After the arrest and before the trial Brad was home in Peabody, and the full extent of his drug addiction became obvious. The father and son battled constantly. The tension between Patty and her husband over what went wrong, and why, hung over their every meal. Each could see lines of despair in the other's face. (Ironically, when Coach Niz was prescribed OxyContin after major back surgery in December of '01--he was left with a dozen metal rods and plates in his back--the innocent-looking green pills hung in a small plastic bottle around his neck like a stopwatch.) Trying to help their middle child (their oldest, Paul, is a custodian at Peabody High), Niz and Patty have twice remortgaged their house and have spent $45,000 on lawyers, psychologists, therapists, doctors and antidepressants. Until he went to jail, the kid had been getting high daily, often stealing from his parents to pay for drugs. He was unable to stop himself. The things Brad once loved, hockey, baseball, football, his family, now meant nothing to him.
Brad, when he's straight, is a pleasure. (He's been off OC for eight months now; his craving for the drug has been eliminated by a Naltrexone pellet inserted under the skin in his right arm. (His parents pay $400 every eight weeks for a new pellet.) But before, when he was lusting for drugs in the middle of the night, he was a wholly different person. One night Coach Niz heard Brad smashing the vinyl siding of the house with a hockey stick. The coach had had enough.
"Get away from this house!" he yelled at his son. He tried to shove Brad off the front doorstep.
"Let me in!" Brad screamed. He swung his hockey stick like a baseball bat and came within a foot of slashing his father's face with the curved blade.
The next day the father had to go out and face Peabody, walk the school's hallways and fields as he always had, with his 1960s jock's strut, as if everything were fine. He was the coach, the gym teacher, a fixture. He had to deal with the scouts and the college coaches calling about Jeff Allison. He had to be Coach Niz. Then he'd come home, and he and Patty would face their broken lives.
the scouts sent to Peabody did not want to find a problem with Jeff Allison. When they heard him be disrespectful to his mother--"I'll come home when I wanna come home!"--they dismissed it. He took the standard fill-in-the-dots Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau psychological test, and it raised no red flags. ( Allison told his teammates the test was "a joke.") The Pittsburgh Pirates, with the eighth pick in 2003, had a doctor test the flexibility and overall health and strength of Allison's pitching arm. He was given an MRI. Allison is tall, strong and lanky. He was not one to lift weights and has almost never thrown more than 100 pitches in a game (although he threw 153 in his final high school pitching appearance, a must-win playoff game). All the test results were off-the-charts good; Allison had one of the most flexible arms the Pirates had ever seen. Word spread around baseball quickly. Only a few of the scouts talked to Coach Niz, and then only briefly. He offered little more than the stock answer: "He's not a bad kid." (That passes for praise in Peabody, where the typical response to "How you doin'?" is "Not too bad.") Had they caught up with him at Champions, they might have learned more, though maybe not. Peabody's not easy on outsiders.
The visiting baseball men saw Allison's cocky, aggressive behavior on the mound and loved it. Only when they saw similar qualities in his father did they get nervous. They heard Bob Allison make noise about his son's going to the University of Arizona, where he had been offered a full scholarship. They wondered if the father might make his son hold out for an outrageously high signing bonus. The number $2.5 million was bandied about. Jeff Allison didn't know it, but his stock was starting to fall.
"He was a difficult kid to get to know," says Charlie Sullivan, the New England amateur scout for the Pirates. "He had a real intense competitiveness, he had that cockiness. But watching the kid interact with his father--there was no happiness there. That made you worry. You try to get to know a kid, his parents, the girlfriend. But with Allison, we couldn't. For the industry not to have known [about Allison's drug problems], well, we all should have done a better job." Other scouts say almost the exact same thing.
noreen allison, Jeff's mother, is often in her small house near downtown Peabody. Brad's mother, Patty, calls her on the phone regularly. Patty Nizwantowski is a schoolteacher with a master's degree. Noreen has been divorced from Jeff's dad for 16 years, and she isn't working now. (In the past she's worked with mentally disabled adults, which kept food on the table and her son in the batting cages.) What the two mothers share is Peabody, sports--and a nervous system jangled by having a drug addict in the house.
"It's not an easy thing to say, 'My son is a drug addict,'" Patty recalls telling Noreen not long ago. It took her years to be able to say it about her own son. A drug addict, in her view, is a drug addict whether he is in recovery, as Brad is, or not.