“It’s 100 percent part of baseball culture,” said Virginia second baseman Branden Cogswell, who estimated half his teammates chew tobacco at least occasionally. “It’s kind of a habit for people, kind of a comfort thing. I’ve never been a part of that group, but so many guys do it. People take those risks. It’s their choice.”
Dave Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, said he was surprised to find out so many baseball players were using tobacco.
“I think most of our coaches, if not all of our coaches, are very aware of the danger and also don’t want their players using it,” Keilitz said. “In my 20 years of doing this, I haven’t seen any evidence of that taking place in dugouts, in games. I hope the same holds true in practice sessions.”
Keilitz said his organization adamantly opposed the use of smokeless tobacco and participated in the making of a video that illustrates the dangers.
Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said he chewed during his playing days in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. Like Keilitz, he was surprised so many players acknowledge using tobacco.
“If kids are doing it, they’re doing a heck of a job of hiding it,” he said.
The NCAA said the ban was put in place as part of its charge to protect the safety and welfare of athletes. The penalty for violating the ban was left to the committee that oversees each sport. The Baseball Rules Committee instructed umpires to eject any player or coach who is using tobacco or who has tobacco in his possession. Enforcement was spotty until the committee made it a point of emphasis in 2003.
In spite of the warnings the players receive, Texas coach Augie Garrido said he knows some members of his team chew tobacco.
“There’s a lot more of it in Texas,” he said, “because it’s not only about the baseball. It’s about hunting, it’s about fishing, it’s about being a man.”
As for Sborz, he started chewing for a simple reason.
“I saw an older kid do it, so I thought I’d try to do it,” he said.