There's a pitcher at Mississippi State University with a 200 mph fastball and a batter that can hit anything the pitcher tosses.

Not on the baseball diamond. The battery is in the aerospace engineering department, where scientists have been busily researching baseball bats for the past year for three manufacturers, Worth, Easton and Spalding."Our purpose is to explore how different materials react with the ball," said Professor Keith Koenig, who with Leslie Hester designed and built most of the machines used to test the bats. They modified some others, like the 200-mph air cannon. Koenig sets up most of the experiments and interprets the results, while Hester is responsible for the hardware. But mostly they play ball.

"We shoot the balls out of the air cannon at about 150 miles an hour and measure the ball speed. We can measure - with computers - the ball speed into the bat and away from the bat, the bat movement, the bat stresses and the direction the ball goes," Koenig said.

They use different materials for bats, such as aluminum, graphite, ceramic and wood, to test reactions.

What have they learned?

"Well, some information is proprietary - we don't even share among companies," Koenig said. "But an example would be the big difference in how a ball comes off a bat when hit near the handle." Some balls travel farther or are harder to field when hit off a bat handle. However, when a ball strikes the same bat near the head, the ball doesn't perform nearly so well.