The Hot New Drug in Major League Baseball? Coffee Grounds

Nov 07, 2014 at 8:27 AM ET

Baseball players with tobacco-packed lips are still, alas, a common sight, even as the country has soured on the stuff over the past several decades. But now some players have a new oral fixation. They’ve switched to filling their mouths with, get this—coffee grounds.

Yes, baseball players are sticking mini prepackaged pouches of ground-up flavored coffee beans into their mouths. Known by the brand name Grinds, the caffeine-packed product has become a way for addicts to wean themselves off traditional smokeless tobacco products (like nicotine, caffeine can be absorbed through your gums).

San Francisco Giants Manager Bruce Bochy was an early adopter of the tobacco alternative, and he introduced the product to the locker room of the World Series champs back in 2010.

“I don’t remember when I learned about Grinds, but you are starting to see them a lot more. I would say that about 50 percent of minor leaguers try them and use them,” says Josh Hader, a pitcher in the Houston Astros minor league system.

The prevalence of smokeless tobacco use among American baseball players has long been a flagrant issue in both the major and minor leagues. Since 1993, chewing tobacco has been banned in the minor leagues, where players can face fines from $100 to $1,000 if caught by the “dip police,” but crazily enough, the stuff is still legal in the major leagues (though there are some restrictions). The high-profile death of Tony Gwynn of salivary gland cancer in June further shined the spotlight on the issue in recent months, and some big-name ball players have vowed to quit the stuff in light of Hall of Fame player’s passing.

It may seem weird that dudes are filling their mouths with ground-up coffee beans. (Can we talk about coffee breath for a second?) However, there is no doubt that if this trend really takes hold in the leagues, it would be a good thing—provided it does help some of these players kick the habit and hopefully sever the ties between dipping and baseball culture.

When Matt Canepa and Pat Pezet first launched Grinds, this is exactly what they set out to do. Even though the duo came up with the idea for Grinds by chance when they decided to stuff coffee grounds in their mouths during a late-night study session for a quick buzz, the former baseball players immediately realized that they might have stumbled on a solution to detrimental problem.

“We started with the thought that this might help get guys quit chewing tobacco,” says Pezet. “Even though we knew the odds were stacked against us starting a business, we wanted to get the product into the hands of players to see if it helped people stop using [smokeless tobacco].”

Ironically, Canepa and Pezet followed in the marketing footsteps of the drug they were looking to dethrone. The pair leveraged their baseball connections and tried to get cans of Grinds into as many baseball locker rooms as possible—just like those reviled tobacco companies. With over $1 million in revenue in 2013, Grinds have gained in popularity amongst baseball teams and the coffee pouches have also gained some traction with other athletes in hockey and football and the military as well. Players now aren’t just using them to quit chewing tobacco. Some, like Josh Hader, just pop them in for a little boost of caffeine—one pouch has the caffeine content equivalent to a quarter-cup of coffee.

“I now use them instead of coffee. You get the caffeine rush, but you don’t get the same sugar rush,” says Hader. “I use them about once a day, something to get me going.”