How would you like to have part of your tongue cut out?
If you dip or chew tobacco excessively, someday your doctor may give you the awful news that you'll have to endure that painful, disturbing procedure.
Many people use smokeless tobacco, and the most public of these are professional baseball players. They do it to feel cool and to fit in with their peers, or simply because it helps them deal with all the boring down time.
They probably don't think about the consequences of their gross habit. But they should.
Surely you remember Lenny Dykstra, who always had a baseball-sized wad of chew bulging from his cheek during his playing career? Did you also know Dykstra had to have all of his teeth pulled because they had rotted away?
Dykstra's story is nothing compared to the sad tale of Wayne Weinheimer, a lifelong friend of Curve manager Matt Walbeck. Weinheimer constantly used smokeless tobacco during a playing career that spanned 14 years in the minor leagues.
He contracted cancer as a result.
"They actually had to cut out his tongue," Walbeck said. "Shortly thereafter, the cancer spread and he ended up dying. He didn't even see his 40th birthday."
Weinheimer died in July of 2008 at age 38.
Walbeck credits his friend for the success he enjoyed in his own career.
"He was the guy that all the scouts came out to watch play, and I happened to catch their attention," said Walbeck, who spent 11 seasons in the majors. "So if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be standing here right now."
Walbeck was standing in the Blair County Ballpark media room when he told that story Wednesday morning. He did so to discuss a fantastic new program called "Chews Not To Use" that aims to raise awareness about the dangers of smokeless tobacco.
The effort is a joint venture between the Curve and BREATHE, or Blair County Reacts with Efforts Against Tobacco Hype and its Effects.
There's no question the best way to spark interest in the cause is to get baseball players as spokesmen. Walbeck is ideal for the job, and during every Curve game at Blair County Ballpark he can be seen on the video board delivering an anti-tobacco message.
"I, as a 15-year-old, started using smokeless tobacco because I saw the major league players carrying it around in their pockets," Walbeck said. "I thought in order to play in the major leagues, you have to do this sort of thing."
So he used the stuff for 17 years.
"I literally got addicted to it on purpose so I could be a major league player someday," Walbeck said.
Having a dip, he added, "became part of the lifestyle, became something that I had to have with me."
"Then I realized that I was having health issues because of it," the manager noted. "My gums were starting to deteriorate. Dentists kept telling me to stop using it. My gums were bleeding. I realized at that point this is not a good thing, but I had a hard time stopping."
It wasn't until a personal tragedy occurred eight years ago that Walbeck finally said enough is enough.
His mother, Aileen, had contracted stomach cancer, and Walbeck said, "A month before she passed away, she said, 'I want you to stop this.'"
He finally did give up smokeless tobacco, with the help of Nicorette, which he used for three years.
"The major leaguers do it because there's so much down time in baseball," Walbeck said. "They feel like it gives them a little bit of a buzz and kills time."
It does not, in any way, help their performance.
"It's certainly not going to help them hit, catch or throw," Walbeck said.
Not all players use the junk, either. Curve pitcher Daniel Moskos, a 2007 first-round draft pick who received a signing bonus of $2.4 million, has become a successful player and never felt the urge to rely on dip or chew.
"I kind of enjoy having my teeth, keeping them white," Moskos said with a laugh.
He has tried the stuff, he admitted, but found it wasn't for him.
"It's definitely tough, though," Moskos said of refraining from using it. "You see all your teammates doing it, you've got a lot of down time playing cards, it's probably fun just to throw a dip in or throw a chew in.
"It's one of those things that if you did start doing it, you're probably going to keep doing it because you're always going to be around it."
The key is to never start using it at all.
That garbage doesn't make you a better athlete. It doesn't make you cool. It doesn't help in any way.
It just makes you look stupid. It makes your breath stink. It makes your teeth gross. And it puts your health at risk.
Parents should do whatever they can to make sure their kids stay away from smokeless tobacco, especially the kids who play baseball and believe it's a necessity.
"It does not make you a better player," Walbeck said. "All it does is slow you down and make you sick in the long run."
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.