Place this in the category of something I should have picked up over the years, through the dozens of rehab starts I’ve covered in Modesto.
But it took Dean Espy warning tonight’s starting catcher Will Swanner to “get ready to catch those high-seamed balls” during a brief clubhouse chat to realize that when big-league pitchers make a minor league appearance, they’re furnished with major league baseballs to throw.
So when Butler is throwing to Bakersfield tonight, the ball in play will have been made in Costa Rica and will bear the signature “Allan H. Selig.” When Blaze starter Mike Dennhardt is on the mound, the ball in play will have been made in China and will bear the signature of California League commissioner Charlie Blaney.
So what’s the difference between the balls? Technically they’re made to the same specs - size and weight - and pitchers claim to be able to tell the difference between the two.
Nuts’ manager Don Sneddon told me that the Rockies sent several dozen major league balls to Modesto (pre-humidor, one would think) at the start of the season, just in case there was a rehab start. Sneddon said there were balls left over from the home start made earlier this season by Jhoulys Chacin, who also pitched one game for Modesto in Lake Elsinore.
So the real difference between the balls? If you catch a major league ball in the stands, it might be worth more than the minor league ball.
And it does seem strange in a way that Butler would be using the MLB ball. He suffered a shoulder inflammation after his major league debut on June 6, having thrown 5 1/3 innings. Prior to that, he worked 280 innings using the balls of four different minor leagues.
Yet despite having the lone major league appearance, Butler went out of his way to keep alive one of the game’s grand traditions. He went into his own pocket to buy Saturday’s post-game spread - a complete buffet dinner catered by Texas Roadhouse.
In any case, watch this space and my Twitter feed @modestobeek for Butler updates tonight.