pun intended): the leather tanning process. Based on my very rudimentary understanding of the leather tanning process, the goal is to displace water trapped within the collagen fiber bundles of the animal skin. This is achieved by replacing water molecules using either a vegetable tanning process, which uses tannin-based compounds (yes, the same tannins that you find in wine) or a mineral, particularly something chromium-based. What if, instead of using a naturally occurring tannin, you replaced this with a modified tannin molecule that has a moiety which provides an enhanced grip?

In fact, the leather manufacturer responsible for producing the leather used in NFL footballs has their own “Tanned-in-Tack”. I suspect that Mizuno, who uses Deguchi Northern Kip leather in many of their products, uses a similar tactic in producing baseballs for NPB. Many of these leather tanning processes are trade secrets, but some companies have patented their own leather tanning and treatment processes. For example, Wilson Sporting Goods has U.S. Patent 5,069,935, for waterproofing leather for making footballs. There is also U.S. Patent 4,689,832, for creating a partially de-tackified leather containing nitrocellulose and silicone resins. It’s an interesting area of work, and I’d love to revisit the process of leather tanning someday. Based on my own reading, I suspect that the best way to achieve a baseball having a tackier feel and a better grip is to adsorb a substance having enhanced grip during the leather tanning process. Rather than replace the rubbing mud with a spray-on product, let’s look at changing the material of the baseball altogether.

link dump

Trump pick for NASA chief doesn’t understand science – Fortunately, there is bipartisan opposition, mostly because Marco Rubio realizes that NASA has a significant impact on his state. But Bridenstine’s name has been floated out there for a few months now.

“When discussing climate change, Bridenstine uses a tactic perfected by the tobacco industry; specifically, the sowing of doubt to obscure science. The tobacco industry internally adopted the slogan “doubt is our greatest ally” in its efforts to hide that its products were killing thousands, which it achieved through sloganeering and PR statements honed to suggest it was unclear if the science was conclusive about tobacco’s effects. In the same vein, Bridenstine once said that the climate “has always changed,” and noted “periods of time long before the internal combustion engine when the Earth was much warmer than it is today.”

The Salon story takes a broader look at the tactics Republicans have used to propagate their anti-science rhetoric. This type of logic is dissected in the book Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science, which I highly recommend.

Citing The Bible, The EPA Just Changed Its Rules For Science Advisers – The headline is exactly as it sounds.

“Pruitt used a story from the Book of Joshua to help explain the new policy.

On the journey to the promised land, “Joshua says to the people of Israel: choose this day whom you are going to serve,” Pruitt said.

Meanwhile, head of the House Science Committee Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, says, “Today’s announcement shows that we have an administrator with common sense, commitment, and courage.”


oh my, such good apple pie

As I’ve noted previously, since having a child, I’ve had to make a number of concessions in the kitchen. My cooking is more functional than experimental nowadays; I hesitate to say that it’s not fun, but instead of taking pleasure in the process of creating, my focus is now on finding joy in feeding my family.

I’ve been eyeing the new BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts cookbook. So when Serious Eats posted Stella Parks’ Easy, Old Fashioned Apple Pie recipe, I knew it was just a matter of time. It wasn’t long before I found myself with a big bag of apples and a ravenous sweet tooth.

I purchased this apple peeler because it was reasonably priced; the reviews noted that it looks like a toy. So it wasn’t too surprising when my 3 year old came running over as soon as I took it out of the box. Yes, it looks like a toy, and doesn’t carry the same gravitas (or actual weight) as your standard metal apple peelers. But it was simple enough for Kai to use (with adult supervision of course; there are poky bits and sharp blades on this thing!) The mechanism is housed in clear plastic, so Kai enjoyed watching the bright red gears turn as he cranked the handle.

Another toddler friendly aspect of this project: this is such a low-fuss recipe, that the filling doesn’t require any cooking. You just let the apple slices, sugar, and spices macerate in a bag for several hours. So my little sous chef was happy to help combine the ingredients into a Ziploc bag, “massage” the apples every so often, and pour the filling into the pie pan. Even though I had a few missteps (mostly due to time constraints), the pie is still delicious (and totally appropriate for breakfast, right?)