Desmond’s big victory had nothing to do with game-winning homer

While it’s very, very early in the season, there’s no doubt that yesterday’s 2-1 win was a big one for Matt Williams’ club, as the Nationals avoided a sweep at the hands of the Braves and pushed back against a division rival that had dominated the head-to-head matchup dating back to last season.

The big blast for the Nats yesterday came from the bat of Ian Desmond, who clubbed a long solo homer in the seventh that broke a 1-1 tie and led the Nats to an exciting win.

But for Desmond, the home run wasn’t his major accomplishment yesterday. He was more proud of making it through the entire game without dipping, which, for those who are unaware, means using smokeless tobacco.

“I made it through the whole game without dip, so that was a bigger victory than beating the Braves,” a smiling Desmond said after the game. “I’ve dipped for a long time and I’m really trying hard to quit, so thank you for all those out there that supported me today.”

Desmond declined to reveal when he started dipping - “Way too early,” he said - but this offseason, he decided he had had enough.

Smokeless tobacco has been ingrained in baseball culture for a long time, as this Boston Globe story from spring training tells. Many players grab a pinch of dip when they head out onto the field, take the mound to pitch or step into the batter’s box, mainly as part of routine.

All of them know the health issues linked to smokeless tobacco - it increases the risk of oral cancer and gum disease, according to the American Cancer Society - but many are unable or unwilling to shake the habit. Desmond, however, wanted to try and put the habit in the rear-view mirror.

With the help of his mom (he texted her before yesterday’s game telling her that he was having a hard time trying to quit) and others around him, Desmond is trying to stay away from the round tobacco tins you see throughout clubhouses, but it hasn’t been an easy road.

“Nothing forced me, I kind of just decided it was time,” Desmond said. “It’s not going to be easy. I’ve been doing it for a long time, it’s a terrible habit, but I’m working on it.

“I hate to say this because I know there will probably be kids that hear this, but for me growing up it was part of the game. That’s what it was. When I put my uniform on, I feel like that’s part of what I need to put on and whether people see that as good or bad, it’s just like I’m sure steelworkers or whatever, it just goes with the job for me. But I’m trying to shake it off.”

I’ve heard some players say in the past that they don’t have a problem staying away from dip in the offseason, but that once they get back near a baseball field, the smokeless tobacco pulls them back. For players who have been dipping for years, it’s become part of their routine, and as you might know, most baseball players are all about their routines.

But Desmond is trying to change his, and he’s being open about it. He mentioned his attempts to quit dip leading off his postgame interview with reporters yesterday, and admitted that he’s slipped at times.

“I stopped in December, or before December, but this was my first spring training ever with no dip,” Desmond said. “I had one last night, but that was back on the wagon, off the wagon again.

“It’s not easy. I feel for the people that have to deal with this stuff on a larger scale. It’s not something I’m proud of, that it’s got that control over me, but I’m going to try.”

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