Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MiLB LIFE: Drug Testing

Over the past decade, baseball has become a dirty, corrupt game in the eyes of the public. So many of the game's superstars have now been associated with some type of steroid story that the average fan can't help but wonder if any of their favorite Big Leaguers are clean. Bonds, A-Rod, Manny, Clemens- the list goes on an on. The steroid era re-defined baseball. Guys were bigger, pitchers threw harder, home runs went further, runners were faster- makes me feel sorry for the poor bastards who resisted the temptation and did the right thing- assuming there were any, of course.

But Minor League Baseball is now doing their part to clean up the game- 365 days a year. 

In season, drug testing crews will show up unannounced during games and set up shop in both the home and visiting clubhouses. Gone are the days when the team trainer would be tipped off weeks in advance as to when the next drug test was, allowing him to warn the troops. No one ever knows when or where they'll strike next- their confidentiality is matched only by the CIA.

After the game, you walk into the clubhouse and their tables are all set up. You fill out what is no doubt an extremely unnecessary pile of paperwork, you grab a little plastic container, and then, well, you do your best to fill it- but not alone of course. That'd be too easy and not awkward enough- instead you head into the nearest stall with your new pal: a total stranger who's been assigned to closely watch you as you go to the bathroom. 'Pull your shirt up and your pants down.' Awesome.

Pull my shirt up? Ohh, so you can catch all those guys who play every game with a tube attached to a pouch of clean urine hidden under their uniform in case the drug testing people show up. Smart.

There's no reprieve from these PED sticklers in the off-season, either. Just last month I got a call giving me 24-hour notice of an off-season drug test that would be conducted at my house. But what if I wasn't home? What if I was on vacation? Oh that's easy- it would count as a failed test and I'd be suspended 50 games, no questions asked.

It is up to every minor league player to update the proper authorities on his whereabouts at all times. Whether you're going away for the weekend or traveling in Europe for a month, MiLB's drug testers need to know where to find you. I've heard stories of guys flying home from vacations in a mad rush to get to their house within the 24-hour deadline simply because that's where Minor League Baseball thought they would be- what a buzz kill that must have been: "Hunny, I know we're supposed to get married tomorrow but I have to book a flight home and be back at our house by noon so I can pee in a cup for a stranger. Rain check?"

As invasive as it has proven to be, I applaud MiLB's effort to clean up the game. I feel sorry for those clean guys who have been lumped into the steroid era. It's gotten to the point where I pretty much just assume that every player in the late 90's and early 2000's was on the juice- it's not fair, but the majority of them were and it's just easier than speculating and comparing evidence. It's time for the common assumption to be that every player is clean, and if it means peeing in front of an audience, then so be it.
*The following story is a recount of my latest drug test. The language is G-rated but there are urine references that some may find gross- grow up.

In my most recent test, I had some difficulty 'supplying the goods', if you catch my drift. I had heard of other guys having trouble or getting stage fright, but I had never had a problem producing in the past. I managed to will my way to about half a cup full, but that was it- it was early in the morning and I simply had no fluids left in me. Al, my spotter that I had met 3 minutes earlier, seemed disappointed- I had let him down. The next 45 minutes were spent chugging gallons of water, listening to the sound of a running faucet and a flushing toilet, and even walking outside for some fresh air- all done with my sample in hand and with Al by my side. After going back into the bathroom four more times, I finally reached that impossible target- the little red line that sits about three-quarters of the way up the cup. Al and I rejoiced and undoubtedly would have high-fived had it been a less ridiculous setting.

After the paperwork is finished and the crew leaves, you hope to not hear from them for a long, long time. In the world of drug testing, 'No news is good news.'

*Unlike the MLB, Minor League Baseball has also started testing for HGH, which calls for a blood sample. I have not experienced a blood test yet and I'm not sure how those will be implemented, but I am deathly afraid of needles so I'm really looking forward to it.

MiLB LIFE Series
Being the New Guy
Fat Camp
My First Call-Up
A Typical Game Day [Part One]
A Typical Game Day [Part Two]
Being the 'K-Man'
A Taste of the Minor League Off-Season
New Helmets Issued, Players Respond: "Are You Joking?"
The Fines of Kangaroo Court
Kangaroo Court


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