Sunday Notes: Player X on PEDs

Anthony Seratelli graduated from Seton Hall in May 2005 and didn’t play baseball again until May 2006. The year off wasn’t by choice. The New Jersey native was bypassed in the amateur draft. He went to numerous open tryouts looking for an opportunity. He drove to Philadelphia, he flew to Chicago and Minnesota. No teams were interested in his services.

Seratelli is now 31 years old and in camp with the New York Mets. He has a legitimate shot of making the team as a utility infielder.

His professional journey started with the Windy City Thunderbolts of the independent Frontier League. It wasn’t organized ball, but Seratelli was living his dream.

“After college, it was never ‘I have to get a job,’ said Seratelli. “My interest was baseball. Once I finally signed, I kept that locked in my mind. I was going to play indie ball that year and see what happened. If it didn’t work out, then I’d think about a real job. I wasn’t worried about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was playing baseball.”

He wasn‘t living the high life. Seratelli’s salary in the Frontier League was $600 a month. He and his teammates stayed in cheap hotels and rode a lot of buses. Some of the fields they played on were as sketchy as their futures. Indie ball is a revolving door. Seratelli was one of only two players who spent the entire season with the Thunderbolts. He considered that a huge accomplishment.

His big break came the following year when the Kansas City Royals signed him out of another open tryout. He almost didn’t take advantage. Seratelli, by his own admission, played poorly in spring training. He failed to make a full-season team.

“I was 24 years old and in extended [spring training],” said Seratelli. “Outside of anyone there for rehab, I was by far the oldest guy. I was hanging out with Salvador Perez, who was 16 years old at the time.

“Salvador spoke just like he does now,” added Seratelli. He sounded like he has marbles in his mouth. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in Surprise, Arizona, so I went to the English classes with all the young Latin guys. I wanted to learn Spanish, and by listening I was able to do that while they were learning English. I’m not fluent, but I learned enough to where I can get by.”

Fortunately for Seratelli’s fledgling career, he’s always had a knack for getting by. It didn’t hurt that he was looking at life with rose-colored glasses.

“I was in affiliated ball for the first time and they were essentially saying, ‘We’re going to keep you around even though you played really bad in spring training,” said Seratelli. They weren’t going to release me. I was ecstatic to be in extended. From there I went to Idaho.

Idaho Falls is where he began to open some eyes. In 72 games for the Royals’ short season affiliate, the switch-hitter batted .327 with a .966 OPS. Along the way, he befriended an impressionable young Moose.

Mike Moustakas was there a little at the end of the year,” explained Seratelli. “He was 18 years old and had just signed as a shortstop. He was this young kid and nervous as hell. I was new to pro ball too, but I was older and more comfortable in the surroundings. He was a high-profile guy who signed for a lot of money, but like everyone else he was just trying to fit in and perform. I taught him what I knew and he used some of his bonus money to buy me pizza.”

Seratelli didn’t receive a bonus when he signed with the Royals. In seven professional seasons he’s never made more than $13,000 a year. Until recently, job security has been at a premium. Versatility and good-enough production carried him through high-A and Double-A. Even his strong seasons at Triple-A, in 2012 and 2013, came with a caveat. He hit .273/.395/.413 last year in Omaha, but did he so as a 30-year-old.

“Every year I’ve had to go in and compete for a job,” said Seratelli, who signed with the Mets in the offseason. “It was always in the back of my mind that I could be released. But it isn’t a scary thing. I‘m just going to keep playing until someone tells me I don‘t have a job any more, and no one will give me a job. The jersey hasn’t been torn off my back yet.”

Seratelli is guaranteed to have one on his back this season. Against what were once long odds, it may well be a New York Mets jersey.

——

Eddie Gamboa is a realist. The 29-year-old Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect looked in the mirror and saw a career going nowhere. He needed a Plan B. Fortunately, he had one in his back pocket. A knuckleball.

“There was nothing that wowed you about me,” admitted Gamboa. “I was a 6-foot-1 righty who threw 88-92. I was getting sandwiched in the minor leagues, doing well enough to keep a job but not well enough to move up. I was in Double-A for four years. We had signed a knuckleballer as a minor league free agent — Zach Staniewicz — so I thought, “Why don’t I give that a shot?”

It wasn’t a new pitch for Gamboa. The University of California Davis product hadn’t thrown one in a professional game, but it was a familiar toy.

“I learned a knuckleball at the age of 12,” explained Gamboa. “I used to watch Tom Candiotti and have played around with it ever since. Growing up, I always thought it was fun to make my best friends drop the ball, or I’d hit them in the chest. I’d toy around with it like that. Did I ever imagine I’d use it as my primary pitch? Absolutely not. But here I am.”

The Orioles had hired Phil Niekro to work with Staniewicz, so Gamboa approached the Hall of Famer and let him know he threw one as well. A few tutoring lessons later, it was a part of his arsenal. He unveiled his knuckleball March 15 of last year in a spring training game, and continued to use it throughout the minor league season.

Gamboa doesn’t rely exclusively on the pitch. At least not yet, and he’s not sure he ever will.

“I’m not like R.A. Dickey or Tim Wakefield,” said Gamboa. “I haven’t been throwing it 80 percent of the time. I’m mixing it in, maybe 50 percent of the time, with the my conventional stuff. That’s kind of what I did last year [in Double-A and Triple-A]. It was an experiment of going back and forth. Am I knuckleballer or am I not? Is it my primary pitch?”

Gamboa relied heavily on the knuckleball during winter ball, and the goal in spring training is to find the right ratio. The Orioles would like to see a complete transformation, in part because hitters can read the difference between a knuckleball delivery and a fastball delivery. The right-hander isn’t overly concerned.

“Giving it away doesn’t scare me too much,” said Gamboa. “If my catcher is going to have a hard time catching it, the hitter is going to have a hard time hitting it. I also have faith in my conventional stuff. And it’s not like I’m only throwing a knuckleball and a fastball. I also have a slider and a changeup. I’m able to go after hitters with four pitches.”

Much as the knuckleball was his Plan B, Gamboa views his conventional offerings as a good backup plan for when his butterfly isn’t dancing.

“It’s a very difficult pitch to throw,” explained Gamboa. “There will be days I can control it and there are going to be days I don’t know where it’s going. The movement is there, it’s just a matter of consistency and being able to control it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to command it. Commanding the strike zone with a knuckleball is tough. But I was 91-92 [with the fastball] last time out, and I can command that pretty well. It doesn’t hurt to have an Uzi.”

I asked Gamboa if the Uzi is his fastball or his knuckleball.

“Strike one is my Uzi. If I get ahead and hitters have to worry about my knuckleball, I have them right where I want them.”

——

Gary Hughes is legendary within scouting circles. A member of the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame, he was named by Baseball America as one of the top 10 scouts of the 20th century. He has signed countless players.

Hughes was the scouting director for the Montreal Expos when they took Cliff Floyd with the 14th overall pick of the 1991 draft. Floyd went on to play 17 seasons, hitting .278/.358/.482, with 233 home runs.

I recently asked Hughes about notable near misses in his illustrious career. He brought up the Floyd selection, albeit not as a regret.

Manny Ramirez was taken one pick ahead of us [by the Indians] when I was with Montreal,” said Hughes. “We took Cliff Floyd. Had Manny still been there, we still would have taken Floyd.

“Another time I had a card out to take a guy and the California Angels took him right in front of us. When it was my turn, I got on and said ‘Failing to land Tim Salmon, the Montreal Expos take Ron Krause.’ Salmon played for a long time and had a very good career. Nobody has ever heard of Krause.

“As for Floyd, we had a better look at him than we did Manny. Manny was playing in inner-city New York. I saw him play in some leagues there. Pretty good bat, obviously. That’s an understatement. Cliff was a better athlete, a big kid with power. Everybody was talking about how he reminded them of Darryl Strawberry. I said ‘Strawberry nothing; he reminds me of Willie McCovey.’

“Our scout in Chicago was all over Floyd. His dad — who has since passed away — actually ended up doing some scouting for us. Very nice family. We locked onto Floyd during the season. Our national cross checker, Orrin Freeman, who is still with the Marlins, said ’Make sure you see this guy, because he‘s outstanding.’ When they tell you to make sure to see a guy, you do.”

——

The player telling the following stories will remain anonymous, for obvious reasons. He is no longer playing professional baseball, and what he shares comes from his time in the minor leagues. He isn’t proud of his actions, but he is also far from unique. It is well-known that baseball has had issues with performance enhancing drugs and substance abuse. For Player X and many others, the ride through the minors involved pharmaceuticals.

Player X: “I was never an angel when it came to the drug policy. Androstendione was legal at the time. I used Winstrol after coming off rotator cuff surgery. The benefits were amazing. The physical gains of steroids are a given, but what I didn’t expect were the mental gains. The confidence boost the added testosterone gave me was exponential. I went from “I hope they don’t hit this pitch” to “Try and hit this, mother_____”. All of a sudden the negative thoughts and self doubt were replaced by supreme confidence.

“On Winstrol, I could long toss further and further every day. I could pitch back-to-back-to-back games with no fatigue whatsoever. My arm and shoulder grew stronger and stronger until I felt like I was myself again. A killer instinct came back and it was amazing. Yes, there was always the nauseous feeling of having the steroids in my system the fear of testing positive.

“I never really thought of steroids as an issue. I have shot up guys who were afraid of needles and afraid to ask trainers to do so. I never thought we were doing anything wrong. It was just a given. I never once thought others using took away from my performance on the field. I saw it as just trying to get an edge and the big paycheck.

“Amphetamines are, and always have a been, a huge part of the game. I have always used some type of “upper.” It starts with diet pills, Xenadrine or anything Fat Burner from GNC-type stores. It wasn’t until my second year that the word “greenie” was introduced. These were diet pills from Mexico called Asenlix — half green and half white pills filled with a white powder. You could ingest them regularly or split them open and dump them into coffee. Just like cocaine, the powder made your tongue numb. Players would make two pots of coffee, one with greenies, one without. This stuff got you going. Hangovers? Gone. Aches and Pains? Gone. A little tired? Amped up. They weren’t easy to get. You had to wait for your Latino friends to go back to Mexico and grab them.

“The next step would be to get an Adderall or another ADD medication. Legal amphetamine prescriptions are how I circumvented drug testing. Now I had a “medical issue” which required Adderall. When I stood on the mound while on Adderall, everything faded away except for the catcher’s mitt. No crowd noise, no distractions. It was almost like being in the Matrix. Although you were sped up, everything slowed down.

“With any amphetamine there is a vicious cycle. After the game you can’t decompress, so you head to the bar to bring yourself down. The next day you have to bring yourself back up. It takes its toll on your body. We had a coach that came from an era where this stuff was even more abused, the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. His philosophy was that if you weren’t “beaned up’ you were either a pussy or didn’t care about getting better. In actuality, this guy was the best coach I ever played for, just a bit misguided. You could probably assume 50% of the guys in the clubhouse took something along these lines to get going.

“I wasn’t much of a recreational drug user, but one night I was out with some people and did cocaine. By 7 a.m. I’d had my fair share and needed to get to the ballpark. I remember telling some teammates I could trust what I did and they proceeded to be my babysitters all through practice and into the game. I felt like the biggest bag of shit. I could barely talk, move, or even think. I never wore sunglasses but I did that day. I fell asleep in the dugout multiple times and probably dumped 25 bottles of water over my head just to snap out of it. Late in the game they called me to warm up. I went to the bullpen and proceed to throw three balls and said that’s it. I needed to conserve whatever energy I had. I went into the game and told the catcher I’d be throwing fastballs only. I went 3-2 on three consecutive batters and induced three pop flies. We had a day off the next day and I slept two days straight. I never did that again.”

——

A reminder that the SABR Analytics Conference takes place later this week in Phoenix. It runs Thursday through Saturday and the list of participants is as good as it gets. Dave Cameron, Bill Petti and Jeff Zinmerman are among the presenters and panelists. So are Manny Acta, Mark Attanasio, Brian Bannister, Bobby Evans, Bill Geivett, Vince Gennaro and Jack Zduriencik. For a complete list, and more information on the conference, click here.



Print This Post



David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
frivoflava29
Member
frivoflava29

Last story in particular is ultra revealing, I don’t even care to speculate on how who the player is as much as I appreciate the perspective. Great piece thank you!

jdbolick
Member
Member

Yeah, this was so much better than the meaningless fodder I was expecting from the title. Wow.

piratesbreak500
Guest
piratesbreak500

Awesome piece.

Balthazar
Guest

All of these vignettes were outstanding, David. ‘Tales from the Sports Blotter’ or whatever you chose to call it would be a regular read for me if it was a regular feature.

Eddie Gamboa’s story is really interesting. Tales from the toilers really put context to all of the excess of love-crush for a few physical freaks at the apex of the sport. Some guys give it there all, but have to find an angle to get to the Show.

I completely appreciate Player X’s candor. Quite fascinating to hear how he saw it from the inside. . . . It sounds just like what I’d expected, actually, but I don’t know any pro players so I was just guessing. And the stuff really DOES enhance, for most folks. No maybes. It’s a very utilitarian decision to use, judging by what he says, but interesting to hear him say too he never was at ease with it. Living a lie does have a cost.

gus-bus
Guest
gus-bus

Small quibble. I too appreciate the interviews and enjoyed Player X’s perspective, but I don’t think you can call it “candor”, exactly, if you are using a pseudonym.

wpDiscuz