Editor’s Note: This column by Pat Sangimino appeared in a late July issue of the Hutchinson News, Hutchinson, Kan. It is reprinted here with permission. Needless to say, our vote goes in favor of keeping sunflower seeds at the ballpark.
Back long ago — about two weeks, to be exact, which is an eternity in baseball terms — when the Hutchinson Monarchs were in the midst of their well-documented offensive funk, a couple of players took drastic measures to end the slump.
“They took dirt dips,” said former Hutch Blue Dragon pitcher Zach Biery, who told the tale, but spared himself what promised to be a terrible predicament by choosing to protect the identities of the teammates involved.
I wanted names. I wanted the dirt. Figuratively speaking, of course. But he wasn’t budging. So I him asked to explain what the heck a dirt dip was.
“To start a rally, they grabbed a little pinch of dirt and put it between their cheek and gum,” he said about as matter-of-factly as he was capable of doing without crinkling his face into the look that told just how disgusting this act really was.
Whatever it takes to awaken the bats, right?
Two weeks later, all is well. The Monarchs busted out of their funk — 35 runs in the four games (all victories) of the NBC qualifier this week at Hobart-Detter Field is a pretty good indicator of that — and while no one is crediting the dirt dips for the dramatic turnaround, there has been no mud-slinging (get it?) to refute the practice’s slump-busting capabilities, either.
Let's just file this one under “D” for drastic times call for drastic measures.
It was a last-ditch effort that couldn’t have come at a better time. The Monarchs have qualified for the National Baseball Congress World Series, which begins Friday. The unfortunate part of it all is that Lawrence-Dumont Stadium — the hallowed ground to the baseball tournament that boasts a historic past with former players like Bonds, Pujols and Clemens — is a place where spitting is strictly prohibited.
In fact, it markets itself — through countless public-address announcements — as a “tobacco-free, sunflower seed-free stadium,” not just on the playing field, but in the stands, too.
No dirt dips.
No chewing tobacco.
And above all, no sunflower seeds.
Welcome to the new generation of baseball, a sport that cut its collective teeth on the art of spitting. What”s next? No scratching? No crotch adjustments? Why not just take their gloves and bats away and call it soccer.
Actually, the tobacco rule makes sense. Lawrence-Dumont is a city-owned stadium and with a statewide smoking ban in place, it seems fair that the smokeless tobacco users should have to suffer, too. It’s probably good for business — even if it doesn't show in the Wichita Wingnuts' attendance figures. You wouldn’t want to be watching a ballgame, munching a hot dog while the guy next to you was creating a nasty brown puddle in your vicinity.
“I always bring a cup to spit in when I'm watching a game in the stands,” Biery said.
But what happens to that cup once it's filled?
The moratorium on sunflower seeds makes less sense — at least in the grandstand. While there is a ban on sunflower seeds, venders hawk peanuts throughout the stadium. Do the math and you'll find that peanut shells, bigger in mass and containing that messy brown skin, create far more waste than sunflower seeds, which are much smaller in size.
It should also be noted that banning sunflower seeds in the Sunflower State seems wrong.
As more ballparks go to artificial turf, sunflower seeds have become a field-maintenance nightmare. There is a company in nearby Harper that created a riding vacuum cleaner that it has sold to a number of Major League ballparks, Yankee Stadium included, but it is expensive — probably way out of the budget of most minor-league and college teams.
Sunflower seeds are prohibited at Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La., too. But somehow sunflower seeds find their way to the field. Darn visiting teams. It then becomes the postgame job of the freshmen on the baseball team to pick the shells out of the turf — one by one.
"It's a bad job," said Monarchs designated hitter Stephen Gandy, who turned 20 yesterday and will be a sophomore at Northwestern in the fall, meaning his days of picking up seeds are behind him. "Freshmen have to do it. It's a pain. I understand why (sunflower seeds) are not allowed."
All cleanup aside, baseball without sunflower seeds is lacking. You've heard of the soap scrimmage before football season - get in free if you bring a bar of soap, which will be used throughout the season by the team - one high school baseball team in eastern Kansas had its annual Spit Scrimmage. Admittance is free if you donated a bag of sunflower seeds.
Anyone who has ever played knows that the back pocket of a pair of baseball pants has no other purpose than for storage of a handful of seeds. The David Co., the nation's largest producer of sunflower seeds, is a proud sponsor of Major League Baseball. Walk into any big-league clubhouse and there are packs of seeds everywhere.
Another sunflower seed company has named itself by its appropriate baseball name — Spitz.
Ballplayers have grown up with them.
"I go through stages where I chew sunflower seeds," said Monarchs first baseman Andy Petz, a senior-to-be at Washburn University. "Right now, I'm at a stage where I am not doing seeds when I play."
That said, he will adjust. So will most players.
Maybe the bigger issue this week at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium might be how to enforce the no-spit rule. After all, there are times when the guys hired to enforce the rules are the biggest culprits.
"Nobody really hides it out there," Biery said. "You'll see umpires chewing a big wad of tobacco in a game. It's not something that is enforced. Players are going to try to get away with as much as they can in a game."
Oh well. Spit happens.
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