Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Final Post

Sadly, as the semester is approaching its end along with my communicating science blog project this will be my final blog post.  I have attempted to engage the readers with short stories about my experiences with sports and the knowledge I have attained from them.  I hope that by relating materials engineering to the popular world of athletics that I have piqued your interest.  I had a good time recalling some of my fondest memories as a kid on the golf course, ball diamond and hockey rink.  I hope that my posts were entertaining and somewhat informative. 

Thank-you for tuning in.

So long,


World Long Drive Champion

Many of my posts have centered around the golf world.  In my introduction I laid out some of my experience that has increased my knowledge, in this post I will go a little deeper into this experience.  I began golfing at the age of 10.  This was just after I watched the 1997 Masters tournament where a young Tiger Woods took the golf world by storm winning the prestigious tournament in his first season as a professional.  My first year of golf was purely recreational, a couple of friends of mine played on the weekends with their dads and I would join them the odd time.  I became slightly more serious about the game the next summer as I bought my first membership and spent the summer biking to the golf course in the morning and spending the rest of the day there.  A couple of my good friends from hockey were also getting pretty serious about the game.  One of them was local rising junior golfer who often won the local junior tournaments.  I remember many rainy days in the clubhouse spent watching the Golf Channel's Drive, Chip and Putt.  A competition where junior golfers competed nationally and were awarded points on driving distance and chipping and putting accuracy.  I remember always thinking that if my friend were to enter one of these competitions he would win easily.  You see he grew up in a hockey family, his dad and both older brothers played some seriously good hockey and he grew up looking up to them.  As a kid he had a very frightening slapshot and this transferred very well to his golf game.  At the age of twelve he could outdrive most of the adults at our club.  As we grew older I honed in on my short game and although I could never outdrive him  my touch around the greens allowed our matches to become quite competitive.

At 14 we both began working at the golf course, whether it was picking driving range balls or attending to the proshop.  The lack of any club fixing and regripping services at the course allowed us to experiment with the trade.  At a very young age we began regripping, reshafting, and customizing customers golf clubs.  We became very good at the art and gained a very strong knowledge of golf equipment.  Once we got in to high school I started playing some very competitive golf at the provincial and national level which eventually led to my scholarship at the Colorado School of Mines.  My friend, instead, took the hockey root.  He played Junior A (the top junior league in Canada under the CHL) and moved to a new town focusing on hockey instead of golf.

The hockey career didn't last long for him however, as he soon after received his big break in golf.  He entered a long drive contest at a local course winning easily.  He then moved on through more qualifiers to eventually reach the World Junior Long Drive Championship in Mesquite, Nevada.  He placed 4th in his first year but would go on to win the junior title the following 2 years all the while setting the junior world record at 434 yards.  As soon as he was eligible to compete in the men's category he made his mark in the Long Drive world by winning consecutive world championships in his 2nd and 3rd years of eligibility.  He now makes a very lucrative living traveling around the country putting on shows at PGA tour events.

Having signed numerous endorsement deals he now spends time with golf club manufacturers customizing and designing his own golf clubs.  Apparently all of that fooling around as a kid has really paid off for him.  We still often talk about the manufacturing of clubs and I've been able to learn a lot from him in recent years.  If you ever get the chance to watch one of his shows I highly recommend it.  The things this guy does with a golf club are truly amazing and even manage to drop the jaws of the top touring professionals.

My friends name is Jamie Sadlowski and I have a learned a lot about the golf club from him.  Here's a couple videos of him.  The first his of his first World Championship win and the second is a show he did at Gary McCord's (famous golf announcer) home course in Vail, CO.

Wheel You Marry Me?

Summertime may have meant baseball in my younger years and golf in my older years but winter always meant one thing: HOCKEY!  I mean come on I'm Canadian.  I spent much of my time traveling around the province of Alberta, going to hockey tournaments.  When I wasn't practicing or playing organized hockey we would often get a game of "shinny" (pick-up hockey) going at the local outdoor rink or even by shoveling off a frozen pond at someone's family farm.  In the summer when other sports just wouldn't cut it we would get a game of road hockey going within the neighborhood.  Having moved to the US the thing I missed most was hockey.  There just wasn't the same amount of interest from people my age to get a game going.  Recently I found a cure to my craving.  This last year I have been playing in a roller hockey league once a week.  This was fairly new to me.  Although we often rollerbladed back home to stay in shape during the offseason or to have a good time and get some ice cream on a date, we never played roller hockey.  There was no need.  There was always plenty of ice available in the winter and the summer was either spent on other sports or playing the odd game of road hockey.

I am still getting the hang of roller hockey.  I'm still a very good skater and good at handling the puck but I still haven't figured out stopping on wheels.  They say you're supposed to mimic a hockey stop but although I manage to turn my skates perpendicular to my direction of motion I still don't seem to stop.  When I started shopping for rollerblades I wasn't expecting it to be too hard.  I spent my whole life buying hockey skates how could it be much different.  Boy was I wrong!

The boot of a roller hockey skate is nearly identical to an ice skate.  The frame is pretty simple as well.  It is generally made out of carbon fiber, extruded aluminum, or magnesium.  It gets complicated when you get to the wheels and bearings.  When I first bought m rollerblades they were fitted with outdoor wheels (I didn't know this at the time).  They are made of a hard plastic that is meant to withstand the rigors of the uneven asphalt that you skate on.  When I began playing in an indoor arena my skates did not perform very well.  The outdoor wheels are too hard to grip the relatively smooth tile surface of an indoor rink.  I set out to learn as much as I could in a short period of time about indoor wheels.

The first thing about roller wheels is the setup.  The simplest of setups is 4 wheels all of the same size.  However more advanced skaters will often manipulate the sizes of the wheels in order to increase performance.  Sometimes the front and back wheels are slightly smaller than the middle two in order to imitate the curved surface of an ice skate blade.  Another setup, and the one that I chose, gradually decreases the size of the wheels from front to back.  This setup allows the weight of the skater to be pushed forward increasing speed and acceleration.  These different setups can often increase maneuverability but decreases stability at high speeds.  The other disadvantage to these setups is that you must purchase each wheel individually and not in sets making them much more costly.

The indoor wheels are comprised of polyurethane.  The inner layer of the wheel is fairly soft, while the outer layer is harder.  The combination of the two allows the wheel to deform slightly and grip the tile floor while the harder outer layer increases durability so that the wheels do not need to be changed very often.  The combination of plastics needed to construct the indoor wheel also make them considerably more expensive than outdoor wheels.  For my full setup of indoor wheels I payed roughly $80, a fairly steep amount to pay considering the skates only cost around $130.  With my indoor wheels I have much more control and have grown to enjoy the game much more.  If you plan on buying rollerblades and perhaps playing some roller hockey I suggest educating yourself on wheels and setups and tailoring them both to your specific needs.


Wanna have a catch?

Long before I was a golfer, summertime meant baseball season.  As a young kid my parents first enrolled me in soccer.  What were they thinking?  Not for me.  The next year I played t-ball and that was more like it.  I moved up to baseball underage and played with the older kids.  I am not the tallest of people now and at that age I wasn't either.  As a youngster I was pretty easy to spot on the diamond.  I was the kid with his uniform passed his knees playing with kids 2-3 years older and nearly a foot taller.  My parents spent weekends playing slow-pitch.  You may have noticed in my last post that they passed that down to me.  As a kid some of my fondest memories are running after foul balls at slow-pitch tournaments with the other kids.  The kid who brought back the foul ball was often given a quarter to spend on candy at the concession stand.  My first after school job was taking care of the town ball diamonds.  One of my most embarrassing moments as a young teenager was when I crashed the tractor as I was floating the infield.  There was a girls softball tournament in town and a particularly good looking team was changing in the dougout.  I may have gotten slightly distracted :P.

Well now that I have ranted on about my childhood, on to the technical part.  You see similar to my previous golf ball story, one of the best parts as a kid growing up at the ball diamonds was finding a ball with the cover partially ripped off.  Similar to a golf ball the inside of a baseball is composed of a rubber ball type core and covered with wound up wool material.  The cover is made from cowhide.  Similar to baseball bats the baseball hasn't gone through many changes throughout history.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons that baseball is considered America's pastime and such a nostalgic sport; the game hasn't changed much over the years.

A major league baseball consists of a rubber/cork core called a "pill".  The pill is is composed of an inner cushioned cork ball with a 13/16" diameter.  The cork is encased by a two layers of rubber, a black inner layer and a red outer layer.  The entire pill measures 4 1/8" in circumference.  There are four layers of wool and poly/cotton wound threads that surround the inner "pill".  Wool is selected as the material for this layer due to its natural resiliency and memory.  This allows the ball to regain its perfectly round shape shortly after being hit and compressed by the bat.

Finally the outer cover is made from Number One Grade, alum-tanned full grain cow hide.  This is the only significant change in the ball over the years.  In 1974 due to a shortage of horses, the outer layer changed from horsehide to cowhide.  The cover is stitched together with 88 inches of waxed red thread.

If you're like me and grew up around the baseball diamonds then you most likely ripped apart an old baseball and got down to the inner core.  If you haven't then at least you now know what's inside.

In the last post I showed a clip from one of my favorite baseball movies The Natural.  This time I show a clip from my favorite baseball movie and one of my favorite movies of all time Field of Dreams:


The Wonderboy!

Well summer is fast approaching and I can't wait!  My favorite thing about summer, other than golf obviously, is slow-pitch, the lazier, drunker, version of baseball or softball.  Back home most of the teenagers and young adults travel to slow-pitch tournaments around the area nearly every weekend.  We bring tents, sleeping bags, RV's or basically anything you can sleep in, on, or under.  The weekend is filled with playing ball, relaxing and partying with friends.  This year I figured it was time for a new bat.  Slow pitch bats are the same as softball bats as the barrel is a consistent size towards the end of the bat.  Baseball bats differ in that they increase in diameter nearly the entire length of the bat.  Baseball and softball bats are made of many different alloys these days other than the wood bats used in the MLB. Aluminum is the most common metal bat.  Worth began manufacturing aluminum bats in the 1970's.  Because these bats were able to be made stronger and lighter they were ideal for young kids who weren't strong enough to swing a wood bat.  The MLB has never allowed anything but wood baseball bats due to safety reasons.  This is good thing...Have you ever been to a baseball game?....There's nothing like the "crack" from a wooden bat.  

Wooden bats haven't gone through nearly as much change as you might thing.  For almost their entire history the bats have been made generally of white ash.  Louisville Slugger was one of the first companies to manufacture baseball bats.  It started in 1884 when a young 17-year-old boy was watching his favorite professional player in Louisville.  The player was frustrated that he had just broken his favorite bat so the boy asked if he could make him a new bat.  Well he did and the next game the player went 3 for 3.  Word spread quickly and soon after a brand name was born.  The only other major change in baseball bat manufacturing came in 2001.  When Barry Bonds had his magical season hitting 73 home runs, he was using a maple bat.  Well people try and copy success so since then the maple baseball bat has become a very popular option in the pro leagues.

What is the best baseball bat of all time?  In my opinion it's the Wonderboy!  Not sure if anyone else has seen the classic baseball movie The Natural but it's one of my favorites.  Check out this small clip of the movie:


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Holy Puck!

A hockey puck is about as simple as it gets.  A hunk of vulcanized rubber 3 inches in diameter, 1 inch think and approximately 6 ounces.  The pucks are frozen before each game and in an ice-cooler in the penalty box during the game.  By lowering the temperature of the pucks glide is increased and the amount of bounce is decreased.  A puck is an extremely durable piece of equipment but earlier this year someone managed the unthinkable.  Check out this video:
In 1996 Fox Sports attempted to revolutionize the game of hockey for viewers by introducing a new puck.  Inside the puck was a computer board as well as several infrared emitters.  Pin-sized holes are drilled though the puck to allow the infrared waves to be emitted.  Several receptors were placed around the rink and connected to the "Puck Truck" outside of the arena by fiberoptics.  Using the read-outs of the receptors and linking them with the broadcast Fox was able to show the game on tv with a neon blue halo highlighting the puck.  When the puck was shot a red tail was shown coming from the puck.  A read-out of the speed of the shot was also shown throughout the broadcast.  The idea was that newcomers to the sport were anable to follow the small, speedy puck on tv and this would increase enjoyment in watching the game.  The FoxTrax puck was only around for a year or two before dying out.

Check out this video to see how it worked:


Snapped Twigs

It's playoff season baby!  As many of you may have realized by now I am a huge hockey fan.  At this time of the year the TV at our place is generally frozen on Versus in the evening in order to watch the back-to-back playoff action.  When there isn't a game on, the TV lends its screen to the Xbox where we battle over friendly games of NHL '11.  Any of you who follow hockey or perhaps have played the recent EA Sports video games may have noticed that the frequency of broken sticks has risen greatly in the recent decade.  The hockey stick has gone through many changes throughout the 150 odd years that organized hockey has been played.

In the early years hockey players generally crafted their own sticks by cutting down a hickory or alder sapling with the branches attached and then filing down the wood to create the desired shape.  In the 1880's a Montreal company began fabricating wooden hockey sticks. These preliminary sticks were short with a rounded blade.  As the game evolved the blade became longer and straighter to increase control of the puck and the shaft became longer eliminating the need to hunch over.  The biggest jump in hockey stick technology came in the 1920's when a company started producing the first two piece hockey sticks.  By separating the blade and shaft during manufacturing the company was able to experiment with blade designs making them thinner and longer greatly increasing puck control.  The next step was adding the curve in the blade.  The tale goes that professional hockey player Stan Mikita, frustrated at a practice, attempted to break his stick in the door of the bench.  Instead of shattering the blade, the wood bent and what resulted was an un-before seen increase in shot power and accuracy.  In the late 70's to early 80's manufactures investigated using aluminum as a material.  The sticks were very heavy and didn't have the "feel" that hockey players wanted.  Instead of a one-piece aluminum stick a two-piece stick with an aluminum shaft and a wooden blade was introduced.  This stick became very popular in the late 80's and early 90's.  In fact my very first hockey stick was an aluminum shafted "Wayne Gretzky" edition.  Moving toward the new millennium several companies introduced a one-piece carbon composite stick.  The main material involved is graphite but plenty of materials including binders and epoxy are used. 

These new one-piece composite sticks have increased velocity as well as accuracy and have taken over the hockey world.  The wooden stick is all but an antique these days in the NHL.  I can probably count the amount of players that still use a wooden stick on one hand.  If anyone caught the San Jose - L.A series they may have noticed that Ryan Smyth of the Kings using a wooden stick.  Up until the last year Colorado's own Paul Statsny used a wooden stick.  The biggest disadvantage of the composite one-piece stick is that they seem to break more often.  A guy like Ryan Smyth, who spends most of his time in front of the opposition's net harassing the goalie, takes a lot of punishment from opposing defenseman.  A stick that won't break is vital to this type of player.  Although they seem to have been phased out I personally feel that wooden sticks should still have a place in the NHL.  There have been countless time where I have seen a defensemen wind up for a shot in the attacking zone only to have his stick shatter all the while sending an opposing player on a breakaway.  I think that it would be wise for gritty players like Ryan Smyth and perhaps stay-at-home type defensemen to use wooden sticks.  Although they may lose a small amount of velocity and accuracy on their shots these type of players do not rely on the big shot nearly as often and a broken stick can often be detrimental in giving up an important goal.