KENT WARD

Finale for baseball’s spitters

Posted Oct. 21, 2011, at 4:45 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 23, 2011, at 4:15 p.m.

On an unusually chilly and blustery recent day I bumped into an old friend while on a grocery run to the village, and the conversation naturally turned to the weather.

“The old-timers always claimed that we have only three seasons here in The County — Fourth of July, the Presque Isle Fair and Bank Your House. Looks like they had it about right,” he suggested, as he headed out into the gale.

Maybe. But in the interest of keeping with a traditional four-season motif, I would add to the list of benchmark seasonal events the World Series, inserting it somewhere between the Presque Isle Fair and the annual banking of the igloo before the cruel winds of November come calling.

If this is the next-to-last week in October, this must be time for Major League Baseball’s last gasp before yielding to other games that grown men play for scandalous sums of money. The World Series, a best-of-seven-games deal for bragging rights as the best team in baseball, got underway in St. Louis Wednesday night, matching the American League champion Texas Rangers against the National League-winning St. Louis Cardinals. The teams split the first two games and will play Game Three Saturday night in Texas.

Earlier this week, four Democratic U.S. senators and several health officials asked the players union to agree to a ban on chewing tobacco at the games, especially on camera. Do it for the little kids, they pleaded.

“When players use smokeless tobacco, they endanger not only their own health, but also the health of millions of children who follow their example,” the senators wrote to union head Michael Weiner, according to The Associated Press. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig endorsed the ban in March, but the players union hasn’t committed to one. Baseball banned smokeless tobacco in the nonunionized minor leagues in the 1990s.

The people seeking a ban “probably would have a big fight on their hands,” Texas Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison told the AP. “They [ballplayers] can hide it a little better, I guess … But I think it’s kind of like your own freedom. If that’s what you want to do, then you do it.”

Despite the health risks of using smokeless tobacco, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent survey found that in 2009, 15 percent of high school boys used smokeless tobacco — a more than one-third increase over 2003, when 11 percent did.

Even though a ban on chewing tobacco might constitute one giant step for mankind, many baseball fans might favor going further by having Major League Baseball attempt to reduce the game’s notoriously high overall spit quotient, be it tobacco-induced or otherwise. The only saliva presently banned in the big leagues is that which is occasionally surreptitiously applied by pitchers to the baseball to make it do strange things on its way to the batter.

One need not be particularly alert to have noticed that the number of serial spitters on major league baseball rosters seems to grow with each passing season. The world-class expectoration abilities of today’s players, managers and coaches is a spectacle not best beheld by viewers with weak stomachs — especially when the game is telecast in high definition and the viewer watches on a giant flat-screen television.

Over the years, readers have expressed bewilderment as to why baseball players seem to be in constant spit mode, when athletes in other sports are not. “I don’t see professional soccer players or tennis players doing it,” retired Bangor businessman and serious Red Sox fan Clif Eames wrote a few years ago. “And can you imagine the mess on the hardwood if National Basketball Association players took it up?”

On major league ball diamonds, the spitters’ drill has become routine: Pound fist into glove and spit, hitch up trousers and spit, fiddle with batting gloves and spit. Meanwhile, in the dugout it’s pace and spit, sit back and spit, lean over railing and spit. Spit here, spit there, spit everywhere, and not a spat left unrecorded by the cameras.

The unlucky groundskeeper assigned to hose down the dugout after the old ballgame is over is an unsung hero if ever I‘ve seen one.

All of that aside, may readers enjoy the World Series, with one caveat: Those planning to sit close to their high-definition widescreen televisions are advised to first don full rain gear.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His e-mail address is maineolddawg@gmail.com.

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