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30 dozen baseballs treated with 'magic mud' for the CWS — and that's just the first batch

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When it comes to rubbing mud on hundreds of College World Series baseballs, only one thing can be said.

It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

That task was being handled in a small room at Charles Schwab Field on Thursday, one day before the start of the CWS. The process was being overseen by the NCAA's Chad Tolliver, who has worked at the Series since 2003.

"It needs to be done before every Series," he said. "We have some good people who know what they're doing."

That "magic mud" is used to treat baseballs to give pitchers better control and a firmer grip. And it's a responsibility that's not taken lightly.

Rubbing up the first batch of 30 dozen baseballs Thursday were UNO softball players Alexa Sedlak and Lexi Burkhardt — a couple of five-year mud veterans — and UNO student Ryan Raabe. Two other stadium employees also were volunteered — "voluntold," as Tolliver put it — to help.

The workers dipped a little mud on their fingers, worked in a little water and then massaged each baseball for about a minute before moving on.

​Tolliver said it looks like a simple process, but umpires know immediately if something isn't right.

Mud crew

The CWS baseball mud crew Thursday included (from left) Ryan Raabe, Alexa Sedlak and Lexi Burkhardt.

"They'll throw the ball out of play if there's too much mud or not enough," he said. "They know right away if there's a problem."

The legend of the mud goes back to the 1930s. Before that, other substances far worse than mud — tobacco juice, anyone? — were used on new baseballs.

That changed in 1938 when Lena Blackburne, a third-base coach for the Philadelphia Athletics, sought another alternative. He found just the right kind of mud on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River.

By the 1950s, every major-league team was using it.

Blackburne died in 1968 but the mud lives on. The company remains, and the exact location of the mud is still a secret.

A small canister of the stuff sat near the workers Thursday, and a little bit goes a long way. Tolliver said it's the same jar that was first used in 2011, and there's enough left for many more CWS seasons.

That's good, because the mudders still have a long way to go. Tolliver said the NCAA orders 175 dozen baseballs — that's 2,100 — for the series.

"We obviously can't run out," he said. "On the average we have about 30 dozen left over, and we either give them away as souvenirs or donate them to local charities."

During the 90-minute rubdown, a few curious Texas A&M players poked their heads in the doorway. They seemed to be impressed and then went on their way.

"I'm not sure how many people know about this," Tolliver said. "It's all part of making sure everything is ready for the CWS."

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