Faces of the game
Meet the umpire’s equipment manager
The grounds-crew members are not the only tireless workers who go largely unnoticed. Matt Walcott, the umpire’s equipment manager, has been working with the Mariners since he was 15 and hasn’t missed a home game since he started in 1982.
One of Walcott’s tasks is rubbing up baseballs for each game — a process that uses special mud taken from a secret location in Chesapeake Bay to make the balls darker and less slippery.
The tradition dates to 1938, nearly two decades after Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians became the only major-league player killed by a pitch. The ball got away from pitcher Carl Mays, striking Chapman in the head.
In search of a way to make balls less slippery, MLB eventually settled on this “magic mud.”
Walcott mixes it with spit and grime to perfect each baseball at Safeco Field. Given the average life of a baseball is between five and nine pitches, he rubs up a lot of baseballs.
When Walcott was 14, a representative for the M’s came to his junior high to “drum up interest because the team stunk.”
“At the end of his speech, he goes, ‘If anyone wants a job, sign your name up here and we’ll send out an application and see what happens,’” Walcott said. “You had to write a little two paragraph-thing about why you want to work for the Mariners. In my two-paragraph thing, it said ‘I hope I work for the Mariners for the rest of my life.’”
On his 40th birthday — his 25th year of working for the team — he got a gift. “The Mariners had kept that in my records, and they framed it.”