Ignorance plausible for Mejia

I know, you’re tired of hearing about it and don’t buy any player’s excuse. The reality, though, is that Dominican pitcher Jenrry Mejia, who was suspended by MLB for 80 games following a positive drug test Saturday, may have unknowingly taken steroids.

First and foremost, you have to take a minute to try and understand the culture.

I claim no expertise on the Dominican Republic, but if you haven’t been around that baseball culture it’s unfair to jump to conclusions. I had tons of teammates from the DR over my career, but my appreciation and understanding of the culture didn’t happen until I spent two winters playing baseball there in 2011 and 2012. I loved my time there and loved learning about the country.

I had heard of B-12 before, but I never used it. I had heard of injectable forms of common anti-inflammatories like Voltaren and other NSAIDs, but had only periodically taken them in prescribed pill form over the course of my career.  All that changed in the DR.

In winter ball, it’s very easy to get access to these items at any pharmacy or even from the team’s trainer. I was 37 my first year there and was trying to make an improbable comeback from a re-torn rotator cuff without surgery. I was reinventing myself as a side-armer. The last pitch I threw in a real game was 14 months prior in Korea, so I was up for anything.

I had seen some other American teammates getting “a shot” and inquired about it. My interest was piqued. I had just been up or in a game for four straight days, I was dragging, and the time was right.

I had no idea what the protocol was. It was like your first time at Starbucks, I was ignorant to the menu and overwhelmed. I studied German in school and know a little Japanese, but my Spanish is near nil. It turned into a game of charades but the message was received, “one please.”

One injection in the backside. It hurt for a second, but I was off the trainer’s table in less than a minute. Thirty minutes later I was a new man. My body and arm felt like they were 25 again. This couldn’t be possible. Where has this been all my life? I was hooked.

There is nothing illegal about what happened here. I took a combination of B-12 and Voltaren and there was no reason for me to believe otherwise. Sure, I was at the discretion of my trainer, but so many other guys had done it in that same training room, it was probably safe.

As a newbie, I had a lot of questions. Teammates would tell me about other B-12 available in the DR. I was told about better, stronger and more expensive brands. I heard the “red one” was really good, but about $10 a vial at a pharmacy. The stuff in the training room was less than $3.

What really caught my attention, though, was a story another teammate told me.

I was explaining my new found love for B-12 and injections to a teammate still currently playing in the major leagues. He showed me something in his locker. It was a glass ball a bit smaller than a baseball, with a cork stopper on the top. Inside was a black liquid. It almost looked like flat Coca-Cola, only thicker, and he was caressing it like it was the Holy Grail.

“This stuff papi, is the best!”

It was explained to me that he used this mixture 2-3 times during the season for a duration of 10-12 days at a time. It was an injection every other day for a little more than a week. It got him through the season feeling young and strong. Was I interested? Absolutely.

I had to know, “How much is it?”

“I paid $500.”

A little steep for my taste, but I was still curious.

“What’s in it?”

“I’m not really sure.”

What?!? This guy was in the big leagues, had been in the big leagues for a while and was taking a mystery injection. He knew it was B-12 based, but was unsure what else it contained.

“I’m not going to lie to you. The first time I was (drug) tested after taking this stuff I was pretty nervous. I didn’t sleep at all. I never tested positive so then I knew it was safe.”

You’re probably thinking the same thing I was thinking. You’re a big leaguer, an established big leaguer, who is making good money. How does the risk versus reward add up here? There had to be a better way to find out what was in this mix and whether or not you would test positive before actually being tested.

Nevertheless, it was clean. Lucky for him.

Not all guys are so lucky, as we have seen. In talking to people recently in the DR, there is a great concern for what is happening these days.

Personal trainers are everywhere. Players will hire them and the reliance to provide injectable legal drugs falls on them. The problem and concern is the experience level of these guys. They get their B-12, maybe something like the black liquid-filled glass ball versions, and no one is exactly sure what’s in them. A player trusts his trainer, which ultimately could be his downfall.

Sometimes the player knows what’s in the vial; sometimes they do not. The cases of Winstrol (Stanozolol) being in B-12 vials has become a recent cause for concern.

I watched a teammate do it and I followed along. The same can happen away from the field. Ultimately yes, the player is responsible, but don’t be so quick to judge or make fun of a player when he tells us he didn’t know, especially from a country like the Dominican Republic.

Although he must be held accountable for the results, he very well may not have known.