The Spitting Image of Baseball

“Coach says I’ll never make it to the majors. My spitting and scratching need a lot of work.”

I watch quite a bit of baseball, as it is a job-related necessity. Poor me. In any event, having watched and played since a child, (I was the short fat kid, riding the bench. Remember me?) some of baseball’s traditions become a natural part of the game, to the point where you don’t even notice them… until you do.

The other day, I was over my adult nephew’s house, watching his 5-year-old preparing to hit a baseball, from a batting T. As she was getting ready for her first swipe at the ball, she dug in, feet set apart, knees bent, the bat high in the air, shoulders level with elbows, she cocked the bat back a few more inches, turned her head ever so slightly, so that the afternoon sun caught her delicate profile. Her face bathed in a warm, almost angelic light, she spit, turned her head back to the imaginary pitcher, and hit the ball with a satisfying crack, that I did not expect to hear coming from the bat of a 5-year-old.

She was frozen in place, a statue, at the end of a perfect follow-through. She watched the ball until it finally found the earth. Then, she dropped the bat, turned and spit, bent down and grabbed the next ball out of the bucket and stuck it on the T.

OK so I’m just going to say it… I am of a certain generation, whereby seeing my little niece spitting, caused an ineradicable reflex that was immediately scolded by my, more highly enlightened, “little voice.” “What’s wrong with little girls spitting,” my id asked? I casually looked at my nephew for a social cue. He was looking at me beaming. “I couldn’t hit a ball that far when I was five,” he said. I said something about not being able to hit a ball that far when I was fifteen, but it was an auto-response because I was still processing.

Huh, I thought, channeling George Costanza. Nothing about the spitting.

For the next half-hour, I watched this little imp-faced dynamo, simultaneously disrespecting the ball and the lawn. All in all, it turned out to be a great day. I had a learning experience. My id was self-satisfied, albeit in a condescending sort of way. It was all very nice… until the next morning.

The next morning, I get the familiar notification from my MLB app, that the first game is supposed to start in 15 minutes.  I place my well-researched wagers with “Billy Hill” (I live in Nevada where everything is legal.) then I turned on the game.

I mostly listen to the games in the background, as opposed to watching them, because I am usually pushing pixels around on the computer. In this particular game, however, the team I was backing, got a two-run homer. That got my attention, so I watched the replay the obligatory 146 times, and then kept watching, to see if this was going to be a hitter’s streak.

The next batter got up and spit, got in to a stance, and spit. Took a few practice swings, and spit. Finally, ready to get the first pitch, he settles in, gets in his stance and spits.

Not to be outdone, the pitcher rubs the ball in his hands and spits. He scuffs the rubber, spits, gets into his pre-launch position, spits, looks in for the signals, shakes off the first, takes the second, spits, gets in to his windup and delivers the ball. I am not exaggerating by so much as one single drop of saliva. Why haven’t I noticed this before? I mean I’ve noticed, but not really paid attention.

Now, all I can see is the spitting. It was excessive, to the point of cartoonish. It was exaggerated, it was comical. Everybody on the field is spitting. The coach is spitting. The manager is spitting, the bat boy spits and gets some on his chin. The umps are spitting, the seagulls on the light poles are spitting, even the spectators are expectorators, it’s ridiculous.

The announcers, who are not spitting, so far as we know, tell a sweet story about the current spitting-batter’s mom and dad, making a lifetime of sacrifices, for their now super-star son. The camera goes to the stands, and isn’t dad spitting in to a cup. I seriously consider the possibility that I am still in bed dreaming all of this, as a result of mild PTSD from “The spitting Incident” with my niece.

I did some research. When players are asked why they spit, they give answers like: “Tradition” and “boredom.” Back in the 1800’s, tobacco chewing was generally popular, and players would use it to produce saliva, so they could spit the dust and dirt out of their mouth. This… I understand. Except now, instead of dirt, the infields are made of coconut husks and lemon-cocoa-butter. You can rub it on your skin for a smooth glow or add it to ice, in a blender, for a refreshing smoothie. All that wonderfulness would seem to discourage spitting, right?

What about the “boredom” thing? Well, there is that famous quote from Tony Oliva, in response to a question asked about spitting in baseball; “When you play the game, you have to have something to entertain you, otherwise your brain goes crazy.”  

So, let me understand, Tony. You’re saying that as a player, playing baseball at the top level, in a huge stadium, with millions watching on TV, for an embarrassing amount of money, you are so bored, you spit for entertainment? With that logic, I’d be afraid to think what manner of fluid elimination the fans might use, to entertain themselves during the 15th inning, of the 2nd game, of a double-header.

Well to wrap this up, I guess the best way to understand the whole “spitting thing” is to get it straight from the spitters mouth. Sorry about the visual, but I think Twins slugger; Chris Colabello drilled right down to the core with his response. Colabello said; “much of the spitting has to do with tradition.” “You saw guys on TV spit, so you want to spit like the big-league ballplayers.” “When you’re 5 running around, you go out and spit,” Colabello explained.

“You want to spit like the big-league ballplayers.” “When you’re 5, running around, you go out and spit.”

Shut up id.

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