I was 17 years old when I had my first dip of chewing tobacco. I picked up the habit while watching my favorite sport, baseball. You see it all the time, someone you admire steps up to the plate, their lip stuffed with chew.
In my case, that player was Chris Duncan. But this story isn’t about Chris Duncan, it’s about Curt Schilling. I chewed on and off since I was 17. I’d gather the courage to quit, then I’d pick the habit back up again. Why? Baseball season. I had friends and family ask me all the time, “Why do you do that? It’s so nasty..” I always just shrugged them off.
Probably one of the dumber responses I had was, “I have to die somehow.” I was young, I thought I was invincible and I was wrong.
Flashback to a year ago today, it was a Sunday night game at Busch Stadium against the Cincinnati Reds and the ESPN Baseball Tonight crew was there. I recently had read a letter that Curt Schilling wrote to his 16 year old self.
As I walked inside the ballpark that night, I tried to find where ESPN was doing the pre game show. Once I did, it was only two short minutes before my life would change forever. As the crew wrapped up and it was time for Curt Schilling to step off the set and walk up to the broadcast booth, I seized my opportunity.
I’ll admit, I was a little intoxicated, but no amount of alcohol would ever let me forget what was about to happen. As Schilling walked off the set, I walked with him, security nearby. I thought for sure I would be thrown out. I started yelling “Mr. Schilling! Mr. Schilling!” No response.
I stayed persistent, like a reporter trying to get a career-altering interview. Still, Schilling kept walking. Then I shouted, “I read your letter! I’ve chewed ever since I was 17 and I’m 22 now. I’ll never do it again. Thank you Mr. Schilling, you saved my life.” After that, he stopped walking. He came over to me, shook my hand and said, “It’s the best decision you’ll ever make in your life, kid.” Just like that, he walked away.
My emotions took over. My jaw was to the floor, trying to think about what just happened. I cried right there on the concourse. Fast forward to now: I’m one year chew free and I haven’t looked back since. My mouth doesn’t hurt when I eat, my gums look healthier and my teeth are whiter. The same man who broke my heart in 2004 as a member of the Boston Red Sox, saved my life 11 years later. For that, I’m forever grateful.
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