As we enter the “dog days of summer”, farmers and ranchers throughout Utah are
in full swing to bring you the best food Utah has to offer. But did you know that
agriculture contributes to many other parts of our lives – many we don’t even
think about? With little – and not so little – kids hitting the baseball and softball
diamonds throughout the state, have you thought about the critical role
agriculture plays in baseball?
While no Major League Baseball (MLB) team calls Utah home, residents are crazy
for ‘America’s Pastime’, as evidenced by attendance to minor league teams in Salt
Lake (the Salt Lake City Bees), Ogden, Orem and St. George, and participation in amateur
leagues throughout the state. Let’s take a moment to see all the ways farmers and
ranchers contribute to the ‘old ballgame.
Legend has it the Ancient Romans played a game similar to what we call baseball
today, with balls made from strips of animal hide wrapped around wild grasses.
Today, baseballs are made from four strands of high quality wool – 150 total
yards! The core is then surrounded by rubber or cork from cork oak trees in Spain
or Portugal. The ball is then covered by two pieces of cowhide, stitched together
with exactly 216 stitches. Lower quality baseballs have a core made of cotton
yarn. One cow can provide approximately 144 baseballs!
Glove or Mitt
The shape of gloves can vary on position on the field and the size of the player’s
hand. Gloves are also made from cowhide. One cow can provide enough materials
for approximately 12 gloves.
Bats are made from solid pieces of wood and must be no more than 2.6 inches in
diameter at its thickest point, and no more than 42 inches long. Most bats have
historically been made from northern ash trees, though some have increasingly
been made from maple.
Yellow pine trees in the southern U.S. have also been used to create pine tar. Pine
resin is also dried and powered for use in resin bags for players.
According to Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom, the first official baseball uniform
was adopted in 1849 by the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York City. It
consisted simply of a flannel shirt, blue wool pants, and a straw hat. Hats were
later fashioned out of Merino wool, which is a high-quality wool. Today, baseball
uniforms are cotton-based, with most U.S. cotton grown in the southern states.
Cotton is an excellent natural fiber that keeps players cool.
Various soil and mineral types from around the country are used in many
elements of baseball, including limestone chalk used for baselines, clay used to
build up pitching mounds, and a special mud used to rough up baseballs before
they are used. Soil from central Utah has also been rumored to find its way into
While artificial turf is used in some stadiums, nothing quite has the feel of
traditional baseball than playing on turf grass. Most fields include a mixture of
Kentucky Blue grass, rye, fescue, and other grasses.
In addition to the traditional ways you may see agriculture at the ballpark –
eating things like hotdogs & hamburgers, nachos, popcorn, peanuts, sunflower
seeds, beverages, etc. – agriculture processing has been used to create other
items used by players, including vitamins and pharmaceuticals, bandages, and
the printing of programs.
While not on the mind when you first see a batter hit a screaming drive down the
third base line, agriculture is clearly front-and-center in the game of baseball and
many other sports. Just one more reason we have to thank a farmer or rancher
the next time you see them. Play ball!
Purchase discounted tickets to the Salt Lake Bees HERE.
Sources for the story include ‘Baseball Needs Agriculture’ by Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom,
‘Agriculture in Sports’ by Oklahoma Agriculture in the Classroom, and The Baseball Charm