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Arts and Amusements December 13, 2002  RSS feed

Concentratin' and Expectoratin'

By Richard vonHoorn, New Preston

The dictionary defines the word "expectorate" as: "to cough up and spit out." Well, we had a lot of that action going on during the baseball World Series. What is it with so many players spraying all over the place? It must be a man's thing connected to tradition, maybe, as I don't ever remember seeing a female spit in my life. I am wondering how this messy habit got started in the first place. Maybe the old ballparks were just so dusty that dirt got into the players’ mouths and noses. Or maybe the players had buildup after munching on a big plug of juicy Bull Durham chewing tobacco.

The old habit is so entrenched that I wouldn't be surprised if there were coaches who specialized in spitting techniques. They might even be developing a new curve, slider or sinker spit this very moment. (And you don't have to strain your eyes to see it, as the TV cameras zoom in super-close on each player's face—you can almost look down their gullet to see if they had their tonsils out or not.) The first technique that caught my attention was the "splitter spitter." You know, the one in which the juice takes off in two entirely different directions from each side of the mouth. Now that takes practice! Then there is the "solid projectile" technique (in the old days, the kids used to call a "lunger") that emanates from deep within the throat cavity; you could achieve great distance with that one if you curled your tongue just right. An old favorite, which I saw several times, was the "quick spray atomizer" style, which makes a fine mist in front of the player's face. Of course, things can go wrong, ending in a slow dribble down the chin.

Now catchers, on the other hand, work within (or, should I say, behind) a different framework altogether—their protective facemask. It can be especially challenging for them to direct their throat libations through the narrow grid openings without mucking up the wires. They are a breed unto themselves. It has been said that, like batboys who have the job of running after bats, etc., there are little known "facemask boys" whose job it is to keep the catcher's mask clean, if you know what I mean. During one of the last World Series games I believe I might have seen one of those little guys (maybe you saw him) get overzealous, running out to the catcher in the middle of play and almost being wiped out by a runner coming into home plate. Now that's devotion to the job, if I ever saw it!

In the "good old days" the pitchers used to throw what was known as the "spitball," which may have been outlawed by now. Maybe it made the ball slide off the bat more easily or gave the ball a little extra "something" as it zoomed toward its target. Who knows?

Some of the players accomplish all their spitting while they are looking down, as though they are trying to hit a target below, while others look like they are attempting to hit a target far afield.

At one time, when people spat (or, should I say, expectorated), there were little brass pots (or spittoons, as they were called) located in various strategic locations to be used as targets. Maybe it would be a good idea to reintroduce them in the baseball dugout for sanitary purposes. At least it would give a halfway respectable appearance to the general public.

In any case, how do these actions affect our younger generation of would-be players? What do we tell them when they inquire as to why baseball players spit? I don't have an exact answer, but I would suggest that mothers and fathers of America rise up to the occasion and attend ball games. Show your support against spitting by chanting or displaying large placards with the anti-spitting mantra: "2 - 4 - 6 - 8 - please do not expectorate." Nuff said.