Omaha, Nebraska -- Chad Tolliver has made clean things dirty at the College World Series since 2012.
He is the Associate Director of Championships Alliances and he oversees the on-field operations in Omaha. So an important part of his job involves ‘mudding’ the game balls.
“We have some baseball rubbing mud,” he said. “It takes the shine and sheen and slickness off of the brand new baseballs. We have a team of four people including myself that are working on this. We will mud these up and get them ready for the game.”
On the ground level of TD Ameritrade Park, in a windowless room where you feel the famous Omaha humidity stick to your clothes, Tolliver and his team go to work.
Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud is known throughout the baseball world as the official rubbing mud of baseball for 75 years. In 1938, an umpire complained to Lena Blackburne about the subpar condition of American League baseballs. Back then baseballs were prepped with a combination of water and dirt from the playing field. Blackburne, a third base coach for the Philadelphia Athletics, went to the Delaware River near his house and found some mud he thought would do the trick. The rest is history. The Jersey muck didn’t have an odor and didn’t turn the balls black.
Jim Bintliff is the owner of the company today and he visits the mud’s source and harvests nearly 1,000 pounds of the mud and stores over the winter and creates the baseball-famous ‘mud jars.’ According to the company website, the location of the mud hole is secret, known only to Bintliff and a few close associates. The reason this Jersey mud is so special is the consistency -- it’s almost like pudding.
A jar of baseball mud will usually last five or six years. Tolliver will order 175 dozen balls to be used during the game and an additional 96 dozen to be used in practice. It can take up to six hours to mud up every ball that will be used in the College World Series.
Baseball is a game with many old-school rules and traditions and mudding the ball is no different. The best way to mud a ball could be called the ‘spit-and-polish’ method.
It takes some practice to mud a perfect ball. If you put too much mud on it, the pitcher can use it as an advantage. The ball will become too dark and the batter won't be able to pick up the spin. Or the mud could become caked in the seams. If you put too little on it, the ball won’t pass the umpires eye test.
“Just spit in your hand and apply the mix,” Tolliver said. “The trick is to get a happy mix.”