Aug 7, 2013, 12:42 PM PST
It is the focal point of every Major League Baseball player, coach, and fan watching, yet it’s also the most overlooked item used in the game. Sure, you watch baseball. But do you really watch the ball as much as you think?
We betcha’ don’t.
For example: How many times do you notice when they switch the baseball because the pitcher doesn’t like how it feels in their hand? Or how often do you notice that the baseballs they use in batting practice are different from the ones they use to warm up in the bullpen?
Baseballs don’t simply arrive at the stadium ready to be used. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes before a ball is tossed by a pitcher on a big league mound.
According to A’s equipment manager Steve Vucinich, they use an average of seven dozen baseballs per game in Oakland. To meet the demand, they get a delivery of 360-600 dozen baseballs per month. The amount of baseballs that arrive has to do with how many home games the team is scheduled to play.
Baseballs cost the Oakland A’s around $400,000 a year.
“We order all of our baseballs in December,” Vucinich said. “We stagger the delivery times because at the Coliseum, with the antiquated facilities we use and have to share, we don’t have ample storage for a year’s supply of baseballs.”
When a baseball hits the dirt or is fouled off, it is collected and thrown in a bag for the next day’s batting practice session. Teams have to bring their own batting practice balls on the road. Balls used in the game and in the bullpen are rubbed up with a special mud to insure a proper grip for the pitchers.
In Oakland, bullpen catcher Casey Chavez prepares the baseballs for the bullpen, and visiting equipment manager Mike Thalblum and umpire and clubhouse assistant Matt Weiss rub up the baseballs for the game.
They’ll have nine dozen baseballs rubbed up and ready to go every day. In an extra-inning scenario, the team doesn’t fret.
“I can rub more during a game,” Thalblum said. “They’re never going to get rid of them faster than I can rub them.”
Each game, Thalblum and Weiss crack open several new boxes of baseballs then apply the mud. Each box contains a dozen baseballs. When brand new baseballs come out of the box they are too slick to be thrown at high velocities.
Every time a pitcher goes out on a rehab assignment, Thalblum also has to prepare a couple dozen baseballs in order to ship them to wherever that pitcher will be on assignment.
They do a good job staying prepared for any event, but baseball can be an unpredictable sport. Rain, extra innings, and home runs in bunches can deplete the supply. When that occurs, all Vucinich has to do is phone a friend.
“We share the Bay Area with the San Francisco Giants and there have been times when they run short on baseballs or I run short on baseballs,” Vucinich said. “We’re close enough that we can send someone over in a van or pickup and borrow six, eight or 10 cases.”
So the A’s and Giants do make trades after all?
“Oh, yeah! We’ve made a few in the past,” Vucinich said with a laugh.
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