Olympic baseballs have been treated somewhat rudely on the field in the first two days of competition, with eight home runs leaving the park in the first three games.
But before the games, these baseballs get the white-glove treatment.
Before each game, 144 Olympic baseballs are freshly unwrapped before and given a 30-second mud rubdown to help roughen their surface. As part of protocols to help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, stadium attendants are keeping separate bags of balls for each team during games and using white-cloth gloves or clear medical ones to handle them.
The balls are also getting much love from the Olympic players.
Joe Ryan, a top Minnesota Twins prospect playing for the Team USA, said the Olympic ball "is the best ball in the world.” Ryan pitched six sparkling innings on Friday leading the Americans to a 8-1 win over Israel.
"The hitters love it. I love throwing with it. All the pitchers love throwing with it," he said. "It would solve a lot of the current issues with foreign substances. I can't say enough: It is the best baseball I have ever touched."
Major League Baseball (MLB) this season has instituted mid-game equipment checks to find pitchers who may be using sticky substances to improve their grip. Pitchers contend the substances overcome inconsistencies in design and slippery texture of the MLB ball.
Getting a rubdown
If the Olympic balls are getting rave reviews, the mud rubbers get some credit. Ahead of Ryan's start on Friday, Reuters watched a trio of masked umpiring officials dip their fingers in water and take a swipe of Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud, which is harvested from a secret location along New Jersey's Delaware River.
The team then patter balls with the mixture, as if they were shaping a pizza-dough ball. It removes the slippery sheen of fresh product.
"So the pitchers can grab it and when they throw it, it's not slipping off their hands," said Gustavo Rodriguez, baseball umpire director for World Baseball Softball Confederation.
The baseballs are made in Sri Lanka, which has celebrated on government social media accounts its Olympics role.
Afterwards, balls will go to Japanese schools and clubs. Players get keepsakes, too.
Israel's Danny Valencia, who homered off Ryan, said he made sure to retrieve his home run ball.
"To be able to take these little trophies to show your kid, show my son, it's a really good feeling," he said.