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Baseball, Blowing Bubbles and Big League Chew

Rob Nelson’s Recipe for Fun


Even after inventing Big League Chew Gum decades ago, Rob Nelson doesn’t go a day without enjoying a pouch of the shredded treat.

Just when I thought I’d met the most interesting people in baseball and life, Rob Nelson came along and blew that observation out of the proverbial water.

During a recent visit to “The Home of Baseball,” Cooperstown, New York, a last-minute visit to the Bullpen Theater inside the National Baseball Hall of Fame for a talk about a sweet treat that I’ve been enjoying since, well, for as long as I could remember came about. A promised bubble-blowing contest was to follow the conversation about Big League Chew.

When I entered the theater, Nelson's one-man show was in full gear. A peppy man with sandy brown hair was talking up a storm with a capacity audience and passing out Big League Chew t-shirts. Immediately, Nelson was making his audience feel like old friends.

What an amazing salesman. What an amazing, likable person.

Within minutes of Nelson’s storytelling of how, where, and when Big League Chew came about, I was all in on taking my product fandom to a higher level. Without any doubt, for the past 44 years, I concluded that Big League Chew has survived and thrived in the sweets industry because of the man working the strings behind it.

I wanted to know more about the shredded gum that comes in pouches. The packaging resembles the old chewing tobacco packaging that MLB players favored when Big League Chew came to be, and kids of all ages became fans of the gum.

“It’s been a dream come true,” says Nelson, originally from Long Island and a die-hard Yankees fan growing up. “I feel like Gene Wilder in the Willie Wonka film. I love the brand.”

Living in Oregon for most of his adult life, as a child, Nelson was a fan of Yankees pitching great Whitey Ford. Long before Big League Chew was a twinkle in his eye and would become the “Hall of Fame of Bubble Gum”, Nelson, too, wanted to follow in his pitching idol’s footsteps.

To understand the beginnings of Big League Chew and its creator, before kids of all ages began to choose between flavors of Curveball Cotten Candy, Ground Ball Grape, Outta Here Original, or Rally Blue Raspberry, there are two keywords—Portland Mavericks.

In the late 1970s, following his baseball-playing dreams, Nelson answered an ad in The Sporting News calling for tryouts by an independent minor league club operated by a Hollywood actor in Portland. A left-handed pitcher at Cornell University, the would-be second-coming of “The Chairman of the Board” packed his spikes and glove, and off he was to try and make the Mavericks.

When looking around the theater, from his opening remarks, Nelson earns a captivated audience. He is a wonderful storyteller. Personally, his road to gum stardom is enchanting. I see no fidgeting, no one looking to make a bathroom break. Nelson owns the room.

As the story goes, Nelson made the club owned by actor Bing Russell and dad to actor Kurt Russell. During his career as a Maverick, Nelson recorded one win. When his playing time ended abruptly, Nelson still believed that he had much to offer Russell and the club.

“I came up with the idea of baseball day camp, and Bing loved the idea,” remembers Nelson. “We (Mavericks) were coaching the kids in Grant Park. I’ve been part of the Portland community now for almost 50 years.”

Nelson loved the game so much that he sold tickets for Mavericks’ games, doing whatever he could to be around baseball and keep his dream alive.

Here’s where Big League Chew’s conception story starts getting juicy. Nelson brings up the name of the team’s bat boy – Todd Field.

Today, Field is an accomplished filmmaker. His work has earned a combined fourteen Academy Award nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture. Back as the bat boy for the Mavericks, Nelson remembers seeing Field eating shredded licorice.

“Todd Field was the original inspiration”, said Nelson of Big League Chew.

Before long, Nelson was off to Field’s home to prepare the first test samples of gum as it never has been marketed before. With the assistance of Field’s mother in the kitchen, using a pizza cutter, Nelson began shredding gum.

Root beer and maple syrup were the first flavors tested.

While pitching for the Single-A independent minor league club, Nelson became friends with the most famous Maverick of all-time – former Yankees All-Star and World Series Champion Jim Bouton. After years out of baseball, Bouton was attempting a comeback, and the Mavericks were his only takers.

With their combined entrepreneurial spirit running high and their marketing genius at an even higher level, the concept of Big League Chew was sold to the Wrigley Company. And the rest, as they say, is history. In 2010, the Ford Gum Company in Akron, New York, acquired the rights to Big League Chew from the Wrigley Company.

In April 2023, Big League Chew announced they had sold more than one billion pouches worldwide.

As favorable as the product is, it’s the hustling of Nelson and the company in the small town in Western New York that keeps Big League Chew on the map for kids of all ages.

So, after Nelson completed his talk in the theater, his audience was invited to go outside of the baseball museum for a bubble-blowing contest. Right there, on the steps of the National Baseball Library, pouches of Big League Chew were swiftly distributed, and all were invited to give their best efforts at blowing bubbles with the gum.

Nelson was there to measure all the entrees. He gave hints to contestants, like once all the sugar was gone, that’s when chances increased to make the biggest bubbles. Samples of the flavors were offered to all. When the event completed, I wanted to know more about this ‘Piped Piper of Bubble Blowing’.

The following day, at 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning, Nelson and a crew of five began setting up at tables to reintroduce Big League Chew to the thousands of baseball fans attending the Hall of Fame’s Classic – East-West All-Star Game at historic Doubleday Field.

Mingling with fans of all ages, it is difficult to tell with certainty who is having more fun, Nelson chewing and blowing bubbles or those accepting pouches from him and enjoying the flavors they chose. Boxes of Big League Chew go fast. Smiles are everywhere.

“I was the luckiest lefty in the minor leagues.” declares Nelson.

The product, Big League Chew, continues to stand the test of time in gaining new audiences with new flavors to keep chewing interesting. From the late Jim Bouton’s business smarts and Nelson’s concept, it was from a dream in the summer of 1977 that baseball fans continue to have fun and flavor from gum in a big league-looking pouch.

And with Nelson being the “biggest kid” of them all, one pouch at a time, one bubble attempt at a time, Big League Chew remains as popular for many in baseball as Cracker Jack.


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