Addiction Thrives in Baseball

All these self-proclaimed baseball men nurture a hardcore, rehab-worthy addiction with the 0-2 slider in the dirt, the 25-man trade deadline in July, the double switch in the bottom of the 8th and the 100-pitch count from the Tommy John pitcher. Baseball’s a loving leech of a sport.


And that addiction has shared record-breaking hits and extra inning World Series comebacks with the world. It’s been generous enough to show off the arm of Tom Seaver and the fast hands of Albert Pujols.


But this addiction has fed into a certain game of destruction, where the addiction is the sport and the destruction is what accompanies Matt Harvey on the mound and Mike Trout to the outfield and what used to walk with Tony Gwynn to the batters box. In terms of baseball, Gwynn thrived in the box as a Hall of Fame hitter, but the dip in his bottom lip outlived him.


In April, The Player’s Tribune published Curt Schilling’s “A Letter to My Younger Self.” He shared his life with dip, from the first time he tried it at 16 and to the mouth cancer he has now. He wrote of the risk he has put on his own life – but now the life he formed around his family – which includes his children graduating high school and playing college athletics and in his words, “changing the world.”


I don’t speak from firsthand experience – I’ve never put dip in my mouth, or spit out the remnants every few minutes. Copenhagon, Grizzly and Skoal are all brands I had to look up as I was writing. But even without the empty chew cans in the bottom of my locker, my relationship with dip is anything if not direct.


My grandfather, Jack Krol, was addicted to baseball. He had the affectionate affiliation as a Minor League manager and a Major League coach that eventually put him in the hands of oral cancer a year before I was born. A year after the diagnosis, I was named Jackie in memory of him.


Chewing tabacco hits hard – to the gums, to the teeth, to the tongue – but it hits families absolutely square in the face. Wives, children, siblings watch baseball alter the minds of the ones they love. They choose to put up with missed birthdays and 9-month long seasons. But chewing tabacco robs them of that choice.


This isn’t the same hitch in a baseball player’s swing on every low-inside slider. Because for that low-inside slider, hitters work every day in batting practice to get their hands straight to that pitch. If they swing around an inside pitch, eight out of ten times they pop it up. Or miss completely.


But the ones that succeed – the ones that see another game, another post-season, another contract – are the ones who work every day to break the habit. And that inside slider lands in right field.


And that same work ethic, that similar effort, can be put towards to the addiction in the can in their back pocket and the gum of their lower lip.





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