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THE SEEDS OF CONTENT
Roy Blount Jr.
October 06, 1980
Ballplayers love chewing sunflower seeds so much they may replace tobacco, but groundkeepers can't stand the messy little things
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October 06, 1980

The Seeds Of Content

Ballplayers love chewing sunflower seeds so much they may replace tobacco, but groundkeepers can't stand the messy little things

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More and more ballplayers, you may have noticed, are to be seen digging handfuls of small things from their pants pockets, popping them into their mouths, executing complex masticatory maneuvers and spitting odd little flecks into the breeze.

These small things and little flecks are, respectively, sunflower seeds and shells. And the only good thing to be said for them, according to Oriole groundkeeper Pat Santarone, is that "they're roasted," which means that they can't sprout and produce great nodding yellow flowers all along the base paths.

Otherwise, Santarone says, "They're brutal. Every place you look in the ball park you see them, all over the grass, all over the infield, out on the pitcher's mound, wherever the umpires stand. They don't decompose, and from one year to the next you see them sitting there. They just won't rot.

"It's awesome. It's incredible. You look out on the field and it's easier to count the guys who aren't chewing them than the ones who are. The guys who eat 'em look like chipmunks. They even have some of the old pros chewing them."

Sure enough, 41-year-old Detroit Tiger Coach Gates Brown, an old tobacco chewer, says he doesn't remember anybody doing seeds when he was playing. Now, however, he is into them. "You change with the times," he says.

But Santarone isn't finished: "It's worse than smoking. They used to duck out of the back of the dugout to go have a smoke. Now they chew these things. Even the umpires are out there, looking stupider than they normally look, with mouths full of sunflower seeds."

Seeds are what's happening chewing-wise in baseball. Predominantly sunflower seeds, but in a few cases—notably those of Cardinal Pitcher Jim Kaat and some teammates he has turned on—pumpkin seeds, too. Ingesting their minuscule meats and properly ejecting their shells is regarded as an art. "They pacify your tongue," says Minnesota Pitcher John Verhoeven, "with the exercise."

"It's a new era," says Cardinal Pitching Coach Claude Osteen, "the era of birdseed." In this, as in several other concurrent baseball eras, Reggie Jackson is a seminal figure. But you have to give credit to 19th-century Russians, too. Seeds go way back and have come a long way. "I guess it's the modern-day player's chewing tobacco," says the Baltimore Orioles' Mike Flanagan.

Which is not to say that tobacco, snuff, bubble gum and combinations thereof are obsolete. Most players agree with Ferguson Jenkins of the Texas Rangers that the salty seeds will never replace the juicy chaw: "You've got to keep reaching into your pocket to get a handful of seeds, but a chew of tobacco usually lasts two or three, sometimes even four innings."

The Seattle Mariners' Dave Heaverlo, who keeps his head shaved and chews seeds, and just about everything else for that matter, suggests that some players never get beyond seeds "because they're afraid to jump into the big stuff like tobacco." But seeds are at least as good a cud as any for relief of baseball monotony. "They help the time go on," says Jim Gantner of the Milwaukee Brewers.

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