Posted May 30, 2017
Here’s the look of summer at Chicago’s venerable Wrigley Field: lush grass, immaculate dirt infield and ivy-adorned outfield walls – and of course, the uniformed players with their gloves and bats. And one more important thing: There’s a pennant fluttering in the breeze, heralding Wrigley as the home of the 2016 World Series Champion Cubs.
To which we all may say thanks … to energy. Significant contributions from natural gas and oil and have helped make Wrigley’s iconic tableau – as well as tableaus at other ballparks – while elevating our National Pastime to the colorful, exciting, fan-friendly entertainment that it is.
For example, because of materials derived from petroleum, we may take for granted the snap-crack of a bat solidly squaring up a ball – and the resulting long, soaring arc of that ball, possibly headed “downtown” beyond the outfield fence. A century ago, the game was shorter and more tactical – a concession to the less-than-lively baseball of the “dead ball” era (1900-1919). It’s not modern Major League Baseball without a modern major league baseball, made so with the help of petroleum-based components.
At its core, the 5- to 5.25-ounce baseball used in the majors has a cork center surrounded by synthetic rubber – made from petrochemical feedstocks. Modern petrochemicals are produced by a versatile refining sector that produces these feedstocks by putting crude oil through several processes, including separation, conversion and treatment.
The core of the ball or “pill,” as it’s called, is bathed in a latex adhesive (also made from petroleum) and then is wrapped in three layers of woolen yarn. A fourth wrapping of polyester/cotton yarn, made in part from petroleum, goes on before the cowhide cover with its 108 stitches is sewn together by hand. That polyester/cotton layer ensures the ball’s outside surface will be smooth. Here’s a video showing the process:
All of a ball’s features help ensure it will consistently perform as it should. So, every time you hear a bat connect with a ball – at Wrigley and other parks across the country, from the majors to the minors to Little League – think oil.
There’s more to the link between natural gas and oil and baseball. Back to the scene at Wrigley. The fertilizer that makes the infield and outfield grass a verdant green likely is made with a nitrogen product made from ammonia, which is manufactured from natural gas.
The uniforms the Cubs and their opponents wear are made of polyester, a synthetic fiber derived in part from petroleum. The mitts the players use to field line drives, dribblers and throws from teammates often are softened by working petroleum jelly into the leather. The wooden bats are milled with machinery powered by electricity that’s increasingly generated with natural gas. The stains and finishes applied to the bats contain petroleum derivatives. You get the picture.
Taking a child to his or her first baseball game is a rite of passage for many fathers. The sight of young faces lighting up as their team takes the field becomes a life-long memory. Indeed, the Cubbies made special memories this past October when they won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. More than 40 million viewers tuned in on their televisions and radios as Chicago staged an epic comeback from a 3-1 Series deficit, winning Game 7 over the Cleveland Indians.
Again, oil and natural gas play an important role – from the gasoline that fuels the mowers used to manicure the field to the petroleum-infused plastic seats where fans park themselves for nine innings or more. Even if you can’t attend in person, fans of all ages still may follow broadcasts thanks to electricity – again, more frequently generated by reliable, cleaner-burning natural gas.
So this summer, as Chicago fathers and their kids make their way down Addison Street toward the “Friendly Confines” – or wherever their Boys of Summer call home – they head for an experience, like so many others in our lives, made possible by natural gas and oil.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.