Allison was living with other Marlins prospects and minor leaguers in a Fairfield Inn off I95 in Jupiter, in South Florida's flat, chain-store sprawl, which was nothing like Peabody, with its neighborhoods and tight quarters and corner bars. At night Allison hung out with another young pitcher, Greg Bartlett. Bartlett was Allison's opposite. He was a native Californian and the Marlins' 28thround draft pick out of Phoenix College and had signed for a pittance. Bartlett was nearly two years older than Allison, socially adept and comfortable around adults. But the two pitchers, the ornery one and the mellow one, bonded. Together, Bartlett and Allison would hit the bars off Indiantown Road that were happy to serve ballplayers even if they were underage.
Bartlett returned to Phoenix in mid-September after his first season in professional baseball. On Oct. 1, just as the Marlins were starting the playoff run that would end with their upset victory over the New York Yankees in the World Series, word came that Bartlett had died of an overdose of methadone. According to Bartlett's mother, Juliana Bridge, her son had no history of drug abuse before leaving Arizona for Florida. She knew that her son and Allison had become good friends. She has a ball Allison signed for her son, and she had heard Greg speak of Allison often. After her son died, she saw Allison's name and telephone number stored in Greg's cellphone. She called Allison to tell him the tragic news and asked him to call back, but he never did. "I never knew why," she says. (Allison did post a message in response to Bartlett's online obituary in which he wrote: "i know your with me and looking down on me, now its time for me to fulfill both of our dreams.")
Tim Cossins, the first-year manager of the Gulf Coast Marlins in 2003, says there were no indications that either Allison or Bartlett had a drug problem. "They were both on the field, ready to work, every morning at 8:15," he says. "Never, not one time, did these kids not perform. I never thought that [drug use] could be going on. They were competitive, focused young athletes." He says that neither ever missed the 11 p.m. curfew check.
Shortly before the end of the rookie-ball season the Marlins had sent Allison home for what the club described as rest for his tendinitis. Coach Niz says Allison had never had tendinitis in high school and, because Allison had joined the team with just six weeks left in the season, he'd pitched only briefly in rookie ball, appearing in three games for a total of nine innings, in which he gave up one earned run and struck out 11. He may not have had tendinitis, but he definitely had a drug problem.
That off-season, back home in Peabody, Allison had money and his own car for the first time in his life. Old teammates and friends suspected that something was seriously amiss with Allison. Brad Nizwantowski even heard about Allison's growing drug use as he sat in a county jail in western Massachusetts. (A guard from Peabody told him.) IMG was able to persuade Allison to come to its Bradenton ( Fla.) Baseball Academy, hopeful that he would meet with drug counselors there. But Allison's stay was brief.
Back in Peabody, Allison was telling friends that he didn't know if he liked baseball anymore. He had changed. One day he made a rare visit to Extra Innings. One of the owners there, Rob Nash, had been an integral part of Allison's baseball development since age 10. Through high school Allison had worked at Extra Innings whenever he needed spending money. Now he was a professional baseball player with diamond studs in both ears. His flashy new trappings of fame--not just the earrings but also a Cadillac Escalade--clashed heavily with the culture he had grown up in.
"What the hell are you wearing?" Nash asked him.
"Wha'?" Allison said.
"You look like a frickin' idiot," Nash said.
The new baseball season arrived. Last March should have marked the start of the first big league spring training of Allison's professional career. Coach Niz and Terry Lee planned a trip to Jupiter, excited to watch Allison throw heat in his new uniform. But he wasn't there; he was in a halfway house in Lynn. He didn't arrive until April 7, five weeks later than his teammates. When he finally did show up, he told reporters that Bartlett's death had distracted him from tending to his professional obligations. He evaded the question of whether he had a drug problem. "People are saying whatever they want anyhow," he said.