- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why would anybody want to be a major league baseball player nowadays, million-dollar contracts notwithstanding?

First chewing tobacco and anabolic steroids were ruled off base in the bigs. Now there’s a movement to ban junk food from clubhouses. Next thing you know, ballplayers everywhere will be turning down offers on the road from Baseball Annies.

During the recent winter meetings in Indianapolis, according to the Wall Street Journal, strength and conditioning coaches spent 12 hours discussing how to stock clubhouse tables with veggies and fruit rather than doughnuts and fried chicken.

Good thing Reggie Jackson isn’t swatting his homers and running his mouth anymore. Gooey things like his Reggie Bar soon might be tossed out of the game faster than a manager who accuses an umpire of incestuous practices. In 2010 and beyond, somebody might produce the equivalent of a Reggie Pomegranate, an Albert Apple or a Ryan Rutabaga.

Of course, there will always be a little something sweet on the premises to help erase the bitter taste of an oh-fer day for a batter or a 1 1/3-inning start for a pitcher.

“There’s nothing wrong with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup every now and then,” Twins conditioning coordinator Perry Castellano told the Journal. “The issue is when somebody eats eight at a time.”

David Biderman, the Journal writer, reported that the Dodgers will ship players to Arizona for a six-day health-food clinic. Meanwhile, the Phillies and Rays said they’re preparing clubhouse foods rich in antioxidant grains.

Good luck with that, guys, considering many star jocks historically are not good at restraining various appetites. Babe Ruth - famous for overindulging in hot dogs as well as wine and women, if not necessarily song - must be churning in his urn.

There is evidence, however, that some players are aware that eating right is even more beneficial than stealing signs. Said Royals nutritionist Mitzi Dulan: “You’d be shocked how receptive the guys are now. I wasn’t really expecting that when I started.”

Last season, in fact, six players on the Angels asked team dietitian Ellen Coleman to write healthy food plans for them. Probably she fainted dead away.

The matter of clubhouse grub is especially relevant now that most games are played at night. Many players sleep late in the morning and don’t eat until they reach the park in mid-afternoon. Each man gets $89.50 a day in meal money, but some just pocket it and chow down during the 10 or so hours they spend each day at the stadium.

Perhaps the most important thing about the healthy eating campaign is the effect it might have on children and teenagers. As we all know, an athlete’s advice and lifestyle can have great impact on young fans, even more in some cases than those of parents. And since studies show the number of obese or overweight children and teens in America is zooming faster than a 100 mph heater, this campaign is nothing to be belched at.

“Athletes are always role models,” said Jamie Futterman, outpatient dietitian at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park. “If they pay attention to what they’re eating and maybe become spokespersons for healthy eating, there’s a lot of potential for helping young people.”

How long has it been since you saw a kid player stuff 15 sticks of gum in his pie hole and pretend to be Lenny Dykstra or some other major leaguer with a chaw in his cheek? Baseball outlawed chewing tobacco in the minor leagues in 1993, and although the major leagues have not followed suit, fewer and fewer players come up with this literally sickening habit.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 30,000 adults a year are diagnosed with and 8,000 annually die from mouth or throat cancer. The most famous victim: Babe Ruth himself in 1948 at the age of 53.

If the movement toward healthy eating in major league clubhouses continues, it just might help lower another deadly trend that threatens future generations. Keep your fingers crossed - and cut back on those suds, sodas and dogs when you take in a ballgame.

Even the best teams lose 60 or 65 games a year, but there’s no reason why anybody has to be a loser off the field as well as on.

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