Baseball Press Endures a Tense Spring

The beginning of baseball's spring training has been overshadowed by much-publicized allegations and admissions of the use of performance-enhancing drugs. As a result, the atmosphere between players and the media is considerably more tense.

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The Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins and Colorado Rockies begin full-team workouts today at spring training. They're the last three teams to start, meaning now everyone will be in Florida or Arizona preparing for the regular season, including players named in the Mitchell Report on doping in baseball. Maybe that should be dopes in baseball.

This off-season has been dominated by news about the report that has chronicled baseball's so-called steroids era. It's making life uncomfortable for some players as they start what should be a warm and enjoyable spring training.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: They came to Florida and Arizona wanting to hear those sweet spring-training questions from reporters: Is this the year you guys finally win it all? How will that big trade in the off-season help the team? But for many of the nearly 90 players named in the Mitchell Report, players who used, bought or possessed banned performance-enhancing drugs like steroids and human growth hormone, they arrived knowing what the first questions would be like.

Unidentified Man #1: Considering that it is illegal, do you consider yourself a cheater?

GOLDMAN: Talk about taking the spring out of spring training, but these men are professionals, even if they doped, and so they dutifully answered the questions, some more dutifully than others.

At the feel-good end of the spectrum, New York Yankees' Pitcher Andy Pettitte charmed the press corps when he arrived at camp in Tampa. He sounded honest and forthright about using human growth hormone.

Mr. ANDY PETTITTE (Pitcher, New York Yankees): Was it stupid? Yeah, it was stupid. Was I desperate? Yeah, I was probably desperate. I wish I never would've done it, obviously, but I don't consider myself a cheater, no.

GOLDMAN: To the southeast, in Fort Lauderdale, the Baltimore Orioles' Jay Gibbons also met his interrogators head-on.

Mr. JAY GIBBONS (Right Fielder, Baltimore Orioles): I've asked my friends and family for forgiveness, and you know, I put them through a tough time, embarrassing time.

GOLDMAN: Gibbons has been suspended for the first 15 days of the regular season. He received a shipment of human growth hormone after the drug was banned by baseball in 2005. I took a shortcut, and I'm paying the price, he said. In an interview with Baltimore TV station WBAL this week, Gibbons said it may be tough for fans to forgive him.

Mr. GIBBONS: We'll see. I think only time will tell, and all I can do is go out there and work hard and try to play good baseball.

GOLDMAN: Which is just what Miguel Tejada wants to do as he begins his first spring training with the Houston Astros, but drugs come before baseball at this spring training, and the crowd around Tejada's locker in Kissimmee, Florida wanted to know about his inclusion in the Mitchell Report and the federal probe into whether he lied about banned drug use. Happily for Tejada, that federal investigation really did prevent him from baring his soul.

Unidentified Man #2: Miguel, how concerned are you about the Justice Department's investigation?

Mr. MIGUEL TEJADA (Professional Baseball Player, Houston Astros): I mean, I don't - I can't really talk about that because it's not my position to talk about that since, you know, right now my mind is really focused on just playing baseball.

GOLDMAN: If it were his position to talk, Tejada might enlighten many about the doping situation in his native Dominican Republic. According to Sports Illustrated, the island where around 40 percent of the people live in poverty produced nearly 12 percent of major league players on last year's opening-day rosters and one-third of the positive drug tests in the major and minor leagues in 2007. But Tejada couldn't talk in Kissimmee, as opposed to pitcher Eric Gagne, who wouldn't talk in Phoenix.

Mr. ERIC GAGNE (Pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers): I think that's just the destruction, that shouldn't be taking place, and I'm just here to help the Milwaukee Brewers to get to the World Series and get to the playoffs, and that's all I really care about.

GOLDMAN: He said nothing about his buying human growth hormone as mentioned in the Mitchell Report. In fact, nothing about the report, at least in English. Speaking to French-Canadian journalists, Gagne, born in Canada, said this:

Mr. GAGNE: (Speaking foreign language).

GOLDMAN: According to the New York Times, what Gagne said was I don't want to look back. The Mitchell Report did that, and it wasn't fun.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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