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Why baseball players take steroids- and lie about it

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You're a nine-year old from a small Dominican village, a one-light town in South Alabama, a gang-ridden apartment project in Inglewood, Cal. Or maybe you're from a 14,000-population town in Ohio where the main employer has just left.

You may glimpsed the wealthy- on the hill outside the town,driving into country clubs where your aunt works.

Then, you try out for the local baseball or track team. You were always faster than your friends or older brothers. Now, it shows. Wearing your first glove, you're able to catch any ball hit in your vicinity. With a swing of the bat, you're able to hit that same ball farther than any other kid.

Soon, you are told that your talent will be your ticket out. Maybe to that mansion on a hill, but in a nicer place. Maybe that capital city you once visited while on a school trip- that city where people eat, love, and live so fine.

As you progress throughout your teenage years, your raw skills are crafted and honed. Scouts and recruiters notice you. When it comes time, you sign a bonus for an amount of money you could never conceive of before.

Now, you are signed. You get sent to a tiny minor league town where the customs and language are different than your own. The organization who inks you says that you should work hard, listen to your managers and coaches, stay fit. If you do well, you will be promoted to a higher minor league level- and perhaps if you are really special, to the big show.

But there are some stumbling blocks along the way. You've never seen curveballs that break like this. Many of your teammates and opponents have skills at a similar level to your own. You've had one hit in your last eight at bats. The manager is a bit less friendly.

Then, your team's equipment manager takes you aside. He knows this guy who has a potion that might give your body's reflexes the edge against that curveball. That will keep you up and alert during those long roadtrip drives in that fourth-generation old converted Greyhound with the busted air.

You do not want to go back where you came from. Your family, your woman back home - how will you face them if you are dropped?

So you start using. Most of your teammates do as well. But with the playing field equalled, your natural skills shine and you get promoted. Again and again. Three years on, you are in Triple-A, the highest minor league rung below the majors.

Three years on, and you get a call to your manager's office. The big team has called you up.

Two days later, as your plane lands in the major league city, your team sends a chauffeured limousine to pick you up on the tarmac. You have arrived. You get on your cell and call your honey back home.

Your first night with the team, you dine on the finest steaks. You run into a former teammate you knew back in the lower minors. Then a few days later, comes your first plate appearance. The fastball cuts the corner and you're out, lookin.' Your first throw from third, the baserunner from hell beats out your best throw.

Then as you show up at the ballpark the next afternoon, the equipment manager takes you aside. "Call this guy," he says. "He works with a lot of athletes."

What the guy sells to you seems to make a difference. You now are able to react to that fastball, throw out the runner from third.

Then, someone from the Commissioner's office comes by and shows you a film all about the dangers of steroids. Some 45 year-old ex ballplayer you've never heard of is shown all crippled and struggling for breath. He blames it all on steroids.

But you are young, and 22,and are about to become very, very rich. So when the manager asks,or the league asks, or the reporter asks, or even the Congressman asks, you are going to say, "no sir, I've never used steroids."

Why do you lie?

Because you cannot go back to the place where the roaches laugh at insecticide, where the abandoned mill's smokestack has shed more bricks, and the kid who grew up in the mansion on the hill seems to be above the law.

You worked too hard to get here.

So you say to yourself, "don't tell me about 'lying' and 'cheating.' Ever since I was nine years old, and I learned I have God-given talent I've worked hard to get here. And every day, across the pitcher's mound, I face guys whose only job is to make me f-up. To see me fail.

"And I can't fail. I ain't goin' back."