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The first time was also the last time

A GRIP ON SPORTS

Do you remember your first time? I mean the first time you tried tobacco. I do. It wasn't pretty. And it was my last. Read on.

••••••••••

• Tony Gywnn's death, attributed to his longtime chewing tobacco habit, got me to thinking. Well, that and Tom Clouse's story this morning about how local high school coaches deal with the vice. And that's what tobacco is, a vice. A filthy, disgusting habit-forming vice. So of course, as a college freshman, I had to try it. Peer pressure was involved, of course. (Isn't it always?) So was the natural curiosity all 18-year-olds have. As was heat. It was warm at Cal State Dominguez Hills and the wind was blowing. I was sitting in the bullpen with a couple of upper-class pitchers, both of whom chewed. Red Man. Not the smokeless, pinch-between-the-cheek-and-gum variety so prevalent just a couple years later – and the preferred alternative of the smarter players on my UC Irvine team. I remember one of the senior pitchers used to chew a huge wad of bubble gum, than wrap it around a golf-ball size hunk of Red Man. That would then be placed in one of his cheeks, giving him a squirrel-with-nuts look. And cause him to spit big globs of brown saliva all game long. I think he learned the habit from our shortstop, who was from Oklahoma, but I could be wrong. Though it's easy to blame a bunch of disgusting stuff on people from Oklahoma, isn't it? Anyhow, the two of them, the pitchers, began to work on me to try their chew. I was adamant I wasn't going to give in. I had taken one puff on a cigarette a couple years before and that was enough for me. Tobacco was – and is – idiotic. But I was thirsty. The bullpen, down the right-field line, was bone dry and, like a couple of Sirens, they kept singing a song that a chaw would alleviate my need for a drink. That's why farmers use it, said the guy from San Diego. I finally gave in. After all, we were scoring so many runs, a relief pitcher wasn't going to be needed. I was free to do whatever I wanted. OK, let's do it. One of them prepared a small chaw one for me – no bubble gum, thank you – and I stuck it in my mouth. It wasn't so bad. I began to spit. Cool. Ya, I was one of the guys. This wasn't so bad. I could do this. And then someone was running down to the pen. Another catcher. What, we were so far ahead I was going to get to pinch hit? Me? I got up quickly. What a mistake. Let's just say the chaw hit the bullpen dirt quickly, along with a bunch of other items, one of which was my teammates' laughter. Woozy doesn't quite describe how I felt. Still, a chance to hit. My head spinning, I jogged into the dugout, making it in just enough time to don a helmet and head to the plate. CSDH had a relief pitcher on the mound. Well, a guy was throwing. He was tall, like 6-foot-8 tall, had a cannon and played right field most of the time. Suffice to say he didn't have much clue where the ball was headed. We were up ore than 10 runs, hence my chance. He wasn't happy. The first pitch was right at my head, you know, the one spinning around. I almost puked. The next three may have been a foot outside, I have no idea. I just swung three times and ran back to the blessed coolness of the dugout. Where everyone, including Tom Spence, the head coach, was laughing. It was a story I was reminded of a lot over the next few years. And it was also the last time tobacco touched my lips. Maybe, just maybe, that pinch-hit appearance saved my life. I don't know. But I'm glad it happened. And sad such an experience didn't happen for Tony Gwynn.

•••

• WSU: ESPN.com's Pac-12 blog takes a look at the most devastating loss for each school since the last World Cup.

• Indians: The Indians are still undefeated against Northwest League foes but are 0-1 against Mother Nature. She won yesterday with a rainout. The game will be made up as part of a doubleheader when Spokane visits Eugene later. Chris Derrick fills the Indian void with a feature on their pitching coach, Jose Jaimes (pictured watching a bullpen session).

• Hockey: A bunch of NHL legends, including a family friend, will gather in Coeur d'Alene for a summer exhibition. Greg Lee has the particulars in this story.

• Seahawks: Yes, Marshawn Lynch showed up at the Hawks' mini-camp. And, yes, he wants more money. Or at least that seems to be the case. He also, according to Pete Carroll – who always tells the truth – has an injured foot so he won't be practicing. And won't practice much until the season begins. OK. ... Other than that, the first day of mini-camp was rather uneventful, which is a good thing. ... Russell Wilson won a good guy award. Of course he did.

• Mariners: The M's are on a roll and will roll into San Diego on a three-game winning streak. Seems like we've heard this tune before. Just as we've heard the sad one about a losing streak. The life of a .500 team. Which is an improvement. ... Kyle Seager is hitting the ball well at Safeco. He can't explain it. ... James Jones is also on a roll. ... The M's won yesterday 6-1 and Jesus Montero (pictured)hit a home run. No lie.

• Sounders: The U.S. Open Cup is more important to the non-MLS teams, that's for sure. How about for an MLS team whose best player is in Brazil and sporting a new broken nose? We'll see how important the match is tonight at the Sounders training facility.

•••

• I made a mistake Tuesday. I typed yesterday in this space when I meant tomorrow. So today is tomorrow and the weather is not measurably better. I believe that is my fault. Probably some sort of offshoot of announcer's curse. Until later ... 




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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