Why do baseball players eat sunflower seeds ? With flavors ranging from barbecue to cracked pepper, sunflower seeds are everywhere on the diamond and dugout, a favorite of players from Little League to Major League Baseball.
“I guess because it’s been around for so long, it’s kind of what we’ve always done,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told USA TODAY Sports. “But I’m a guilty participant.”
Players explain that chewing seeds during a game is no different than a fan enjoying a hot dog in the stands. There’s just one difference – a fan stands isn’t expected to make a play at shortstop.
How did sunflower seeds become a part of baseball?
In the 1950s, the Hall of Fame duo of Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter began chewing sunflower seeds during games to pass time. But it didn’t really catch until superstar Reggie Jackson made it famous in the 1970s. In 1980, he preached the benefits of sunflower seeds to Sports Illustrated.
“The nutritional value is meaningful,” Jackson said. “Sunflower seeds have protein, thiamine, niacin, iron, magnesium, phosphorus. We have to take phosphorus pills to keep from pulling muscles.”
Being one of the more popular players in baseball, fans and other players started to pick up on Jackson’s habit.
Why do players chew sunflower seeds?
Through the years, chewing seeds has become a tradition in its own right, a way to pass the time for players.
Giants pitcher Sean Manaea, who called chewing seeds “a fun mouth exercise,” said he and his teammates sometimes flick sunflower seeds high in the air to try and catch them in their mouths.
“It never usually works out – except for that one time that does that it’s really cool,” he said.
Infielders or outfielders can sneak a pack of seeds in their back pocket but those on the mound don’t have that luxury.
And whereas position players are often out on the field every game, pitchers have off days. It’s then that those seeds start to come in handy.
“When you’re a starting pitcher, you have four days off to rest and watch the game. You need those seeds, you need that gum, need some coffee, maybe a little bit of water,” Rockies pitcher Chase Anderson said. “We like to sit back and be the best teammates we can. Sunflower seeds definitely help out with that.”
For White Sox infielder Jake Burger, seeds calm his nerves. He doesn’t always chew them while at the plate, but if he’s looking to change his luck, he might pop some in. Tigers infielder Javy Báez keeps an entire bag of seeds in his back pocket – he even has his own flavor of the David brand.
Dodgers infielder Miguel Rojas uses seeds to focus. He acknowledged that when playing short, not every ball is going to be hit to you, so there’s a lot of time where you’re doing nothing. Chewing seeds can help in those moments.
“I feel like I use it for that reason, like the reason that I just keep myself taking [the seeds] out of my back pocket and put it in my mouth, and that kind of keeps me in the moment,” Rojas said. “Instead of thinking about [it] way too much. And they taste really good too.”
Nutrition aside, getting that taste of sunflower seeds is a major reason why players chew them.
Whether they prefer the original sunflower seed or want to mix it up, there’s plenty of options for baseball players to choose from.
Rojas and Burger lean toward dill pickle flavored seeds, a popular one across baseball. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is more of an original seed guy. Anderson enjoys pickle, but also barbeque flavor.
“I used to be original but I’ve kind of ventured off in my old age and tried new flavors,” the Rockies pitcher said.
Rojas also enjoys bacon ranch flavored seeds – which made nearby teammate David Peralta cringe – but Rojas admitted his consumption of the flavor has to be limited.
“They’re kind of salty and I have to kind of lay back on those for a second. Be careful with them,” he said.
And if a player has a sweet tooth, well there’s a seed for that.
Manaea recently found himself chewing cinnamon toast flavored seeds, unlike anything he had tried before.
“I never heard of dessert flavored seeds, always just like savory kind of flavor, you know?” Manaea said.
How did baseball players start eating sunflower seeds
So, how did eating sunflower seeds become a habit for most baseball players? To understand this age-old baseball tradition, we’ll take a trip down memory lane where it all started.
In the past, baseball players often chewed on tobacco while they were awaiting their turns. This was a habit that’s been said to date back from the 1800s, as players would chew on tobacco to stimulate saliva production on a dusty field.
As time progressed, the unhealthy factors of chewing on tobacco became more widely known to the public and baseball players. But it wasn’t until the 1950s when players like Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter slowly began to switch to sunflower seeds.
In 1968, the legendary baseball player, Reggie Jackson was spotted having sunflower seeds by the dugouts. This sparked a worldwide phenomenon for baseball players and fans alike, and thus began the tradition of baseball players enjoying sunflower seeds on and off-field.
Despite its obvious benefits of being the healthier alternative to tobacco chewing, the habit of sunflower seed munching became the woe of many ground crews of the Major League Baseballs games. This was as sunflower seed shells were difficult to remove.
This, however, did not stop players and fans to continue enjoying sunflower seeds during baseball games. In the 1980s, Claude Osteen, ex-pitching coach of the St. Louis Cardinals called this habit the era of birdseed.
Today, we can clearly see that the era of birdseed has never left the baseball fields. Aside from being the healthier choice for in-game snacking, sunflower seed packs are also more convenient to store in the player’s back pockets and easier to discard.
In fact, the habit of eating sunflower seeds have become so popular that children aspiring to play in big leagues are now adopting this tradition. So, the next time you see a Little League player having some sunflower seeds, you’ll know they have their eyes on the prize.
What foods do baseball players chew on other than sunflower seeds?
While many baseball players have switched from chewing tobacco to eating sunflower seeds, some players have been known to be stuck to the roots of tobacco chewing.
For players who aren’t keen to chew on tobacco of snack on sunflower seeds, they may choose to chew gum instead. However, this doesn’t provide the same satisfaction as the former as players cannot spit as freely as they do with sunflower seed husks.
In 2011, the Major League Baseball and players’ union also stated a need to ban tobacco chewing. Although a full ban did not come in effect then, most players have adopted more discreet measures when it came to tobacco chewing on the field and off.
Is chewing tobacco banned in Major League Baseball games, and why?
Yes and no. A blanket ban for chewing tobacco was first discussed in 2011 and again in 2016 between Major League Baseball and the players’ union. Most stadiums of today have completely banned tobacco chewing for both the baseball players and their fans.
This progressive move was made after many players had health concerns following the use of tobacco for a prolonged period. Subsequently, Major League Baseball had concerns about the negative role modeling that chewing tobacco would have on their young fans.
As such, the Major League Baseball and players’ union agreed to ban tobacco chewing in a bid to deter children from doing the same. Not all stadiums have completely banned tobacco chewing, but players often do it more discreetly these days.
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