Lee: The scouts all staring at their radar guns.
Niz: Kid was a warrior.
Lee: Between the lines, yeah.
even ed nizwantowski, the insider's insider in Peabody, did not know that his star pitcher was getting high on the prescription opiate OxyContin, an intensely powerful painkiller five times stronger than the more commonly prescribed Vicodin, all through his senior baseball season. Jeff Allison was striking out two batters per inning. He was allowing nothing--no earned runs--game after game. Scouts were saying he'd be a top 10 pick in the major leagues' June 2003 amateur draft. Agents were circling. College coaches were praying, but they had no chance.
Jeff Allison was in Baseball America all the time, the best high school pitcher in the country. The talk was that his signing bonus would be well north of $2 million, that he'd be in the majors in a couple-three years, that he'd make everyone forget about Jeff Juden, a first-round pick out of Salem High in '89, whose big league pitching career turned out to be a series of dashed hopes. Jeff Allison was going to come out of Peabody, out of the little rental house on the dead-end street he shared with his mother and sister, and make Peabody famous and proud again. How could he be a doper?
Coach Niz thought he knew what to look for. He was an expert on the subject, to tell you the truth. In Peabody nobody confused OC with a Thursday night teen drama on Fox. The town was rife with the drug. One of Nizwantowski's former football players, a suspected OxyContin user, had died of a heroin overdose. Another former Tanners football player had been arrested for murder in an incident involving an OC stash and is awaiting trial. The starting second baseman on Allison's team, the son of the school superintendent in Salem, had recently gone through a drug rehab program for OxyContin addiction. (Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh has done the same.) An outstanding former Tanners placekicker went through college getting stoned on OxyContin three times a day, then went through hell to get straight, and the only way he gets by now is that one-day-at-a-time mantra.
then there's Brad Nizwantowski, the middle child of the three Niz kids, graced with athletic skill, as likable as his father is charismatic, as chatty as his mom. Hockey got him to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. OxyContin addiction, and the desperate rage it fueled, got him to the Hampshire County House of Correction.
Like his father before him, Brad Nizwantowski excelled at baseball, football and hockey. His parents sent him to a nearby boarding school, Cushing Academy, because they feared that had he gone to Peabody High, other parents and athletes might harass Coach Niz about giving preferential treatment to his son. At Cushing, Brad was a captain of the baseball, football and hockey teams. He started using OxyContin regularly in his sophomore year at UMass, where he was on a hockey scholarship.
His college days came to an end in December 2001, during his junior year, when Brad, strung out and depressed, talked his way into the apartment of an old girlfriend, locked the woman and himself in her bedroom, pointed a kitchen knife to his stomach and yelled repeatedly, "I'm gonna kill myself!" He was arrested by Amherst police and convicted, in February 2003, of kidnapping and assault with a dangerous weapon. He spent six months of a one-year sentence in the Hampshire jail and is now out on probation. Any failed drug test could send him back to jail. His parents live in fear of that possibility.