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An evening with Red Man

March 10, 2014 - Mike Donahey

The nightly ritual of checking news from baseball’s spring training sites resumed mid-February. There has been even more to read with a heavy slate of spring training games scheduled.

What prospect will make a major league roster and later become a star?

Will we ever see the likes of another Johnny Bench, Bob Gibson, Ted Williams or Willie Mays? Those questions, and others, make this writer recall the late spring and summer days of playing as a freshman for the St. Mary’s High School baseball team (now Mater Dei) in Clinton.

I was thrilled just to be on the team, rubbing shoulders with junior and seniors who I admired, so I did whatever the late coach John Lingle asked.

That meant a lot of pinch hitting, pinch running and playing right field. I didn’t consider it demeaning — far from it — I considered it a thrill.

Well, most of the time.

One night before an away game, an upper classman’s offer to try a plug of Red Man chewing tobacco was too good to turn down. And I don't think coach knew it was being passed around.

Regardless, I eagerly took it, and proceeded to place it in my mouth as directed. The tobacco became incredibly bitter not long after, and my head felt like it was going to explode.

I spit it out faster than I had put it in.

It took most of the evening for the taste and my major league headache to go away.

Only later did I learn from more experienced chewing tobacco aficionados, that being a novice, I should of taken a smaller piece and wrapped it in chewing gum.

And that was my first and last experience with Red Man or other chewing tobacco.

Recently, I learned that Red Man went on the market in 1904 and is now owned by the Swedish Match Co. “Red Man chewing tobacco is far and away Swedish Match’s best-known brand in the U.S.,” according to its website. “Even Americans who do not chew tobacco recognize the brand: the logo, the Indian head and the classic red print.”

After my experience with Red Man, I had little need for any tobacco product.

Several years later, I experimented a few times with various flavors of small, thin cigars, but I found it to be an expensive habit for someone like me, working at a grocery store.

And I didn’t like the idea of having to carry them around in my pocket with a lighter or a book of matches.



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