Sunday, December 17, 2017
Sports

something to chaw on

The Rays head this week to Boston and New York, two of the most tradition-rich cities in the game. But when they arrive at historic Fenway Park today, they will find a new reality — a prohibition on smokeless tobacco.

Boston and New York are among several municipalities that have recently enacted bans on snuff and related stuff at big-league stadiums and other sports venues.

Which means Rays players and coaches can no longer legally put a pinch of dip between their cheek and gum, or a chaw in their mouth, as part of a routine they've done for years, some their whole careers.

"It's something that just goes with baseball for me," veteran LHP Dana Eveland said. "It's like, I go play catch, I want to have a dip in. It's not something I'm proud that I do. It's just part of who I am right now."

Eveland is one, by rough count, of six to eight uniformed Rays personnel currently using smokeless tobacco, well aware of the potential health risks and bad example. Some others, including manager Kevin Cash, have switched to a Smokey Mountain herbal dip that does not include tobacco.

While acknowledging rules are rules, some of the Rays' past and present dippers consider the ban an infringement on their personal freedom when unhealthy foods and alcohol are allowed.

"It seems a little dictatorship-ish," RHP Steve Geltz said. "And that's not the world we live in."

Under the Boston ordinance, which applies to everyone at the stadium — fans, stadium workers, media, police, players — violators can be fined $250 and given a citation. Exactly how that will be enforced and executed — Designated spotters? Video surveillance? Clubhouse searches? — is a bit unclear.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said at Fenway Park that the police will write a citation and notify the Red Sox or the visiting team of the violation.

"We're not going to walk out in the middle of the sixth inning and stop the game and have a police officer walk out to someone at second base and say, 'Listen, by the way, your dip is a ticket,' " Walsh said.

Major League Baseball officials are good with the new rules, having tried to get smokeless tobacco banned as it is in the minor leagues, but the players association has refused. The matter has been, and will again be, an issue in negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement. There is some talk MLB will try to take further disciplinary action on any player cited for use since he then will have broken a law.

"We have, I hope we have, made clear our position with respect to smokeless tobacco," commissioner Rob Manfred said opening day at the Trop. "It's been banned in the minor leagues for a very, very long time. We have, in each of the last two rounds of bargaining, made proposals designed to limit the use of smokeless tobacco on the field, or eliminate it. I suspect it will be a bargaining topic for us going forward."

Uniformed personnel are currently not allowed to have tobacco cans or pouches on the field once fans are in the stands and are not allowed to use it during televised interviews or at team functions.

And now, Manfred said, "I can tell you this, we do expect our players to obey the law in those jurisdictions where the use of smokeless tobacco is banned in the stadiums."

Here's how a handful of Rays view the ban from different perspectives:

Bench coach Tom Foley

Foley has been dipping for nearly 40 years, since he started playing pro ball, quitting for short periods, even a couple of years once, then going back to it.

"I don't think about why I do it," he said. "It's just been a part of me being in the game, I guess."

Foley said he will comply with the new rules, comparing the situation to when smoking was outlawed in workplaces.

But he's not sure how he will handle it.

"We'll see how grouchy I get," he said. "Come talk to me at the end of the week."

LHP Matt Moore

Moore said his game preparation shouldn't be affected since he typically doesn't use dip when he's on the mound. But he enjoys it when he's done pitching, on days when he is watching his teammates.

And he has some big issues with the ban.

"Look at the options that are available to put into your body eating and drinking, the consumption of food in that ballpark, I guarantee you it puts you at a very similar risk of that of smokeless tobacco," he said.

"There's something to be said about progress, but there's also something to be said about our freedom of choice. … There's a lot of things that we do as a society that are not good for us. But those are our options, and that's what makes our country great."

Plus, Moore said, it's a personal choice, without the cloud of additional issues like second-hand smoke.

"It doesn't affect anybody else," he said. "It doesn't affect the guy standing around you. It's not like you're blowing dip in his mouth."

Manager Kevin Cash

Having dipped since going into pro ball in 1999, Cash this spring, at the suggestion of buddy and Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway, switched to the Smokey Mountain herbal tobacco-free substitute, trying classic, peach and wintergreen flavors, admitting "it's still a work in progress."

Cash said it seems unfair and potentially quite difficult for a player to suddenly have to go without tobacco when it has been part of his routine. But …

"Laws are laws, rules are rules," he said. "I don't like the slide rule, either."

LHP Dana Eveland

Having used regularly since being peer-pressured when he got to junior college nearly 15 years ago, Eveland hasn't decided what to do this week, whether to try to abstain or risk a fine.

"Guys are going to figure out ways to do it," he said. "I know guys in Boston obviously are figuring out ways to do it. Obviously you have to be a lot more careful about it."

Eveland said he knows in the long run that the legislation is a good way to get something bad out of the game. But that won't make it any easier to do without.

"For me it's just an oral fixation thing," he said. "If I can replace that with gum and seeds and biting my fingernails a little bit more, maybe I'll survive."

RHP Steve Geltz

Geltz can see both sides of the issue, having enjoyed using chew and dip — admittedly "a pretty gross habit" — for about six years then quitting after the 2014 season, and feeling better about himself for doing so.

"I'm not going to sit here and say tobacco is good for you," he said, "but for someone else to say that you can't have it because it's bad for you, that's kind of pushy."

One reason for the ban is that the role-model players are setting a bad example for kids. Geltz said he gets that but asks how much different dipping is in that situation than having kids know you are gorging on unhealthy food.

"It's kind of tough to be 28, 30 years and be told you can't (dip)," he said, "but you can go get a triple Baconater with extra cheese (from Wendy's) and that's fine to bring to the field."

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