Yankees hooked on Japanese candy

Chew on this: The Yankees are hopelessly hooked on Hi-Chew, a fruit-flavored Japanese confection reliever Matt Thornton calls "a plague of the clubhouse." Jeff Skopin/ESPNNewYork.com

CHICAGO -- The New York Yankees' hoarding of a foreign candy started in spring training. One minute there would be boxes of the colorful sweets in the Tampa clubhouse; the next, they would be gone.

Since then, the epidemic has grown. The candy is now showing up in the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium and on the road, most recently at Wrigley Field. The candy is called Hi-Chew.

"It is kind of a mix between bubble gum and a Starburst," said David Phelps, who might pop one or two before his start against the White Sox on Thursday night.

Hiroki Kuroda is the Walter White of the Hi-Chew Yankees. Kuroda, who is not a paid endorser of Hi-Chew, was asked by the Japanese company to distribute the high-calorie, fruity sweets to his teammates. From there, the addiction has taken hold.

"I was first introduced to Hi-Chew in Boston last year," reliever Matt Thornton said. "When I first saw it come into the clubhouse here, I knew immediately that it would be a huge hit with the guys.

"There is something about them. I don't know if there is some sort of illegal substance in them or something like that [that] makes them so addictive, but they are definitely one of those things where you can knock down 10 and not even realize it. I had a steady diet of them going on in the playoffs last year. They are good. They are kind of a newer candy over here."

The candy actually has been around for decades, mostly on the coasts, but many of the Yankees had never tasted it until this spring. They would receive free box after free box, one of the spoils of being a major leaguer.

"When players run out, they request for refills," Kuroda said.

There is debate about who is the most addicted. Kuroda said it was CC Sabathia. Others think it is the relievers like Shawn Kelley, but it has slowly grasped the whole team.

"I can't say that I haven't had any," Joe Girardi said.

Utility man Kelly Johnson held out for a while, but even he now has succumbed.

"I was probably one of the last ones to try it," Johnson said. "It was probably like two weeks ago that I tried my first one. The next three days, I probably ate about 50 of them, but I wouldn't put myself in the addicted category."

Should there be concern that the Yankees need hit after hit of this tangy treat?

"I'm not worried, but I see a lot of the guys eating it," said Masahiro Tanaka, who said he likes Hi-Chew but didn't seem as if he is one of the players with a problem. "I'm not worried."

The only guys who have to be concerned are the ones who come late to the new boxes and suffer from withdrawal.

"It is pretty funny when you see a box and they are wiped out before the game is even over," Thornton said. "I think you could call it a plague of the clubhouse."

As for Kuroda, he is just proud he can distribute a product from his home country.

"It is good to see people like it," a smiling Kuroda said. "If they can relax by eating it, that's good. It is good to see guys eating Japanese products and liking it."