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The best sounds of the sports world

Crack of the bat

It doesn't matter if you're watching the game in person or on television or even listening on radio, the most recognizable sound in all of baseball is a slugger getting a hold of a pitch with the meat of the bat. The crack the bat makes when making contact with the ball immediately tells you if a batter got it all or just missed. Watching a home run hitter such as Carlos Peña turn on an inside fastball looks cool, but that sound — a violent clap that sounds like thunder — makes it all even cooler. Here's a story: A few years ago during his comeback attempt, Josh Hamilton was taking batting practice during Rays spring training. Then-manager Lou Piniella was locked in a conversation with one of his coaches when he stopped cold. What stopped him was the sound the ball made coming off Hamilton's bat. He had heard such a sound only once before, he said, when an 18-year-old kid named Alex Rodriguez took batting practice.

Pop of a catcher's mitt

If you played Little League as a kid, you remember something like this vividly: You watch the other team's pitcher warming up and then decided how hard he was throwing not by watching the ball but listening to how loud the pop was in the catcher's mitt. (And if the catcher was smart, he put a little dirt in his mitt so there was that puff of smoke as the ball popped in it.) Today when we watch major-league games, there are scoreboards in the stadium and on the television screen that tell us how fast a pitcher is throwing. But there's still something magical about hearing the pop of the catcher's mitt when, say, the Rays' David Price reaches back and unleashes a 98 mph fastball.

Swish of a basketball net

The sound the basketball makes when a shooter hits nothing but net is so iconic, we actually use a specific word for it: swish. Okay, so the word technically existed before basketball, but does anyone ever use it in any context other than basketball? There are two best times to hear a swish. One is when a player is on fire and hitting one long bomb after another. The other is when the home team is mounting a rally and an opposing player sets up for a 25-footer and buries it to silence the crowd. To the home crowd, there is no more heartbreaking sound than that swiiiishhh.

A big hit in football

One thing you notice while watching game and practice footage from HBO's fascinating series Hard Knocks is just how hard players hit one another on every single play. And it's not so much that you see it but more that you hear it. There is no sound quite like the pads of two players traveling at incredibly high speeds for human beings colliding. It sounds like a car crash. And seeing the condition of the men who have spent years playing this brutal sport, the effects are not all that different than being in one car accident after another. When you hear such a hit, there's a Pavlovian response of, "Ohhhhh!!!!!" from every fan. Football is clearly not a sport for the squeamish or cowardly. When you think of big hitters in NFL history, you think of Dick Butkus, Jack Tatum, John Lynch and, on the offensive side, Hines Ward. Not only can you picture the hits in your mind, you can hear the sound.

The roar of engines

The most famous phrase in all of motor sports: "Gentlemen, start your engines." The most famous sound in all of motor sports: the gentlemen starting their engines. Hearing dozens of cars having their engines revved simultaneously is car racing's version of "Play ball" or a referee's whistle. Near silence is broken by the overwhelming roar that brings goose bumps to racing fans.

Puck clanking off a post

A standard ice hockey puck is 1 inch thick, 3 inches in diameter, weighs about 6 ounces and is frozen. The standard hockey net frame is made of 2.4-inch galvanized steel. When a standard puck is shot at a high speed and strikes the standard hockey post or crossbar, the sound is unlike any other that can be re-created. It's unmistakable. Even if a crowd of 20,000 is going crazy and a shot rings off the crossbar, the sound cuts through the arena to where even those in the nosebleed sections can hear it clearly. The sound — which we hockey people like to refer to as "clanking" — is usually followed by every person in the crowd saying, "Ahhhh, off the post," even though everyone else in the arena heard it hit off the post, too. But that's not a criticism. In fact, somewhere it is written that you have to say that. It has to be. It's unavoidable and completely natural.

A drive in golf

If you don't play golf, you might not get this one. And if you've never been around a really good golfer, then you might not get it, either. But when a professional — or, at least, a really good golfer — nails a drive, there's a sound made that is nearly impossible to describe unless you've heard it. The swing part is almost silent, but there's a thwack when the driver head meets the ball. What follows is the sound every golfer loves to hear. It's a muffled swoosh as the ball cuts through the air immediately in front of the tee box. You hear it, and then it's gone. But the golfers and spectators can still hear it long after the ball has bounced down the fairway. Golf's other cool sound? The ball dropping into the hole. What a brilliant idea for the networks to place a microphone in the hole to hear the ball rattling around.

Knockout punch in boxing

Two heavyweights standing in the middle of the ring. They dance around, throw a few jabs, maybe a couple of combinations. Occasionally, you hear the light tap of one fighter hitting another. Then suddenly, one of the boxers finds an opening and unleashes a powerful right hook. The punch connects with his opponent's jaw. And before even the boxer who was punched realizes how hard he has been hit and loses his sense of gravity, you hear it: a potpourri of sounds — a rubber glove smacking a sweat-soaked face, a low, dull thud, something that sounds like air being forced out of a bag with no holes. It's beautiful and sickening at the same time.

So much of sports is defined by what we see — a diving catch, a snazzy hockey move, a spectacular dunk. But some of the best moments in sports are not only seen, they are heard. While we love the roar of a crowd or fight songs such as Rocky Top or the sound of the cannons going off at Raymond James Stadium, we're talking about sounds within the game. So with that in mind, today we look at our favorite sounds in sports.

The best sounds of the sports world 08/21/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 21, 2010 6:47pm]
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