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Why Baseball Players Smell Their Bats

If you’ve ever watched a professional baseball game, you’ve likely seen some weird or confusing behaviors from players. One of those behaviors might be seeing a baseball player smell their bat, especially after hitting a foul ball. Sometimes, it even looks like players are kissing their bat. Why do MLB players smell their bats?

MLB players smell their bats because the friction from a foul ball creates a smell of burning wood, which players describe as a sweet scent. The correct combination to create this smell is by a high-speed pitch, typically a fastball, grazing a wood bat.

Baseball player smelling his wood bat

In addition to liking the smell, some other baseball players will smell their bat or talk to their bat as part of their routine, which can sometimes look like they are smelling their bat. Keep reading to learn all about the different reasons why baseball players smell their bats.

Hard Hit Foul Balls Creates a Sweet Smell on Wood Bats

Although it’s not something a lot of baseball players do, the most common reason baseball players smell their bat is that it has a unique odor after hitting a foul ball. When a fastball is fouled-off the correct way, it can leave behind a residual smell that some players enjoy.

Some players describe this smell as a sweet smell, some describe it as a piney smell, while others describe it as a smokey smell. Most likely, the type of smell that comes from hitting a hard-hit foul ball has to do with the type of bat being used and how fast the pitch was thrown.

Ted Williams was one of the most memorable players to smell his bat to catch a whiff of that burnt smell. As almost like a language of their own, he liked to ask other professional players if they ever smelled their bat burning.

Pine Tar Can Give Bats a Unique Smell

Baseball players are always employing various tips and tricks to help them gain an edge over the competition. One way that MLB players try to gain an advantage is by adding a coating to their bats.

MLB players put pine tar on their bats to improve their grip. Pine tar is applied to the handles of the baseball bat to make it sticky and prevent it from flying out of a batter’s hands while swinging.

Pine tar is created by firing pine under pressure. Pine tar has been used for decades in baseball and is commonly used throughout the MLB. However, players can only apply pine tar to the bat handle. Putting this sticky substance on the top of the bat is against the rules of MLB.

Pine tar smells like fresh pine wood, which might be what some MLB players are smelling when they take a whiff of their bats.

Smelling Bats as Part of a Hitting Routine

Baseball hitters will each follow a unique routine before hitting. Some players may pray or give themselves a pep talk, while others may stamp their feet or smell their bats. But why do baseball players follow these routines?

Baseball players follow a routine before hitting to relax and focus. After making contact with the pitch players can sometimes smell the burn on the bat if they hit the ball hard enough. Smelling a bat before hitting is soothing, while smelling it afterward can be evidence of a solid hit.

While smelling a bat is not very common in baseball, there are two main times when you’d see players smell their bats – before and after a hit.

Going through a routine that you’ve followed in training and games in the past can give you a psychological edge. Following a routine is familiar and allows hitters to focus on their swing in practice. This comforting practice will enable hitters to swing more accurately and with better results in a game.

In almost all sports, every player has their own pre-game ritual that they use as a kind of good luck charm. For some MLB pros, that’s smelling the fresh wood of their bat to give them more focus and to feel more one with the bat. For others, it can be something completely different.

While baseball batters tend to follow a routine, it’s not essential in becoming a successful hitter.

Some people do not gain the same benefits from their focus and concentration as others do. Routines also lead to superstitions, as players who mess up their routine and perform poorly may start believing that their ritual is the key to their success.

For this reason, habits die hard when it comes to sports routines, and some of these rituals are even passed down from coaches to players. So, if you see anything that looks strange to you when a batter steps up to the plate, it’s probably just a way for them to feel calmer and more focused on the game.

Likewise, if the ball was going fast enough and spun during the hit, the friction of the ball could burn off the bat’s varnish. The bat becomes more fragrant and smells like burnt pine when this happens. So, sniffing a bat isn’t just relaxing. It is also the evidence of a powerful swinger!

Players Sometimes Talk to Their Bat

While it may seem like players are sniffing their bat, there’s also the possibility that players are talking to their bat. Why would a baseball player talk to their bat?

A baseball player will talk to their bat as a type of superstition that helps them get a base hit. Sometimes, players will be upset they missed a pitch and they will talk to their bat as a way to hype themselves up for the next pitch.

Whether or not this strategy is effective is up in the air, but this is not something that is unique to baseball. In other sports that use equipment to hit a ball (like golf), players will talk to their equipment as a way to get ready for the next hit.

Final Thoughts

When you see a baseball player smell their bat, most of the time they are smelling their bat because of the burnt wood smell that comes from fouling off a fast pitch. In addition to the smell of burnt wood, some players may have developed a batting routine that involves smelling their bat.

Baseball players are encouraged from a young age to develop a routine that will follow when batting in practice and games. Some baseball players may smell or kiss their bats as part of this routine. Following habits can help hitters to concentrate and perform better when hitting.

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball in an adult baseball team in the surrounding area. Read more about Steve Nelson.