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Bubble gum to low-calorie ice cream: A look inside the Diamond Heels' pantries

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UNC sophomore right-handed pitcher Matthew Matthijs (24) blows a bubble with his gum during the baseball game against VCU at Boshamer Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024.

A handful of players could be seen blowing bubbles in UNC’s dugout during each game of the Diamond Heels' sweep of Notre Dame this weekend.

As the games ran into later innings, players passed the time by indulging in the plethora of gum options supplied by the team's head athletic trainer Terri Jo Rucinski.

In the 1950s, Hall of Fame outfielders Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter were the first to cure their boredom by chewing seeds before big names like Reggie Jackson popularized it universally. Bubble gum’s origins in America’s pastime, on the other hand, began as an alternative to chewing tobacco. The inception of Big League Chew by Rob Nelson in 1977 created a market in the sport.

You can either be a bubble gum guy, or you can be a seed guy,” UNC junior pitcher Shea Sprague concluded.

Sunflower seeds: an underdog

Unfortunately for the seed guys on the team, the turf that makes up the foul territory of Bryson Field inside Boshamer Stadium prevents any shells from being spat onto the field.

The workaround for guys like Ben Peterson — a religious seed connoisseur, according to Sprague — is spitting into a cup. For this reason, though, Sprague estimated that 70 percent of the team prefers bubble gum over its salty counterpart. 

“I like the gums, especially the mints: spearmint, peppermint,” pitcher Aidan Haugh said. “Not as much [fruit flavors] because I want my breath to smell good.”

GoGo squeeZ game day

Game day snacks, meanwhile, extend far past the aforementioned chewing combo. Prior to and during each game, every Diamond Heel has a different preference for fueling up.

Outfielder Vance Honeycutt enjoys pre-game smoothies upon arrival at the facility. Out in the bullpen, Haugh mentioned how he and others are always grazing on Welch’s fruit snacks or GoGo squeeZ applesauce pouches.

However, Sprague, who recorded four strikeouts in his Saturday win against Notre Dame, heeded a warning about how this mindless snacking has caught up to him on a few occasions.

“Those CLIF BARs can get a little bit heavy,” Sprague said. “So you gotta pump the brakes on those. One of them is usually good for a game.”

Osuna's offseason

Off the field, senior Alberto Osuna has had the strictest diet plan on the team. The designated hitter lost weight over the summer by committing to a chicken and rice meal plan while playing ball in Miami. He said his trainer Ricardo Sosa put him on the diet.

“[He] told me what I needed to do, like cut out sugar completely,” Osuna said. “I want to be the best player I can be, obviously, so I did it.” 

The hardest part of sticking to the plan was staying away from the sweet treats he would see in the grocery store. Osuna claimed it was a bit easier after four weeks, but still got old very quickly.

As a son of restaurant-owning parents, the power hitter had to do without their Mexican-style cooking — something he said "helped out" with his ability to stick to the diet plan. Osuna remembered his favorite Mexican dishes — enchiladas, and burritos, as well as ice cream — as the biggest temptations. 

He only “let himself go” once he returned to UNC for fall scrimmages, where he shared a low-calorie ice cream with his roommate. 

Growing up, Osuna recalled more about the environment of his parent's restaurant than the food. 

“It honestly taught me a lot of discipline too,” Osuna said. “Seeing how workers work, and learning how to work in that manner.”

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Ultimately, he is grateful for the soul-food cooking. The youngest of three, Osuna was not the only power hitter who was fed well in the family. His older brother Ramon Osuna was drafted in the 2016 MLB Draft out of Walters State. 

“It’s been a true blessing because all three kids were pretty big kids,” Osuna said. “So it's been a blessing that we have just been able to have that opportunity.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed Terri Jo Rucinski's position on the baseball team. Rucinski is the head athletic trainer for UNC Baseball. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.

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@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com