In his senior year the Peabody Police Department contacted Levine, at Noreen Allison's request, and told him to stop calling the Allison house. The police had heard that the son of the Salem school superintendent and Peabody's most famous ballplayer were using OC, but it was not a priority for them. "We don't counsel kids," one officer says. "We set 'em up and lock 'em up."
While the scouts never suspected Allison of drug use, others did. One day late in Allison's senior year, Bob Russell, a veteran narcotics detective in the Peabody Police Department, received a call from Jeff Berry, an agent at IMG, the sports-marketing firm that represents Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods and hundreds of other well-known athletes. IMG, as well as its rivals, wanted to represent Allison. According to Russell, Berry, who works out of the IMG Baseball Academy in West Bradenton, Fla., had heard from Russell's son, then a tennis teaching pro in Florida, that Allison might have a drug problem. The agent called the detective.
As Russell recalls the conversation, he asked Berry, "If you sign him, can you make money from him?" Yes, the agent said. "Well then I'd sign him quick," Russell said. "Because he's on our list of things to do." (Asked about the phone conversation, Berry would not comment.) Russell had received one anonymous (and unsubstantiated) call saying that Allison had shaken down a kid to get five or six OC pills from him. It was enough for Russell and his fellow detectives to discuss the matter. "We talked about sitting on him," Russell says.
On the mound Allison was not performing as if he had a drug problem. His stuff all through his senior year was electric. The 2003 amateur draft began in the morning on the first Tuesday in June, and it was certain that Allison would go in the first round. From what Allison had heard, the Baltimore Orioles might make him the seventh pick. If that didn't happen, Pittsburgh would make him the eighth pick. In the unlikely event that that didn't happen, the Cleveland Indians would take him at No. 11. That was the word going around. Allison, following the draft on the Internet from home, was extremely annoyed when the Pirates, who had scouted him so intensively, didn't select him. Nor did the Indians. Then, around 1:30 p.m., came an unexpected call: Florida had made Allison the 16th pick. Coach Niz was as surprised as Allison. He couldn't recall having had a single conversation with anyone from the Marlins. No club knew Allison well, but Florida--later named the 2003 Organization of the Year by Baseball America--knew him less than others.
Having fallen to the 16th pick, Allison wasn't going to get anything like a $2.5 million signing bonus. Still, he was looking at a major payday. IMG, the agency that he and his father had selected to represent him, would make sure of that.
Later that day there was a party for Allison at Extra Innings, a vast, spotless batting cage and baseball practice facility near Peabody where Allison had spent days on end as a kid. School officials were there, and so were Allison's family members, teammates and coaches, as well as reporters and TV crews. When Allison spoke to reporters, he predicted that he would make the major league All-Star team "in two or three years." A month later he backed off that claim, saying it had just been the "adrenaline talking." After the party, according to Levine, he and Allison slipped out, went into Levine's car and did a couple of OC rails.
In late june, while IMG and the Marlins were negotiating Allison's signing bonus, team owner Jeffrey Loria invited Allison to watch a Red Sox-- Marlins game with him at Fenway. Allison brought along his father and Jimmy Leon. A few weeks later, on July 22, Allison agreed to a $1.85 million signing bonus. His agent of record was Casey Close, the president of IMG's baseball operations, who personally represents Derek Jeter. Allison reported for work in Jupiter, Fla. He was now a professional baseball player.
And, it seemed to some, pretty full of himself. A team executive recalls driving Allison around the club's training site in Jupiter, where he would be playing for the Marlins' rookie-ball team in the Gulf Coast League. Allison made no effort at conversation and, without asking permission, turned on the radio, found a rap station and started playing the music loudly. The executive said, "What are you doing, man?" Allison was barely that. He was 18 years old and, except for highly supervised amateur baseball trips, away from Peabody for the first time.
But the Marlins were committed to him. Why wouldn't they be? They had unexpectedly signed the best high school pitcher in the country. Wayne Rosenthal, Florida's major league pitching coach, made an unusual pledge, saying that he would be checking on Allison regularly, keeping an eye on him. The Marlins were expecting Allison to blow right through the minor leagues, just as another strong righthander, Josh Beckett, had done for them.
The Marlins wanted Allison to go through a weight-training regimen and expected hard work from him. The adjustments were difficult for Allison. Baseball had always come so easily to him.