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
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.
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 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."
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.
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
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
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."
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