By Chris Kline and Matt Meyers
May 5, 2005
Jeff Allison on Thursday night
GREENSBORO, N.C.—Marlins righthander Jeff Allison took the mound for the first time competitively in nearly two years Thursday night for low Class A Greensboro, and while the first inning was understandably shaky, it didn't rattle the 20-year-old—or stop him from consistently pounding the zone.
Drafted 16th overall in 2003 out of Veterans Memorial High in Peabody, Mass., where he was named Baseball America's High School Player of the Year, Allison has become known more for his off-field problems in the past two years. Before Thursday he had only pitched in nine professional innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Allison went five innings against Delmarva, allowed three earned runs on seven hits, and struck out three, but did not figure into the decision of a 7-6 win over the Shorebirds. Of the 69 pitches he threw, 47 were for strikes.
“We were hoping he could go five and he did,” said Greensboro manager Brandon Hyde, who also indicated they didn't want Allison throwing more than 70 pitches. “I'm so impressed by him—a 20-year-old kid going through this . . . it's not easy.”
His fastball sat at 90-91 mph, topping out at 92 on the Stalker radar gun. His curveball showed signs of its former self—and was by far his best offering–as he located it well to both sides of the plate. Two of his three punchouts came on the curve that a Marlins official once called a “snapdragon.”
“As far as the curveball goes, I think I threw too many strikes,” Allison said. “It was 0-2, 1-2 counts and I was throwing strikes. As far as my fastball goes, I wasn't getting it up and in. I'd leave it out over the plate.”
Allison also has been mixing in a changeup, which he's only been working since he came to the Grasshoppers several weeks ago with pitching coach Steve Foster. He used it four times Thursday and it appears more like his curveball out of his hand, but it's more flat, with late-dropping action and is clearly a work in progress.
“I just need to keep attacking hitters,” Allison said. “Be smart and pitch and not just throw. I'm used to just throwing because in Massachusetts, there aren't really that many great ballplayers, so I was just throwing fastballs and curveballs. When I got here, Coach Foster helped me out with a changeup and it's been pretty good for the most part. I didn't throw it too much tonight, but I'll be working on that a lot.”
Work Off The Field
There is little doubt of Allison's talent. His fastball topped out at 95 mph in the GCL, and his curveball has always been his out pitch. It was what happened to him off the field that has set him back.
He showed up for spring training five weeks late last year, only staying a short time before going AWOL at the end of April. He had returned home to Peabody and the club placed him on the restricted list where he remained for the entire season.
It was then learned that he failed a Major League Baseball-administered drug test last June, and he admitted an addiction to the prescription painkiller Oxycontin. Finally, in July, he overdosed on heroin.
“I take my life right now one step at a time,” Allison said. “Day by day. Minute by minute. I just deal with situations as a man now. I consider myself a young man who’s just dealing with things as any normal person would deal with (them). I put myself in those situations and I got out of it. But it's just something I'm going to have to deal with for the rest of my life.
“I don't really want (anyone) to look at my story. I want them to look at the present and what's going to happen in the future and how I'm performing on the field. The things that happened off the field really are not other people's business. It's been in the papers or whatever—it's not a good feeling, but I put myself in those situations. But now it's time to play baseball and that's all I care about.”
Back On The Mound
The Marlins have been extremely patient with Allison and everything that happened off the field. They have let him choose his own path and waited for him to have the desire to come back—to want to come back.
“As far as the Marlins go, they've been real, real supportive of me and what I've been through,” Allison said “They've stood behind me 110 percent. I mean, I'm here. That just goes to show how supportive they really have been and I never doubted them for one second.”
Allison says he just wants to put the past behind him and focus on the days ahead. He feels as though there is a lot to prove—not just to his teammates and himself—but especially to the people back in Peabody.
“I can't wait to prove all the people back home where I live wrong. Because to be honest with you, not too many people like me back home. And that's alright, it doesn't bother me. But proving them wrong is a great feeling and I feel like I took the first step tonight.”