Monday, October 29, 2012

Apple #608: How Baseballs are Made

There is a ton of stuff going on this week.  Any number of things that your Apple Lady could talk about.
  • The Presidential election is coming up, so I could talk to you about how wonderful a thing it is that we in this country get to vote and that our votes actually do count, and how important it is to vote.
  • Next week, Daylight Saving Time will end and we'll have to move our clocks back one hour. Most of you are probably cranking up your furnace with the onset of colder temperatures.
In case you haven't guessed, I have covered all these topics already.  So what's an Apple Lady to do?

Naturally, talk about baseball.

In addition to everything else I've listed, the World Series is also going on.  I want the Tigers to win, and since it's tied in the 9th and the Giants are up 3-0 in the series, it is not looking good for the Tigers.

I don't want to jinx the Tigers, so I'm going to talk about baseballs in general.  You  know, the balls themselves.  How they're made.

The inside of a baseball, deconstructed.
(Photo from Wired)

  • From the inside out, baseballs are made of a pill, which is a ball of cork with rubber padding around it, then wool fibers wrapped around that, and two pieces of cow hide that get stitched together.

Here's the cross-section of showing all the ingredients inside a baseball.
(Image from Baseball Fever)

  • Every component inside the baseball is made to very precise specifications.
  • The cork at the very center weighs 1/2 ounce and measures 13/16'" in diameter.  Cork is used at the center because it is "livelier" than a rubber core.

[Scutaro just got a base hit for the Giants and the man on base scored. Giants are up 4-3 in the 10th.]

  • Around the cork are two layers of rubber, one black and one red.  They added the rubber to cushion the cork and help it last longer.
  • The black rubber layer is actually two hemispheres that are joined together by red rubber washers. That why, in that cross-section up above, there are red notches extending into the black rubber layer.
  • The black and the red layers of rubber weigh 7/8 ounces each.
  • The cork plus the layers of rubber measure 4 1/8" in circumference.
  • Latex adhesive is added to the cork + rubber, which is called the pill.
  • Wound around the rubber are four layers of wool yarn.  The first layer uses 121 yards of the thickest type of yarn, which is four-ply, and gray.  When the 4-ply yarn is wrapped around the interior, the circumference of the ball expands to 7 3/4".
  • The second winding uses 45 yards of 3-ply wool yarn that is white. (The colors are different just to distinguish the different thicknesses of yarn and the windings.)

[Jackson strikes out. Out #1 in the 10th for the Tigers.]

  • The third winding uses 53 yards of 3-ply gray wool. At this point, the ball measures 8 3/4" in circumference.
  • The fourth and final winding doesn't use wool but rather white poly-cotton yarn because the fibers are finer and smoother. 150 yards of it.

[Don Kelly, in his first appearance in the World Series, strikes out.  Now Miguel Cabrera is up.  He's the biggest batter for the Tigers.  Won the Triple Crown this year.]

Here's another cross-section showing the inside of a baseball.
(Image from Science Proficiencies)

  • The windings are done using computerized, high-tension machines which maintain a constant level of very high tension so that some spots don't get wound tighter or more loosely than others.
  • After the 4 windings, the whole thing is dipped into rubber cement to seal the deal.  At this point, the ball weighs 4 5/8 ounces.

[Miguel Cabrera just struck out.  Giants won the World Series.  In 4 straight games.  Sigh. But never fear. Your intrepid Apple Lady will press on.]

  • Next comes the outer layer.  It is made of -- get how official this is -- Number One Grade, alum-tanned, full-grained cowhide, primarily from Midwest Holstein cattle.  This particular type of cattle is preferred because their hides are considered to be smoother, cleaner, and with a better grain than cattle from other parts of the US.
  • The hide must be white.  It is punch-cut into two figure-8 patterns.  The cowhide gets moistened slightly to make them easier to work with, and more rubber cement is applied to the interior to make them stick to the woolly ball.
  • Once the two pieces of cowhide are stuck to the ball, they get stapled and then hand-sewn together using 88 inches of waxed red cotton thread.  Some say there are 108 stitches with the first and last stitches completely hidden, presumably so the stitches don't come undone.
  • It takes about 13 to 14 minutes to do this hand-sewing of one baseball.
  • When the stitches are done, the staples are taken out.  The ball is rolled to make it smooth, and then it gets inspected, weighed, and measured.  It must weigh between 5 and 5 1/4 ounces and measure 9 to 9 1/4" in circumference.
  • If it passes inspection, it gets stamped with the trademark and all official insignia and it's packaged up for sale.

Here you can see the whole process in action.  I love these how-it's-made kinds of videos.

  • A baseball must keep its round shape even after being hit 200 times by a 65-pound force.  One way they test this is to compress the ball between two anvils (the coyote would be proud!).
  • Despite its durability, the average Major League baseball gets used for only 5 to 7 pitches in a Major League game.
So now, in addition to knowing how baseballs are made, you also know to check the Daily Apple for background information on all the current news stories of the day, and also for occasional play-by-play descriptions of her preferred team losing badly.

How Products are Made, Baseball
Baseball Fever, Inside a Modern Baseball

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