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"HIGH HEAT: The Secret History of the Fastball and the Improbable Search for the Fastest Pitcher of All Time," by Tim Wendel, Da Capo Press, 288 pages, $25 (nf)

With the baseball season so close, you can almost smell the freshly cut grass. Tim Wendel's book "High Heat" is a perfect companion for fans of America's greatest pastime.

Wendel takes his readers on a fantastic journey through time to answer the question: Who is the fastest pitcher ever? The exploration begins with Cleveland Indians Hall of Famer Bob Feller. Drawing from interviews with both the pitcher himself and the people who surrounded the ballplayer, Wendel takes a Myth-Busters-like approach to debunking or proving the legends of the all-time greats.

After painting the picture of Feller's prowess and legacy, the author takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of all the pitching greats — Nolan Ryan, Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax and many others.

As Wendel puts it, "Who was the fastest pitcher of all time? The world may never know, may never agree, but it sure is fun to talk about, isn't it?"

And that it precisely what Wendel does — he talks about it. "High Heat" is definitely for baseball lovers, and while those who know little to nothing about baseball can certainly enjoy the stories that Wendel so beautifully tells, the details and statistics can be somewhat overwhelming for the casual reader. The science of baseball and pitching is discussed at great length, and the interesting anecdotes are intertwined with the heavier details to keep the reading light.

The book follows the timeline of the author's search, not the history of baseball, and this can leave the reader somewhat confused, but somehow, the history doesn't seem to matter as much as the search for the fastest pitcher. "It's all about the speed," writes the author.

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The chapters follow the steps that pitchers take when throwing the ball: the windup, pivot, stride, arm acceleration, release, follow-through and the call. Chapter separation and organization help the reader realize this book is much more than an organization of baseball facts. "High Heat" reads like a parlor-room discussion of the American sport with truth laced with the tall tales that leave the reader wondering what really happened.

The author does decide who he thinks is the fastest pitcher of all time but acknowledges that the discussion is far from over. "High Heat" is a must-read for baseball fans and is a great resource for anyone interested in the baseball history.

e-mail: sbracken@desnews.com