There are plenty of unusual rituals in baseball.

And one happens before every game in the bowels of Hammons Field.

The bat boys are getting the baseballs ready for the game by getting them dirty, actually muddy to be precise.

“They talk about pearls all the time. But there really isn’t such a thing as a pearl because every baseball is muddied up with this Lena Blackburn mud,” Springfield VP of Baseball Operations Scott Smulczenski said. “It’s consistent in all of baseball from the Rookie Leagues all the way to the major leagues.”

The pearls arrive at the stadiums in pristine condition, but the balls are too slick and have a sheen on them.

So back in the 1920’s Major League Baseball discovered that you could rub something on them to make them easier to grip.

They tried dirt, even tobacco juice, but nothing worked.

Then a player named Lena Blackburn knew of this mud on the Delaware River.

It was perfect.

And baseball’s been using this same river mud for more than nine decades.

“Of course it’s what baseball has been using since 1939,” Smulczenski said. “It says right on the can, baseball’s magic mud. So it has to be special.”

And there’s a special method to the muddy madness.

“They come in boxes of 12 and there is cellophane around the baseball,” Smulczenski said. “We take them all out, the cardboard out and we go through them one by one. The bat boys are the ones that do it for us. They think it’s fun, at least for awhile they do. So they go over every night and rub up about eight dozen balls to get ready for that night’s game.”

Major League Baseball recently sent out a memo to all clubs, reminding the teams that the balls need to be muddied in the exact same way at every level.

“They get the balls all set up in the boxes so they can grab them one by one,” Smulczenski said. “They’ll usually put a towel across their lap while they’re sitting down. They’ll get a cup of water so they can get their fingers wet. They’ll go into the mud, put a little on the ball and rub it all around.”

And don’t worry, like hair gel a little goes a long way.

There’s plenty of mud to go around.

“This can lasts multiple years actually,” Smulczenski said. “We won’t even go through one of these canisters in a year. We have plenty. I have two or three cans back there.”

So baseball proves once again getting dirty can be good clean fun.