During his 19 years as a pitcher in the major leagues, Luis Tiant became well known for "throwing smoke."
Now deep into retirement, the 67-year-old is spending much of his time dealing in smoke of a more literal nature, as main pitchman for his own line of fine cigars.
He and his son Daniel are now in their third year of selling El Tiante Cigars, a line of high-end stogies marketed to true aficionados.
"They've been really good, we've been really lucky," said Tiant via cell phone as he headed to Kennebunkport, Maine, for a golf tournament with former President George H.W. Bush. "So far, we've had no complaints."
As a native of Cuba, Tiant's knowledge and appreciation of cigars is probably embedded somewhere in his DNA. During a career spent largely with the Red Sox and Indians, he was known for lighting up a cigar after a victory. He won 229 games in his career, including Games 1 and 4 of the 1975 World Series. (Rumor has it he smoked in the shower and was somehow able to keep the cigar lit.)
Daniel Tiant is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the business but rarely makes a major decision without consulting his father. When deciding on the character and flavor of the cigars, Luis tested more than a dozen different combinations sent from the company's supplier, Tabacalera Tambor, based in Nicaragua. Surprisingly, the elder Tiant settled on a gentle cigar with a mixture of flavors.
"It's weird. Cubans really like strong cigars," Daniel Tiant said. "But my dad's totally different. He likes milder cigars."
El Tiante now features two lines, a lighter "natural" cigar and a more robust "Maduro" cigar with a creamier tone. Later this year, the company plans to introduce a cigar with a wrapper made of Corojo tobacco. A fourth line also might be introduced.
The company appears to be taking a slow-growth approach; the cigars are available only in select cigar shops in New England, plus a handful of shops in Florida and a few other states. There are plans, however to expand into Texas, California and the midwest.
The Tiants first went into the cigar business about a decade ago, but their original product flopped. Daniel said they learned the hard way that the Tiant name was not enough by itself.
"We didn't really focus on quality," Daniel Tiant said. "We thought it was a good cigar, but it wasn't. Now people will try our product originally because they want to meet my father at one of our events, but a common reaction is, 'Wow, this is a quality cigar.'"
Cigar-related magazines and Web sites have given these stogies solid reviews, with compliments for their mild yet complex flavor.
"I am not going to put my name on it if it is not good," Luis Tiant said. "If people try it and they're no good, your name going to be in the ground."
And for now, Tiant is happy to travel and make appearances to promote the cigars; he can be found twice each week at a bar outside the walls of Fenway Park in Boston.
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