By Kevin Baxter
April 22, 2004
JUPITER, Fla.–It has been a week since Jeff Allison, the Marlins’ highly touted first-round pick in 2003, showed up for his first spring training camp.
Everyone else in minor league camp, however, showed up more than five weeks earlier.
But on Tuesday both the Marlins and Allison avoided a complete explanation why Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year was allowed to report a month late. The team, which excused Allison’s absence, says the pitcher had a “personal problem.”
‘”No comment,” Allison said when asked about his tardiness. “I’ve heard a lot of stories, but I have no comment on all of them.”
Among the stories Allison said he heard: that his mother was sick, that he was grieving for a former teammate who died from substance abuse, and that he was seeking treatment for a substance problem of his own. On Tuesday, he denied the first story, confirmed the second and did not deny the third — but pointed out he has never failed a drug test.
Allison, 19, said a former teammate who died “. . . was one of my good friends. Something bad happened. And I felt for the kid real bad. Because I liked him a lot. A lot of people liked that kid. “It was a real sad thing that happened. And I was kind of struck by that. But I didn’t do anything stupid.”
When asked if his delay in reporting to training camp had anything to do with substance abuse, Allison said after a long pause, “People are saying whatever they want anyway.”
Allison noted he has never been suspended for drug use. However, he could have come forward on his own, said Richard Levin, a spokesman for Major League Baseball, which oversees the drug-testing policy for the minors. Players who use what baseball terms “a drug of abuse”–a non-performance-enhancing drug–can request to be put in a treatment program that, at a doctor’s discretion, may take place away from the team’s home or training facility.
Teams are prohibited from disclosing the player’s participation in treatment, and if the player does not fail at least two drug tests, no punishment is levied.
“The only way you would know is if he tests positive for a second or third time and is suspended,” Levin said.
The Marlins have characterized Allison’s absence as a “personal problem.”
“We’re in the process of getting a young man into professional life as well as trying to corral a personal life,” said minor league instructor Tim Cossins, Allison’s Gulf Coast League manager last summer. “There’s things in every life that have to come together. And we’ve all dealt with stuff in our personal lives that have caused us setbacks.
“As far as Jeff Allison is concerned . . . we’ve never suspended him. There’s never been any punishment. On that end, it’s been support from us and just [being] ready for him to come in when he’s ready to come in.”
JOINING THE MARLINS
In last June’s draft, many teams passed on Allison, the top-rated pitcher and the No. 4 prospect overall, because they expected him to be difficult to sign. But the Marlins took a chance on him with the 16th pick and signed him a month later for a $1.85 million bonus.
A late start–he didn’t make his first appearance until the final month of the Gulf Coast season — and a bout with tendinitis limited him to three starts and nine innings last season. He went 0-2 with a 1.00 ERA and 11 strikeouts.
Allison spent the winter working out near his home in Peabody, Mass., with former All-Star pitcher Jason Bere, and he says he’s bigger–6-3, 200 pounds–and stronger than ever. He will test that strength later this week when he throws his first bullpen session.
He isn’t expected to get his minor league assignment–probably to low Class A Greensboro–until near the end of extended spring training in June, two months after the season opened.
“I’m not frustrated at all with the people that say things and how last season I only had [nine] innings,” he said. “It’s a process, and I know that now. It’s a long process, and you’ve got to work really, really hard to get there. And I’m willing to go through this.”
And, he says, he’s going to get through the rumors, and that it has only fueled his drive. “It doesn’t make me angry,” Allison said. “It’s motivation, to tell you the truth. I’ve got a lot of motivation in me right now that I’m about to show on the field.”