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The Baseball: A Painstaking Piece of Our National Pastime
Like the sport itself, the baseball is steeped in tradition. Check out Groupon’s guide to learn the anatomy and history of America’s symbolic sphere.
In just one season, Major League Baseball uses more than 140,000 baseballs—enough to cover the entire surface of a baseball field. In the 19th and early 20th century, players used one ball for the entire game, even taking the time to retrieve every home run and foul ball. Today, however, a modern game goes through about six dozen baseballs, each with an average lifespan of just six pitches, so umpires require a massive supply of balls to constantly reload the mound’s catapult. Though a factory machine could make short work of producing thousands of baseballs, each official professional-league balls is made by hand at the Rawlings factory—a weeklong process that adheres to standards dating back to 1872.
Deep within the baseball’s white cover and immaculate red stitches lies the pill, a core made of cork and surrounded by a rubber casing that’s just smaller than a golf ball. From there, four layers of wool yarn are spun around the pill to give the ball its shape and enough resilience to spring back into form after slamming into a bat. Two pieces of bleached cowhide—each shaped like a figure eight—then wrap around the ball, completing the puzzle, and a specialist hand sews the pieces together with exactly 108 stitches. Though the process has hardly changed in more than a century, modern baseballs contain a couple of key differences. The cover used to be made of horsehide, for instance, and many balls also contain a microchip to instantly track their speed on the field.
Before a baseball can finish its journey from cork to catcher’s mitt, however, one final step is needed. The bright sheen of brand-new balls makes them too slippery to play with, so umpires need to break them in by getting them a little dirty. Prior to each game, they rub each ball with river-bottom mud—specifically, the mud from a single hole in a specific tributary of the Delaware River. Described as “a cross between chocolate pudding and whipped cold cream,” the muck from this secret source makes the ball easier to grip without discoloring or damaging the cover, making it possible to finally play ball.