I went to Citizens Bank Park yesterday and didn’t snag a single ball. That’s because the Phillies were in Chicago. I was invited to the stadium by Dan O’Rourke, the Phillies’ equipment manager, for a demonstration on how he rubs mud on the baseballs. (For those who don’t know, every game-used ball gets rubbed with a special type of mud in order to reduce the slickness and glare.) Here’s what a container of the mud looks like:
Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud. That’s what it’s called. It’s THE only mud that professional teams use. I’d never even seen a photograph of it, so it was pretty cool to be seeing it in person.
Now…do you see that lovely carpeting in photo up above? That was the floor of the umpire lounge, which is where the rubbing demo took place. Here’s Dan rubbing up a ball:
In the photo above, you can see the open container of mud on the floor, along with a cup of (muddy) water that Dan dips his fingers into every so often.
See those red bags? That’s where the rubbed balls go:
Did you notice the cardboard boxes?
Here’s a look at those:
Each box is called a “case” and it holds six dozen balls.
But let’s go back to the balls…
After Dan had rubbed enough of them to fill both red bags, he started filling up one of the boxes:
As you can see, some balls are darker than others. That just happens.
Dan told me that the balls in one of the red bags would be used on Tuesday the 18th against the Diamondbacks, the balls in the other red bag would be used on Wednesday, and that he’d probably have enough left over to combine them with the balls in the cardboard box for Thursday’s game.
The thing that really surprised me when I touched the freshly rubbed baseballs was that there was a dirty/powdery residue that came off on my hands. There’s never been that type of residue on any of the game-used balls I’ve snagged over the years, and that makes sense. Think about how hard the bat hits the ball, or how hard the ball hits the catcher’s mitt. There’s no way that the residue would last long enough for a fan to feel it.
By the time Dan was down to his last few dozen balls, I made a comment about how the rubbing process looks like hard work. His hands were filthy, and he’d been rubbing the balls so vigorously that he actually took off part of the logo several times. He mentioned that his wrists were hurting, so I half-jokingly offered to help him out by rubbing a few.
“You want to rub?” he asked.
Hell YEAH I wanted to rub, but I tried to play it cool.
Dan then talked me through the whole process, which was helpful even though I’d just been watching him do it for 20 minutes…and before I knew it, I was actually rubbing mud on baseballs that were going to be used in a major league game! Here’s a screen shot of this bless’d moment from a video that I filmed by placing my camera on a nearby table:
I was worried that I’d mess up the balls — you know, make them too dark or too light or too wet, but Dan eased my fears by telling me that if I screwed one up, he’d fix it, and if he couldn’t fix it, he’d leave it to the umpires to toss it out of play. Having worked for both the Astros and the Phillies for the past 19 years, he had SO many cool stories about baseballs, involving players and umpires, the cost of balls, the number of balls, the amount of mud that gets used. He told me what happens to old balls. He told me about the blem balls that were used in the 1990s and the practice balls that’ve been floating around ever since, and of course he told me about Houston’s famous H-balls. Spring Training balls? Batting cage balls? Minor League balls? You name it. We covered it all, and I’ll be sharing this stuff in the book.
By the time we finished rubbing the remaining baseballs, there was mud embedded in every single pore and crease on my hands:
The umpire lounge, in case you’re wondering, has three different areas:
1) The main room where we rubbed the baseballs. There were shelves with LOTS of different snacks (chips, cookies, gum, sunflower seeds, etc.) and there was a deli-type drink cooler — the kind with the sliding glass door with dozens of bottles of water and juice and soda. There was a TV mounted high on the wall, a couch, a small table, chairs, and a kitchenette.
2) The locker room. There were six lockers (which in the baseball world are really just big open stalls) with several different umpires’ names on top. That room was carpeted, too. It was probably 300 square feet, and there wasn’t anything else in it.
3)The bathroom. Also big. There was one urinal, several toilets, and a few shower stalls. There was a long counter with sinks and a big mirror. On top of the counter, laid out nice-n-neat, was a gigantic assortment of toiletries: toothpaste, deodorant, shaving cream, etc. It was impressive, and Dan is responsible for all of it because he’s both the equipment manager AND umpires’ attendant.
There’s one other ball-related photo I can share. Dan took me into the Phillies’ “storage room” which is basically a mini-warehouse for ALL the equipment. There were industrial-type metal shelves from floor to ceiling, and the ceiling was high — probably about 13 feet. There were boxes and plastic containers everywhere. There was a whole wall of spikes (including Ryan Howards’ size 15) and uniform pants. There were dozens of jerseys hanging in various places, both overhead and at eye level. There were huge equipment bags stuffed with helmets, dangling from a horizontal pole 10 feet high. There was also a locked area behind a chain link fence. Here’s a photo from inside that area:
See all those boxes? Those are cases of balls. Wow.
See that ledge on the upper left with all the red bags? That’s where all the bats are stored. That ledge was like 15 feet long. There were bats all over the place, poking out of rectangular cardboard boxes. Wow again. The whole experience was mind-numbing.
Oh, and I got to park in the players’ lot.
It’s too bad that Rawlings won’t let me visit their baseball factory in Costa Rica. I tried. They said no. So I’m trying to think of other ball-related adventures worth pursuing. Any suggestions? Since I’m already planning to visit Coors Field later this month, I’m going to call the Rockies next week and try to talk them into letting me see the humidor. They weren’t particularly accommodating last year when I was trying to unravel the Denver-based mystery of Barry Bonds’ 762nd home run ball, so I’m expecting the answer to be “NO!!!” but it’s worth a shot.
I’ll leave you with one more photo. I can’t resist. It shows a double-typo on the label of the mud container:
Double typo = double facepalm.