You’ll have a lot of unravelling to do in order to get to the center of a baseball
Q. “You must have been eating like a bird lately,” you tease your friend, noting her trimmer appearance in recent months. But you’d forgotten her keen interest in ornithology, as she retorts, “Sorry, if I ate like the rubythroated hummingbird but without its amazing metabolism, I’d be huge — big time.” What’s she getting at? A. The ruby-throated hummingbird has “the highest metabolic rate of any vertebrate when active,” says Gemma Tarlach in “Discover” magazine. It needs an enormous amount of energy to maintain body temperature and to beat its wings up to 200 times a second. Hence, the small bird consumes its body weight in nectar every day. “So much for thinking you can diet by ‘eating like a bird.’” Q. Scottsboro, Alabama, a small city of some 15,000, attracts about a million visitors a year, most of whom have a particular destination in mind. What is it? A. It’s the Unclaimed Baggage Center (UBC), a 50,000-square-foot store that sells the stuff that flyers lost and were unable to recover, says Dan Lewis in his book “Now I Know.” This amounts to 50,000100,000 bags of the 2 million lost each year. Though the airlines are required to try to locate the owner, after a lost bag has been unclaimed for 90 days, the airlines then settle payment with the owner and in effect legally own everything in the bag. But they have no interest in selling the contents themselves.
Enter UBC (and a few other companies) that buy unclaimed bags by the pound, sight unseen, and truck them from various airlines’ unclaimed baggage depots to the Scottsboro HQ. There workers sort through the contents, about a third of which are donated, another third deemed unfit for sale (reasons unknown), and a final third offered for sale often at a sizeable discount.
Says Lewis, “On occasion, a shopper may find a diamond in the rough— literally. The UBC has sold a handful of lost diamond jewelry in its forty-plus-year history.” Q. If the game of baseball is “all in the ball,” what in the heck are we really saying? Think materials and construction here. A. The literal tale begins with 450 feet of fine poly/ cotton yarn covered in adhesive to hold the inside together; then continues with 159 feet of three-ply white yarn; 135 feet of three-ply gray yarn; and 363 feet of four-ply gray yarn, says Kevin Sylvester in his book “Baseballogy.” That’s about 1,107 feet of yarn in one baseball, enough if unraveled to reach almost to the roof of the Empire State Building. For the cover, only number one grade cowhide will do, dyed white. When cut into two figure-8 sections, the cover is hand-stitched with 88 inches of waxed red thread, 108 stitches in all. Interestingly, “before each game, the ball is rubbed down with a particular mud… from some secret location near the Delaware River to make it less shiny and less slick.”
The baseball itself has a circumference of 9-9.25 inches and weighs 5-5.25 ounces. More than a million balls are ordered by major league baseball each year, used at the rate of about 100 per game, plus more for batting practice, giveaways and souvenirs.
Finally, at the heart of the matter is the “pill,” which needs to be a little spongy to help the ball bounce off the bat. Today, it’s made up of a cork center, surrounded by two rubber layers. But before rubber was readily available, various materials were utilized. “It could be cork, or (in some cases) fish eyes. Yes, baseball makers used actual fish eyes—spongy and round!”
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Bill is a journalist, Rich holds a doctorate in physics. Together the brothers bring you “Strange But True.” Send your questions to