America’s Pastime Comes From America’s Farms

“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too,” said legendary baseball player, Yogi Berra. That makes sense to me because there are so many things to love about baseball. Whether it’s a major league game that will be broadcast to millions or your kid’s little league team where the audience brings their own seats, baseball has been a summer pastime of Americans for generations.

Every summer, stadiums are packed with likeminded fans, each side rooting for their team to win. Typically, there is nice weather with sunny skies, nice breezes, and not a worry in the world – just nine innings of great entertainment. Then there’s the music, classic organ music, encouraging the crowds to their feet to cheer for the players, who are playing their hearts out, leaving it all on the field. Other sounds I love about baseball are the “crack” of the bat when a hitter has sent the ball soaring, or the deep hollow sound a great catch produces as the ball finds its home in a catcher’s glove.

And who can attend a game without a visit to the concession stand? Hotdogs, popcorn, nachos, pretzels, cotton candy, and sunflower seeds are typical stadium fare.

Have you ever wondered, “Where does it all come from?” The bats, balls, and gloves are sold at sporting goods stores. And the delicious snacks are trucked in from food distributors, but like almost everything else we eat, use, or wear, many items that make baseball great come from a farm.

  • Baseballs have a center made of rubber or cork, which is tightly wrapped in yarn and then covered with leather. Leather cured from the hide of the cow or horse after it is harvested. That hide is an animal byproduct. By utilizing parts of livestock that are not consumed, like hide, bones, fat and even intestines, other products can be produced, like buttons, glue, soap, and baseballs. The yarn in the baseball too is an animal byproduct because it is made from wool. Wool is sheared from sheep two or more times per year and then spun into yarn.
  • Gloves. While it is possible to purchase a glove made of synthetic materials, leather is a better investment and will hold up longer. Various synthetic materials have been tested for baseball gloves, but so far none have demonstrated the resilience, the stretch ability, and the feel that leather has. A good leather glove can provide a player with years of use. Beef cattle hides are processed by a tannery and the best material is sent to the glove factory. Tanning is a chemical treatment of the hides to give them required characteristics, such as flexibility and durability. If leather were not tanned, it would dry and flake. Each cowhide provides enough leather for three or four gloves. Since there are over 90 million  cattle in the United States we could produce a lot of gloves! But leather has even more uses.
  • Baseball bats can be metal, wood, bamboo, or composite. Maple wood bats are the most common type of wood bats used in the major league. Maple is an extremely dense wood that offers a harder hitting surface. The wood used for bats comes from a cultivated forest. Since trees take a long time to grow, sustainability is important. A lot of thought goes into how and when they will best be replaced when they are harvested. This process is called forest farming. Many private forests are grown to provide wood for paper and other wood products.
  • Hotdogs can be made from chicken, pork, turkey, or beef. While hotdogs may have the reputation of containing “mystery meat” you can make your own all beef hotdogs. Beef may be the main ingredient, but sheep casings, from the intestines of sheep, are needed to help hotdogs hold their shape.
  • Popcorn grows in a field, but less than 1% of the corn grown is actually the popcorn variety. Did you know it’s the moisture inside the kernel heating up that makes the popcorn, well, pop? The lesson plan, Get Popping!, has more fun popcorn facts. Most of the corn fields you see are growing yellow corn, or #2 dent corn. That corn can be processed into things like tortilla chips, used for animal feed, or made into ethanol fuel.
  • Nachos are a simple snack of chips and spicy cheese. The tortilla chips are made from corn, a lot of which is grown right here in Iowa. And you can’t forget the yummy dip, a side of nacho cheese. Cheese that is produced by a dairy animal on a farm. A little bit of soybean oil gives the cheese its smooth consistency. Soybeans are also a major crop grown here in Iowa.
  • Cotton candy is made by heating and liquefying sugar, spinning it through a screen with tiny holes. As the sugar rapidly cools, it forms fine strands. Sugar is extracted from sugar cane (a tall growing grass) or sugar beet (a root crop). Sugar beets are grown in northern cool climates like Minnesota and sugar cane is grown in warm tropical climates like in Florida.
  • Sunflower seeds go hand in hand with baseball. How else do you pass the time when a new pitcher is warming up, or the coach is consulting with the umpire? Being able to chew something helps players, and fans, work their way through nervous energy. Sunflowers are a commercial cash crop. The way we eat “seeds” today began in 1926, when a grocery store in Fresno, California, started roasting and selling sunflower seeds.

My summer is not complete until I’ve had the chance to watch a game (or ten). I was delighted to find out that our local high school, and surrounding school districts, would still allow summer sports. My teenage son has been practicing with his team, while practicing social distancing. The game might look a bit different this summer, family groups six feet away, limited number of players in the dugout, no sunflower seeds, but the rules of the game will still be the same, three strikes and “yer’ out”! Try to be a good sport. And the sport, like many others, has many ties to agriculture.


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