PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - Palm Springs High School baseball players Martin Casillas and Spencer Keane remember Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. At 54, the 15-time all star lost his battle with oral cancer Monday, which he blamed on his career-long habit of chewing tobacco. He continued chewing after his 20 Major League seasons with the San Diego Padres.
"Mr. Padre, fabulous player. Great player," said Casillas.
"It's such a bad way to lose a figure at such a young age," said Keane.
In 2012, 11 percent of high school boys used smokeless tobacco, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, 6 percent of men did the same.
Palm Springs High School Head coach Earl smith said he started chewing at 17, but tossed the habit for his players.
"A lot of kids think it's cool. A lot of kids think they need to do it," said Smith. "A lot of things I hear from college or high school kids is in baseball there's a lot of dead time. It passes the time."
Chewing or dipping is not allowed on campus, including his dugout.
"We talk about it, the cancers. Tony Gwynn did have half of his cheek taken out. We talk about that kind of thing."
Across the street at the Palm Springs Power collegiate league, president Andrew Starke said it happens, but it's not encouraged.
"I don't think anyone's coming out here picking up tobacco for the first time. If anyone does use it, we certainly have rules and bylaws," said Starke. "It's not a good example. We get a lot of kids and them doing it in front of a lot of kids, that really isn't a good look for them, for our organization."
"I hope everyone takes note of this and makes sure they're thinking, 'think this could be an issue and if I chew tobacco,' and stop and don't let it hold them back," said Keane.
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