Grip on Sports: Nothing cool about chew

Tony Gwynn’s death is sad reminder of how damaging smokeless tobacco can be. (Associated Press)
Tony Gwynn’s death is sad reminder of how damaging smokeless tobacco can be. (Associated Press)

Wednesday: 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.

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.

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.

The two 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.

One of them prepared a small chaw for me – no bubble gum, thank you – and I stuck it in my mouth. It wasn’t so bad. I began to spit. Cool. Yeah, I was one of the guys. This wasn’t so bad.

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 more than 10 runs, hence my chance. He wasn’t happy. The first pitch was right at my head. 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.

Friday: Another week in the books. This one corresponds with a day I hate. The longest day of the year. The end of spring and the beginning of summer.

Why is it on my hit list? Because it’s all downhill from here until, gasp, winter.

According to the calendar, (Saturday) is the first day of summer. But today and tomorrow have the same amount of daylight, with the sun rising at 4:51 and setting at 8:51.

That’s basically 16 hours of sunlight. Enough time to play four quick rounds of golf or four really slow baseball games.

But starting Sunday, we start losing sunlight. It’s only a few seconds each day, but it adds up. Next thing you know Christmas ads will begin to appear on TV.

Thursday:  I saw a tweet yesterday from columnist Mark Whicker of the Orange County Register. It said something to the effect that Spurs coach Greg Popovich was going to rest Tim Duncan during the celebratory parade. He was going to sit him down for a few blocks.

Made me laugh. So I retweeted it.

If you are on Twitter and want to follow me, it’s @vinceg55.

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