There were a few small events in Allison's senior year that didn't help his reputation in professional baseball circles, including a suspension from school for starting a fight. Then came a day in mid-April, when Allison and a group of friends went to Fenway Park to watch a college baseball tournament. A group of pro scouts spotted Allison and approached him. According to two friends who were with him, Allison was stoned. As he talked to the scouts, he kept picking his nose and slurring his words. (Besides slow breathing, fatigue and abnormal pupil size, the OC high makes the user itchy and unaware of what he is doing.)
Still, the scouts chatted as if there were nothing odd. After all, Jeff Allison was the best high school pitcher in the country, and the baseball men just figured he was arrogant and socially inept, a small price to pay for a wicked 84mph curveball.
The following week Allison was scheduled to pitch a Monday game. Two dozen scouts, plus the general manager of the Pirates, were expected to attend. But Nizwantowski benched his star pitcher for skipping the Sunday-afternoon practice the day before. The coach recalled his Monday conversation with his co-captain like this:
Nizwantowski: You know the rule, Jeff. You miss a practice and you don't call, you don't play the next game.
Allison: You better let me play or I'm gonna have my father transfer me right out of here!
( Allison tells SI that that confrontation did not happen, that he accepted his benching. When asked why he missed the Sunday practice, he replies, "It was a rainy day. I thought practice was canceled." In fact, the day was bright, sunny and unusually warm.)
Allison apologized to his teammates for missing the practice. "He loved baseball," says his high school catcher, Brian Garrity. "For him, baseball wasn't about getting to the Show or anything like that. He just loved being on the mound. He was a gamer." Allison's former teammates are consistently generous in their praise of him. Levine says, "Everybody who doesn't know Jeff thinks he's an ahole. Everybody who does thinks he's a great guy."
One day during his senior year, Allison spoke to a Boston TV station about the Red Sox' aversion to drafting high school pitchers. "Normally, drafting high school pitchers is a risky business," he said, "but I don't think I'm a risky business." He wore number 9, the number Ted Williams famously wore for the Red Sox, and he was making a case for himself to the club he had rooted for all his life.
Noreen proudly shows the tape of that interview. She is sitting in her small house with low ceilings, barely high enough to contain her 6'2" son. She is burning incense candles and smoking cigarettes and talking nonstop; she has the look and voice of a woman who has never had an easy day in her life. Jeff isn't home. According to his mother he is at his daily meeting with a drug counselor. "There are a lot of things he doesn't want to talk with me about," she says. Her divorce from Jeff's father was bitter, she says. Jeff resents how involved in his life she has always been, and how he always had to rely on her for rides. Money has always been tight. She says, "Kids today don't have enough to do. I just wish they could have the fun we had."
Joel Levine knows that Noreen Allison thought of him as a bad influence on her son. Levine describes getting stoned with Allison in school and before some practices and games. He describes using a blue plastic hall pass to crush the OC tablet in the second-floor bathroom near the school library. Once, according to Levine, after Allison got high without him, the pitcher whispered to him, "I just did a rail in the bathroom."