There are many reasons why baseball players, from Little League to Major League Baseball, love sunflower seeds. They're as much a part of baseball as peanuts and Cracker Jack.
“I guess because it's been around for so long, it's kind of what we've always done,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told USA TODAY Sports. “But I'm a guilty participant.”
Players explain that chewing seeds during a game is no different than a fan enjoying a hot dog in the stands. There’s just one difference – a fan stands isn’t expected to make a play at shortstop.
If you look closely at the dugout during a game, finding the sunflower aficionados is be easy. Empty sunflower shells lay in a puddle in front of certain players while others chew gum. Packets of seeds are set out in the dugout for whoever’s liking.
Here’s everything you need to know about sunflower seeds and baseball, from the origins to players' favorite flavors.
How did sunflower seeds become a part of baseball?
In the 1950s, the Hall of Fame duo of Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter began chewing sunflower seeds during games to pass time. But it didn’t really catch until superstar Reggie Jackson made it famous in the 1970s. In 1980, he preached the benefits of sunflower seeds to Sports Illustrated.
“The nutritional value is meaningful,” Jackson said. “Sunflower seeds have protein, thiamine, niacin, iron, magnesium, phosphorus. We have to take phosphorus pills to keep from pulling muscles.”
Being one of the more popular players in baseball, fans and other players started to pick up on Jackson’s habit.
Historical and cultural reasons:
- Tradition: Chewing sunflower seeds has been a tradition in baseball for many years. It is a way for players to connect with past generations of the game.
- Superstition: Some players believe that chewing sunflower seeds is good luck.
- Marketing: Sunflower seed companies have targeted baseball players with their marketing efforts, which has helped to increase the popularity of the snack among players.
Why do players chew sunflower seeds?
Through the years, chewing seeds has become a tradition in its own right, a way to pass the time for players. Giants pitcher Sean Manaea, who called chewing seeds “a fun mouth exercise,” said he and his teammates sometimes flick sunflower seeds high in the air to try and catch them in their mouths. “It never usually works out – except for that one time that does that it's really cool,” he said.
Infielders or outfielders can sneak a pack of seeds in their back pocket but those on the mound don’t have that luxury.
And whereas position players are often out on the field every game, pitchers have off days. It’s then that those seeds start to come in handy.
“When you’re a starting pitcher, you have four days off to rest and watch the game. You need those seeds, you need that gum, need some coffee, maybe a little bit of water,” Rockies pitcher Chase Anderson said. “We like to sit back and be the best teammates we can. Sunflower seeds definitely help out with that.”
For White Sox infielder Jake Burger, seeds calm his nerves. He doesn’t always chew them while at the plate, but if he’s looking to change his luck, he might pop some in. Tigers infielder Javy Báez keeps an entire bag of seeds in his back pocket – he even has his own flavor of seeds.
Dodgers infielder Miguel Rojas uses seeds to focus. He acknowledged that when playing short, not every ball is going to be hit to you, so there’s a lot of time where you’re doing nothing. Chewing seeds can help in those moments.
“I feel like I use it for that reason, like the reason that I just keep myself taking [the seeds] out of my back pocket and put it in my mouth, and that kind of keeps me in the moment,” Rojas said. “Instead of thinking about [it] way too much. And they taste really good too.”
Practical reasons why baseball players chew seeds:
- Prevent dryness and discomfort: Sunflower seeds help players keep their mouths moist, which is important in dry, dusty environments like baseball fields. They also help remove dirt and debris from the mouth.
- Pass the time: Baseball games can be long, and chewing on sunflower seeds gives players something to do during long stretches of inactivity.
- Mental focus: Some players find that chewing on sunflower seeds helps them focus and concentrate better.
- Stress relief: The repetitive motion of chewing can be calming and help players relax and relieve stress.
- Nutritional benefits: Sunflower seeds are a good source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, which can help players stay energized and healthy during games. Some players believe that the nutrients in sunflower seeds help them prevent muscle cramps.
Nutrition aside, getting that taste of sunflower seeds is a major reason why players chew them.
Whether they prefer the original sunflower seed or want to mix it up, there’s plenty of options for baseball players to choose from.
Rojas and Burger lean toward dill pickle flavored seeds, a popular one across baseball. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is more of an original seed guy. Anderson enjoys pickle, but also barbeque flavor.
“I used to be original but I’ve kind of ventured off in my old age and tried new flavors,” the Rockies pitcher said.
Rojas also enjoys bacon ranch flavored seeds – which made nearby teammate David Peralta cringe – but Rojas admitted his consumption of the flavor has to be limited.
“They're kind of salty and I have to kind of lay back on those for a second. Be careful with them,” he said.
And if a player has a sweet tooth, well there's a seed for that.
Manaea recently found himself chewing cinnamon churro flavored seeds, unlike anything he had tried before.
“I never heard of dessert flavored seeds, always just like savory kind of flavor, you know?” Manaea said.
Here are some specific examples of why some famous baseball players have loved sunflower seeds:
- Reggie Jackson: Jackson was known for chewing sunflower seeds during games and was even nicknamed "Mr. October" after his clutch performance in the World Series. He believed that sunflower seeds helped him stay energized and focused.
- Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter: Hall of Famers Musial and Slaughter popularized chewing sunflower seeds in the 1950s and 1960s. They believed that sunflower seeds helped them pass the time and stay relaxed during games.
- Derek Jeter: Jeter was a five-time World Series champion and one of the most popular players of his generation. He was often seen chewing sunflower seeds during games, and his endorsement of the snack helped to make it even more popular among baseball players.
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Overall, there are many reasons why baseball players love sunflower seeds. It is a practical snack that helps players stay hydrated and comfortable, and it also has some historical and cultural significance. Whether they are chewing on them for practical reasons, tradition, or superstition, sunflower seeds are an iconic part of baseball culture.