JUCO tradition lives on as volunteers prepare baseballs for World Series

Austin Berk coats a new baseball with Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud on Wednesday afternoon at Suplizio Field. It’s become a JUCO tradition over the years, as 25 dozen baseballs are prepared every year on the Wednesday before the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series. The JUCO banquet is Friday night and play begins Saturday morning.

Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud was used Wednesday to prepare baseballs for the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, which begins Saturday at Suplizio Field.

Even Walt Bergman was impressed Wednesday with the speed and precision.

Jeffrey Hansen and Sean Rubalcaba, two rookies when it comes to prepping the baseballs for the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series, shook hands, grabbed a baseball, and at the “go” command, mudded like pros.

The two agreed to see who could properly mud two tournament baseballs quicker — with the caveat that they had to be approved by Bergman, the director of tournament play.

“I’ve never seen such concentration,” Bergman said as he checked in on the contest. “Rubalcaba has the palm technique, Hansen has the fingers and graduates to rubbing it in.”

Hansen had the first baseball finished in 31 seconds. Rubalcaba had a little trouble, taking 40 seconds, but closed the gap on Hansen on the second half of the contest and they finished in a virtual tie.

One minute, 4.35 seconds.

“I think the first ball I got a little too much mud, so I had to even it out and then I grabbed just enough on the second one,” Rubalcaba said of his rally. “I think it was just my technique.”

And they both passed muster.

“Those are beautiful, beautiful,” Bergman said. “That’s just right, right there. A couple of rookies coming through big. I’m impressed.”

The six tournament ball shaggers and two grounds crew workers took about a half-hour to prep 25 dozen baseballs for the JUCO World Series, which begins Saturday morning at Suplizio Field. It’s become a rite of passage for baseball players who are hired for the week.

Each has a unique style to apply just the proper amount of Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud to the pearly-white leather.

Some rub the mud into the baseball with their fingertips, others use the palm of their hands. Whatever the technique, one thing is constant:

“You have to get the perfect amount of mud,” Hansen said.

Hansen jumped at the chance to join the shagging crew.

“I thought it would be a cool opportunity to be around college baseball and get to know the game a little bit better,” the Grand Junction second baseman said.

The boys kept each other entertained, especially when Andy Willett launched into a well thought-out explanation of the finer side of the mud rub.

“It’s the integrity of the laces,” he lectured. “You’ve got to keep away from that. You work one piece of leather at a time, that way you’ll keep away from the laces but keep a nice, coarse layer on top instead of slick leather. That way the pitchers and players all have a nice throwing surface.”

That way, Bergman reminded them, the games will be played the right way.

“We like to see outs,” he said. “Not walks.”


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