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"They're something to spit for the guys who don't chew," says Dave Rozema of Detroit. "Not only that, but the pitchers in the bullpen get hungry. We look up and see the people eating popcorn and peanuts all through the stands. Well, we've got our seeds."
"I've been chewing sunflower seeds since I was a kid," says George Foster of the Cincinnati Reds. "The protein is healthy. They're salted, and on the hot days even a little salt helps to keep us going. I don't like tobacco; it's not sanitary and it leaves a bad odor."
People who have to clean up after players, however, prefer old-fashioned spittle. Seed hulls don't evaporate or soak in and disappear. They stick to rugs, floors and grass, they clog dugout drains, and they attract mice. Gene Mauch banned them when he was managing the Twins, and Bill Virdon keeps their use to a minimum among his Houston Astros because they are so messy. Most clubhouse men, who set out gum and tobacco, refuse to provide seeds.
And groundkeepers.... Santarone again: "I don't think they'd spit them out on their own lawns or in their own living rooms. There's a lot of salt on the shells, and salt is a sure-enough grass-killer. I complain to the players and they just look at me with blank expressions, like I was weird or something.
"Just take two cases of seeds a day. Take those shucks and multiply them by 81 home games, and that's more than 160 cases of sunflower seeds just lying out on that field. And we have to vacuum them up or sweep them up. We have a big power sweeper with brushes on it that sweeps them up. But if you don't do it and you get a pile of them, you lose the grass. Really!"
According to Baltimore clubhouse man Jim Tyler, the Orioles will go through about 200 cases this season, twice as many as last year. Which adds up to 25,600 seven-tenths-of-an-ounce bags (at a street value of $2,560) or roughly 2,688,000 seeds. That, you may say, sounds like an awful lot of seeds. But that's only half of it; there are 5,376,000 seed-hull halves. And that doesn't include the economy-size bags generous Baltimore fans toss down into the bullpen to augment the relievers' stores.
Although the Orioles perhaps lead the major leagues in team seed stats, there are individual players on many clubs who go through five to 10 bags a game. One night last season Wayne Twitchell of Seattle did a bag every half inning for nine innings. That's roughly 3,780 seed-hull halves produced in one game by Twitchell alone.
"I guess it takes their minds off things," says Jim Tyler.
Then, too, the seeds' "nutritional value is meaningful," says Jackson, echoing Foster. Reggie flips a bag of seeds over and reads, Protein...thiamine...niacin...iron...magnesium...phosphorus. We have to take phosphorus pills to keep from pulling muscles."
"They're good for you," agrees the Orioles' Rich Dauer, "but you can't live on them." However, Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver has cut back to one pack of seeds a game because he's found that "there are some calories in there, and they can put a little weight on you." Also, the shells get stuck in his teeth.