Close Up: Baseball community pushing for clean athletes after another black eye on the sport

Close Up: Baseball community pushing for clean athletes after another black eye on the sport

Drafted by Cincinnati, a Kelowna baseball player on the struggles of staying clean in a sport known for cheats

  • Aug. 11, 2013 7:00 a.m.

Morgan Lofstrom doesn’t remember a time before Major League Baseball was embroiled in one performance enhancing drug (PED) scandal or another.

The use of PEDs such as steroids in baseball dates back to the late 1980s when—according to the web site baseballssteroidera.com—the Washington Post was the first to report on the use of steroids in baseball.

As Jose Canseco was about to be named Major League Baseball’s Most Valuable Player, the Post reported that he was “the most conspicuous example of a player that had made himself great with steroids.”

That was 1988 and the now 17-year-old Lofstrom, a West Kelowna native drafted this year by the MLB’s Cincinnati Reds, wasn’t close to being born.

By 2003 MLB had instituted drug testing and close to seven per cent of players tested failed the initial tests. Well known players were admitting to steroid use and over the years performance enhancing drugs have never really gone away from the sport known as America’s pastime.

So when MLB announced more sanctions for drug cheats this summer, including an unprecedented 200-plus game suspension for the game’s highest-paid player Alex Rodriguez, it was just another in a long and disappointing fall from grace for the beleaguered sport.

For Lofstrom, a lanky catcher and pitcher who will report to the Cincinnati Reds instructional league team in September, it was disappointing but nothing he hadn’t heard before.

“It’s kind of surprising to see how many guys still want to cheat and thrive off the PEDs,” said Lofstrom in an interview with the Capital News. “But it’s cheating. It’s disappointing to see. Even people who don’t watch baseball; all they know is the guys who did steroids. Baseball just doesn’t have the greatest rep right now. It’s good that they are starting to crack down and get the game clean.”

So while baseball attempts yet another crackdown on drug cheats, young baseball players like Lofstrom are left to rely on themselves, their families, coaches and other supporters to try and make it to the field of dreams the right way, as a clean athlete.

Especially when 10 or 20 extra pounds of muscle—hard to come by for some—can give you an advantage.

“I’m not the biggest guy or the smallest guy but I can tell by putting on a few pounds you can hit that much further and throw better,” said Lofstrom. “I’m working out constantly, just trying to get better and just knowing that I am doing it the right way and knowing that I am clean and don’t have to cheat to become the best baseball player I can be. I want to show people and prove to people that (my success) is not because of steroids but it’s because of talent and hard work.”

Lofstrom says he knows young people who have taken steroids in Kelowna as they try to get bigger and stronger in their chosen sport. As a young, elite athlete, Lofstrom has taken supplements to help his workouts but since being involved with Team Canada’s baseball team, he has followed their list of approved supplements. This fall Lofstrom will attend the World Under-18 Baseball Championships in Taiwan and he has been served notice that random drug testing will be held.

Watching what supplements he takes, drug testing and talk of PEDs will become more of a fact of life for the up and coming baseball player as he enters Cincinnati’s farm system this fall. With millions of dollars as the carrot dangling ahead of him, Lofstrom says he will remain focussed on doing things the right way.

“It’s not tempting because I know the side-effects and I wouldn’t want to cheat the game just because I want to make millions of dollars,” he said. “I want to keep the game clean and see where my talent takes me.”

•••

Geoff White has been around the Kelowna baseball scene for a long time. A former junior college player, White moved into coaching after his playing days were over, teaching the game at virtually every level of baseball in Kelowna including kids of all ages at his popular baseball camps.

A left-handed pitcher as a player, White had a taste of minor pro ball before retiring and becoming a father in Kelowna. Now he works with up and coming baseball players, passing along his love of the game and teaching a sport built on fundamentals.

He says baseball has been dealing with the issue of PEDs for so long that it’s tainted the way people view the sport and cast a wide net of suspicion on clean baseball players.

“It’s another black eye for baseball,” said White, who this weekend will close the book on his first year coaching with the Kelowna Falcons and will soon turn the page to the Okanagan College Coyotes baseball team. “It’s something that has been around the game for the last while and there is so much focus on it now that any of the players that have done well, people are questioning whether they had done PEDs. Some of these guys are clean and doing well but people question them.”

When White welcomes players on the Okanagan College baseball team for the sixth season this September, some of his introduction will be about PEDs as discussion about performance enhancing drugs has become a vital part of the Coyotes’ program, a program that has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drugs.

“We try to educate the guys about making the right choices,” said White. “This is something that can affect your life significantly health-wise. You hear about guys having all sorts of health problems. It’s not the right decision. We tell our guys that if they dedicate themselves in the weight room and eat well they shouldn’t have to do that.”

Lifting weights and gaining strength has become a huge part of the process of developing as an athlete. Athletes in every sport are working out harder, getting bigger and stronger as they look to get an advantage. Searching for that advantage is also what turns some to PEDs.

“The weight room is a huge part of our program,” said White. “Some of these kids come in and might have done a little weight-lifting but not the amount we want them to. A lot of these kids are at the same level but it’s strength that is the difference maker. If they can stick a needle in their ass and all of the sudden they’re throwing 90 (miles per hour) it’s tempting. And if it means hundreds of thousands of dollars…it might tempt you. But it’s not the right decision. Ultimately coaching nowadays, especially at the college level, you’re not just coaching baseball. You’re coaching good life decisions, making the right choices and being a good person.”

•••

So as baseball struggles through another drug scandal, baseball players young and old who are having success are being put under the microscope for all the wrong reasons. A player has a break-out year and the tongue-in-cheek response is he must have been juicing. It’s something young players will have to fight through in this modern era of sport.

“It sucks knowing that whenever someone succeeds like (Toronto slugger) Jose Bautista everyone automatically thinks he is on steroids. For me it’s disheartening if somehow I put on a bunch of weight and hit the ball harder and people just thought I was doing steroids,” said Lofstrom, who added there are still plenty of good role models in the sport. “Most of the guys I idolize are guys that play the game the right way. They wouldn’t cheat the game. They play hard and they play fair.”

And that’s the way it should be.

Kelowna Capital News