Ballplayers' stories rekindle old memories of cold storage

Ballplayers' method of toughening skin akin to other home remedies

Posted: Friday, June 04, 2004

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

I read a story in the Seattle Post Intelligencer that brought up a memory of 50 years ago. The Seattle paper wrote on May 8 the following baseball-related account:

"The Cubs' Moises Alou made news last week when he revealed to a reporter, in what he later said he thought was a private conversation, that he urinates on his hands to harden the skin. Alou is one of the few major leaguers who does not use batting gloves.

"Another gloveless batter is Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who, it turns out, uses the same technique. But only in spring training.

"'You don't want to shake my hand in spring training before the game,' Posada told the Newark Star-Ledger. 'After the game its OK.'"

"Posada said he got the idea from his father.

"'A lot of guys like my father, who worked on the land, always used to do it,' Posada said. 'It keeps your hands from getting callused and cracking.'"

In the mid-1950s, when I was working at the Juneau Cold Storage, one of my good friends was Ivan Jurjev. He was a massive-sized man in his 60s. Because he had trouble with his leg and couldn't move around too well, his main job was operating the hoist that brought up the bucket loads of salmon from trollers, gillnetters and packers and sling loads of halibut from the halibut boats.

While cleaning and washing salmon, halibut and black cod for many hours in a day's work, your hands were often immersed in running cold water. They would start to swell and sting painfully.

Ivan told me one way to take away the pain was the same method mentioned in the baseball stories by Moises Alou and Jorge Posada. I didn't know then if he was kidding me, but now his advice seems to ring true.

Ivan had a fine sense of humor. He was a bachelor, but he had a girlfriend coming up from Seattle to live with him. He said that he had "a warm winter blanket" coming north.

My son Allan passed on this bit of folk wisdom when I read this article to him. His Russian grandmother-in-law, a woman in her 80s, offered a similar remedy for the painful eye discomfort that he suffered in Moscow. She told him in the morning to wet a piece of towel and allow the drops to fall into the eye. Believe it or not, it worked.

There was a wonderful community of men and women who worked at the Juneau Cold Storage, as I have written before, that included Ivan Jurjev, Don Hanebury, Alphonse Hundt, Puggy Nelson, Nora Dauenhauer, Helen Sarabia, Vincent Yadao, Marcello Quinto, Danny Montero and many others.

We were all members of the International Longshoreman and Warehousemen's Union, which was a powerful labor organization on the West Coast of the United States, headed by Harry Bridges, who was accused many times by the U.S. government of being a communist agent.

The union hall was on Willoughby Avenue, and I recall the evening when I was initiated as a new member long ago.

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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